The Coming War on Spinners

|

The L.A. Times has a fun article on human directionals and the art of attracting attention on city streets. As advertisers turn to teams of sign-twirlers, some cities are moving to protect citizens from the grave danger of manic "spinners." (Petite women of the world: You're safe. For now.)

Local spinners have cooked up hundreds of moves. There's the Helicopter, in which a spinner does a backbend on one hand while spinning a sign above his head. In the Blender, a spinner twirls the sign behind his back. Spanking the Horse gets the most attention. The spinner puts the sign between his legs, slaps his own behind and giddy-ups.

Thanks to growing demand, the business has turned cutthroat. There's a frenzy of talent poaching. Spinners battle one another for plum assignments and the promise of wage hikes. Some of the more prominent compete for bragging rights by posting videos on YouTube and Google Video, complete with trash talking…

The outdoor advertising industry still does not recognize sign spinning as a bona fide way of reaching consumers, much less an art form. It regards spinning as a form of guerrilla marketing that commercializes public space. Some municipalities are even beginning to make sign spinners into outlaws. Riverside, Poway and El Cajon are among the cities that recently banned the practice.

"They can distract people and cause accidents," said Jim Griffin, director of community development in El Cajon. Some sidewalk sign holders try to spin when no one is looking, so Griffin hired weekend staff to catch and ticket them.

Advertisement

NEXT: Mitt Romney: As Happy as a Baby Psychlo on a Straight Diet of Kerbango

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “The Coming War on Spinners”

    Yes, I like it…

  2. This may sound very un-libertarian of me, but I can actually understand the desire to ban them from places where people drive. I think their whole raison d’etre is to distract drivers from what they should be doing (you know: watching the road and other cars).

  3. If you can’t Spank The Monkey in public, it’s only right that you can’t Spank The Horse.

  4. Huh?

    I’m now officially old and can no longer keep up.

    Now get off my lawn and take your sandwich board with you. Freak.

  5. Isn’t this a violation of Free Speech? Why can’t I say or do whatever I want on a sidewalk? It’s not my fault if drivers don’t have the self control and responsibility to watch the road and drive well…

  6. Leave it to L.A. to create a new kind of performance art out of something as mundane as holding a sign by the side of the road.

    None of the human directionals around here show that level of creativity.

  7. Lichtenberg | May 1, 2007, 10:40am | #

    This may sound very un-libertarian of me, but I can actually understand the desire to ban them from places where people drive. I think their whole raison d’etre is to distract drivers from what they should be doing (you know: watching the road and other cars).

    People actually watch the road and other cars when they drive? Wow, that’s news. Given all of the amenities that vehicles offer these days, drivers will be distracted no matter what the cause. This is yet another attempt to blame others for the stupidity of the general public…ala the hot coffee lawsuits.

  8. Well, back when I invented “The Twirl” in my days of umbrella sales on the streets of New York it was a more refined business. Now these kids today think they can just Spank the Horse and feel like they reinvented the wheel. Amateurs.

  9. Maybe the orange sellers by the freeway should start doing The Splatter. That’s when you chuck an orange at a car to get their attention and, hopefully, sell a shitload of oranges.

  10. Cool video here. Naturally, the ads are for Adult Swim. (Is there no end to their hipness?)

    Corporate-sponsored performance art? This has “Brian Doherty” written all over it.

  11. Yeah, I figured I’d lose whatever libertarian cred I may have had by posting that. Oh well.

    The distinction I make, and it may be a specious one, is that many things may distract a driver, but this activity seems, on its face, to be intentionally designed to distract them.

  12. > Naturally, the ads are for Adult Swim…

    The same pranksters behind the Boston bomb scare?? Cartoon Network should be added to the No-fly List!!

  13. Well, back when I invented “The Twirl” in my days of umbrella sales on the streets of New York it was a more refined business. Now these kids today think they can just Spank the Horse and feel like they reinvented the wheel. Amateurs.

    Everybody knows that Jerry invented that move! Then he sold out for big funny.

  14. Over the last 15 or so years, I’ve seen LA’s sidewalk sign spinners evolve from homeless human signposts to youthful hipsters with near break dancer moves.

    Personally, I’ve never found them any more distracting than billboards or blinky light displays.

  15. Next come the “slippery slope” arguments which will undoubtedly point out that billboards are designed to distract. And it’s valid, I’ll admit.

