Red lightning


Posted on an electricity transformer box at the main intersection of an industrial suburb of Chengdu are warnings on how to use electricity in a safe manner (or, more poetically phrased: “Dissemination of General Knowledge about Safely Using Electricity”), along with the varied consequences of failing to do so. Several frames feature people doing their own construction, while others (the “divided” frames) display actual repercussions of either disassembling electrical equipment (presumably to sell) and “rolling back” one’s electricity meter. Each prominently features handcuffs, the boys in blue, and, that strongest of emotions, shame (yet it remains open for interpretation whether it is implying that it is only illegal if one is caught, or if it is framing the state as omniscient). Whether the creator’s attempt to frame undesirable behaviors and their consequences as an “If A, then B” is successful is indeed open to interpretation – how many would view this warning and think “Hmm, disassembling the hardware on an electrical pole/rolling back my meter – now there’s a fine idea to make some money.” The use of red “lightning bolts” is also a risk for the implication that something both potentially dangerous and otherwise invisible is actually “observable” – “Just look for the red lightning bolts radiating out of those black cables, if you can’t see them then you should be fine.” How best to indicate a “live” wire, though?

Think about the relative degree of contact you have with your local electrical infrastructure, and what influences the level and dynamics of that contact – the degree of protection/sequestering of said infrastructure? A greater availability of professionals around to deal with the management of said electrical infrastructure (along with the resources to afford paying for them)? Threat of stronger legal sanction and a greater ability to enforce said laws? Stronger education about electricity, or simply exposure to electricity for a longer period of time? If one experiences an electrical problem in your context, would the prevailing instinct be to fix it oneself?

For each modernization, the “price of progress” varies by context. Consider what a comparable set of warnings would look like where you are – the behaviors they would target, the examples they would employ (and their implied threats and emotions they would hope to evoke), what media they would use, where they would be positioned (if they occupied a physical space, that is), and perhaps most importantly by whose authority/in whose interest they would be posted.

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