Martin Wagner over at the Atheist Experience blog lashed out at American Atheists (AA).
For the last few years, American Atheists have been throwing billboards up around the country, and pretty much all of them have been a preposterous fail. Setting aside the often poor and flat-out amateurish graphic design on most of them (bad choice of colors and ugly fonts), they have either made the mistake of thinking that a billboard was an appropriate format for launching a philosophical argument; or they’ve made baseless, idiotic assertions that have simply left themselves wide open to snarky theistic ripostes; or they’ve just been muddled and borderline incomprehensible (remember that the message of a billboard needs to nestle firmly and swiftly in the brain of someone driving past it at 65 mph); or they’ve clumsily attempted to make statements about religiously inspired racism, only to trip over their own execution and faceplant, with the result that they were interpreted as racist themselves.
Seriously, guys, stop this shit. You’re embarrassing us.
Why AA always manages to get something that should be so simple so flamboyantly wrong is a mystery. (Perhaps effective billboard advertising is an area where they’d rather fly their Dunning-Kruger flag instead of spending a few bucks hiring a media consultant or PR firm.) But in future, maybe they should consider playing to their strengths, like organizing conventions and rallies, and leave campaigns like these to people who know what they’re about.
Whoa whoa whoa…
I ‘work’ at AA. I totally agree that our first round was visually lackluster – to put it mildly. When I came on board here, the relevant people were unaware that their billboards were so unanimously hated in the ‘internet atheist crowd’.
I said “They think you make billboards in MS Paint.”
They said “We never hired a person to do them, I see your point.”
So we have a different situation than many might assume. What is actually going on is volunteers doing what they can, maybe when they shouldn’t have. Keep in mind, this may be a past-tense problem… more on that in a bit.
In defense of American Atheists (and our network of volunteers), we have been doing a lot of good. FYI – the ring leader behind the Reason Rally that Martin praised was David Silverman, President of American Atheists. We probably aren’t always going to put the best possible billboard out, but hey – we are listening. I’ll pass along Martin’s article to the leadership at American Atheists. Some of the things you say needed to be said at some point.
Just remember – you’re dealing largely with volunteers in a somewhat nebulous environment. Many on the crew are not used to the quality control and self-reflection that the internet hate machine provides. I’ll even post this on the American Atheists Facepalm page despite the butthurt it might generate. It’s easy to get defensive even when your critics are right. On the other hand, American Atheists has publicly available phone numbers and are very approachable. Nastygrams like this are not necessary.
Pro-tip: the billboards you praised are from American Atheists
Martin praises the Mid-Ohio Atheists for their amazing billboards, rightfully so. Unfortunately, he fails to realize that the Mid-Ohio Atheists billboards that he praises were in fact American Atheists billboards. Yeah… not sure what to say about Martin’s ‘pro-tip’ now.
Here’s another billboard from the same campaign he praises as being much better than AA’s billboards.
Pro-tip: check to see if your pro-tips are, in fact, ‘pro’ and/or ‘tips’.
Despite all this, we could definitely use some help! American Atheists is too awesome of an organization to ignore these criticisms – albeit they are speaking of our earliest billboards for the most part. You can help though! We’ve got a massive campaign for Pennsylvania.
We’re trying to draw attention to the state House’s recent designation of 2012 as “The Year of the Bible” Fuck everything about that – help us! Here is how you can help with the new campaign:
- Pick a (short) passage in the bible that’s ridiculous. There are many. New Testament, even better!
- All artwork must be creative commons or original design.
- The very bottom sliver must say “American Atheists – Reasonable since 1963 – Atheists.org” (or very similar)
- Dimensions must scale to 20′ x 60′ (USA – ‘feet’!) – it’s best to send in a web version like a .JPG and a lossless high quality version like a .PDF
- Submit high-quality graphic design concepts to the right person. Please also leave links in the comments section so that others can see your awesome work.
- ‘Like’ us on Facebook to get the word out about our ‘good’ billboards. (whatever that means)
I’ll even sweeten the pot. If your billboard is used you’ll get a free t-shirt and a one year AA membership. Please spread the word. American Atheists runs towards the gunfire. Even if it’s fellow atheists firing.