    Like I said, I can understand the desire to limit this form of expression. I don’t know that I would ban it outright, but I would ask the companies which use it to be circumspect and responsible.

  16. War on Spinners? Ha! Don’t make me laugh!

    The Los Angeles City Council is no match for the Boston Red Sox’ (single A, summer league, mumble mumble) affiliate in Lowell, Massachusetts!

    Our rehabbing relief pitchers will crush your pothole-filling panderers!

  17. Betcha didn’t see that coming, Lichtenberg.

  18. Lichtenberg | May 1, 2007, 10:55am | #

    Yeah, I figured I’d lose whatever libertarian cred I may have had by posting that. Oh well.

    The distinction I make, and it may be a specious one, is that many things may distract a driver, but this activity seems, on its face, to be intentionally designed to distract them.

    I don’t disagree with you that they are intending to distract drivers. I just don’t agree with the ban that they’re pushing.

  19. Next come the “slippery slope” arguments which will undoubtedly point out that billboards are designed to distract. And it’s valid, I’ll admit.

    Actually, that would be a retro move. See Lady Bird Johnson’s “advertiser preservation act” or similar wording, where federal law forced billboards to be a certain distance from interstate highways, but the billboard owners were given reperations for having to relocate/remove the billboards.

  20. > The distinction I make, and it may be a specious one, is that many things may distract a driver, but this activity seems, on its face, to be intentionally designed to distract them.

    The argument could be made that the spinners are intentionally distracting pedestrians, something that doesn’t pose the same type of intuitive safety risk that distracting (or at least attempting to distract) drivers does.

  21. The sign-holders here in south Florida don’t spin them. In fact they barely move. It’s hot. They mostly stand there in the sun and look pathetic and dream of their own suicides.

  22. joe

    You lost me, possibly due to my complete ignorance of just about everything in Massachusetts.

  23. This is simply the opening wedge for the full-scale attack on juggling.

  24. ed,

    I think they employ a “Weekend at Bernie’s” type system. When they pass out from heat exhaustion, they’re discretely propped up by well placed 2x4s attached to their backs.

  25. > This is simply the opening wedge for the full-scale attack on juggling.

    Maybe the Commerce Clause will be invoked to legitimize the ban…after all, street performances may distract drivers, which affects interstate commerce, and as such the government has the authority to regulate it.

  26. From the headline, I thought they were going to outlaw dubs.

  27. Thinking back, the only thing that consistently distracts my driving here in LA is the view of a buxom woman walking down the street.

    Fortunately, buxom female sign spinners seem a rarity.

  28. I thought the money line was this:

    The company records spinners’ movements and sends them in batches to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. “We have to take our intellectual property pretty seriously,”

    Okay, the way people twirl signs around is now intellectual property? We’ve gone mad!

  29. If the War on Spinners continues, what’s next? The War on O’Jays? The War on Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes?

    Head for the hills, Patti LaBelle! Philly soul is not safe!

  30. How’s this for a more sane course of action?

    If I were the mayor, I would approach the companies who employ this sort of advertising and say “Look, guys, we don’t have any clinical studies yet, but intuition alone tells me that if you do this near where people drive, it could be a really big distraction which could cause accidents, so could you please limit this to places where only pedestrians will see it? Now, I wo’t force you to so limit yourselves, but if there ever is an accident which can be linked to these displays, I will be holding a press conference.”

  31. > If I were the mayor…

    This sounds reasonable, but I don’t think it would change the behavior of the spinners most likely to cause distractions.

    I still think the onus to drive responsibly is on each driver. Obviously, it’s a little hard to be so objective about it because if a driver messes up there’s a good chance it won’t be just the driver that gets hurt. Nevertheless, I really would not want to limit speech.

    Maybe a pragmatic solution would be to limit the advertising/performing to spaces greater than 10 feet (or whatever) from the curb. The further from the road, the less likely a driver is to accidentally see something and then get distracted; perhaps their eyes will wander while at a red light, but while actively driving most people’s focus is on the road and the area around it.

  32. The thing is that unless the spinners are running out into traffic and causing accidents, or holding their signs in front of traffic lights, they can’t be blamed for a driver’s lack of concentration so long as they stay on the sidewalk and do their thing.

  33. Thanks for the aside about pettite women, Kerry. I missed that the first time I read through the post. Very enjoyable.

  34. SPD

    I assure you they WILL be blamed when my client, whose husband died in a traffic accident because the driver of the other car was distracted by spinners, sues the company using such advertising for $100 million.

  35. “If I were the mayor…”

    How about instead of fantasizing the paternal mayor role, we fantasize the consumer role and warn the companies that they may be risking ill will by distracting us?

    That’s IFF you are concerned about this. Which I really don’t understand.

  36. BTW, you should understand that is just a forecast.

  37. This is simply the opening wedge for the full-scale attack on juggling.

    They’ll take my machetes from my cold, dead hands!

  38. Outlaw spinners because they distract drivers?
    What’s next, cell phones?

  39. As long as their messages on the signs don’t disturb my delicate sensibilities. If so, they should be arrested for disturbing the peace like that high school student in IL. Can’t have people thinking and expressing thoughts we don’t like, now can we?

  40. The driving distraction thing is completely bogus. The most near-accidents I’ve caused were from driving around looking at *stationary* real estate signs, and trying to pull over on a dime (or flip a U turn) so my wife could hop out and grab a flyer. Sign spinners are no more distracting than the 10 billion other things going on in your peripheral vision on a busy urban street.

  41. Good to know that the cities of Riverside, Poway and El Cajon have eliminated all violent crime, thus freeing their public officials to finally crack down on the sign twirlers.

    BTW, a developer who hires sign twirlers is pretty much advertising to the world: “There’s no way I can sell my shitty, overpriced condos through legitimate advertising methods. Therefore, I appeal to you, Mr./Ms. Motorist, to come help bail me out from my impending bankruptcy.”

  42. so could you please limit this to places where only pedestrians will see it?

    Nobody walks in L.A.

  43. This is simply the opening wedge for the full-scale attack on juggling.

    I have no problem with that. Especially if they’re clowns.

    And I am eternally grateful that this fad hasn’t caught on in NYC. We wouldn’t need a law to ban them; the people would take matters into their own hand and take care of it themselves, I should think.

  44. “I assure you they WILL be blamed when my client, whose husband died in a traffic accident because the driver of the other car was distracted by spinners, sues the company using such advertising for $100 million.”

    And then they’ll be blamed for the sole reason that the company using such advertising _has_ $100 million while the driver who was actually responsible probably doesn’t have a total worth high enough to attract a lawyer’s interest.

  45. I think the real story behind this is here:

    “The outdoor advertising industry still does not recognize sign spinning as a bona fide way of reaching consumers, much less an art form. It regards spinning as a form of guerrilla marketing that commercializes public space.”

    In other words, these guys are so successful that they’re starting to encroach on the profits of existing billboard companies, who are now using their bought and paid for politicians to end the threat of competition.

  46. Nobody walks in L.A.

    True story: Almost exactly a year ago I was visiting LA. I went to see some friends, and parked my rental car. Then I realized that I had the wrong address, and was a block away. So I got back in my car to drive one more block…and then I realized “Why am I driving one measly block?”

    Then the song “Nobody Walks in LA” came on the radio, and I understood.

  47. Legate Damar | May 1, 2007, 11:36am | #
    Thanks for the aside about pettite women, Kerry. I missed that the first time I read through the post. Very enjoyable.

    Har

    Me, I was like, “holy shit, chicks know dudes call petite women that??” (or, cough, those vulgarish type of men…)

    Maybe i’m just naive. Naive, and my last 3 girlfriends were under 5’2.

    Forgive me father

  48. I have to confess I have no idea what the heck the reference to petite women is about.

  49. Stevo,

    I confess I didn’t know either, but when in doubt, look it up on Wikipedia.

  50. GILMORE wrote:

    my last 3 girlfriends were under 5’2.

    That averages out to less than 21″ . . .

  51. “Some municipalities are even beginning to make sign spinners into outlaws.”

    You mean they’re denied access to the courts, and anyone can demand their surrender and then shoot them if they refuse?

  52. J Golden Rockwell | May 1, 2007, 9:08pm | #

    GILMORE wrote:

    my last 3 girlfriends were under 5’2.

    That averages out to less than 21″ . . .

    Which is weird! cause, like, thats how long my…uh… feet are.

  53. Ah. Thanks, crimethink.

  54. “It regards spinning as a form of guerrilla marketing” That makes it sound like it is somehow a lesser form of advertising, guerrilla marketing *is* a valid form of advertising, nothing wrong it. Legislation makes the assumption that sign spinners are an eye-sore, like the 200 foot long billboard is any better.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.