This past weekend as I browsed through the extensive and overcrowded vendor hall at Gencon, I came across a booth filled
with H.P. Lovecraft inspired paraphernalia. Posters, T-shirts, stickers, the usual fan merchandise that you find at a
convention like this. Hanging from the front of one of their tables, I noticed a poster that immediately jumped out at me.
At the top it read "Why vote for a lesser evil?" and in the center it featured a mass of tentacles and a Cthulhu head with
large print lines below reading "Cthulhu Dagon 2012". I immediately bought two, one for a friend and one for myself, and
melted back into the crowd of gamers and costumed fans.
Returning to work Monday morning, I pinned the poster up on the column in my cubicle and began wading through the e-mails
that had piled up in my absence. The following morning, while working in my cubicle, someone from the other side of the
building walked up and commented on the poster.
"You know you are violating the Hatch Act, right? A bunch of people are complaining about your poster."
Now admittedly I'm no legal expert, but having a little foundation in government, I replied that no, it in fact was not a
violation (for several reasons, actually, but primarily because we are dealing with an almost hundred-year-old fictional
This person continued to insist that I needed to take it down because it resembled a current electoral poster. I asked him
what exactly was the resemblance, the large tentacles or the bold print name "Cthulhu"?
After our conversation reached near-rude proportions, he stormed off and I shook my head and went back to what I had been
doing prior to his arrival. Previously I had not made the connection, but the evening before, after I had left, he had
posted links to articles about Hatch Act violations on our homepage (which everyone sees when they open a browser). Now I
understood that he must have seen the poster the day before and set the articles up intentionally. A few hours later I was
at lunch and a coworker in the cubicle next to mine sent me a text message that said a different employee was complaining
about my poster to our center chief.
When I returned, my neighbors on my row related to me that several people, including management, had come back to look at
the poster. My neighbors had patiently explained that Cthulhu in fact was not a candidate in this election, nor an actual
entity, and that the poster itself was a parody. After they explained this to me, I spent several minutes bemoaning the
generally low level of comprehension or critical reasoning skills in an organization filled with people responsible for
taxpayer dollars. However, I was relieved that my manager and his manager both acknowledged this was not in fact a
violation of the Hatch Act. Furthermore, they were slightly amused at some of the complaints.
Unfortunately, what none of us had accounted for was the ability of our overwhelmingly conservative workforce to get butt-
hurt. The problem, you see, lay in the fact that my poster had a blue background. Apparently, the liberal candidate in the
current presidential election also has a poster with a blue background. Even worse, on my poster Cthulhu's head and
tentacles swarmed over what was meant to represent a red field. On the actual candidate's poster, the center image has a
similar circle with red field. So, if someone were to look at my poster and ignored the GIANT TENTACLES, the boldfaced
CTHULHU and DAGON names, and could not parse out the satirical nature of "Why vote for a lesser evil?", and chose not to
read any text except for "2012" then they might mistake my poster for an actual political poster.
Violation of the Hatch Act? Not by a long shot. Violation of coworker paranoia that a similarly colored poster might induce
otherwise conservative voters to vote for a liberal candidate? Apparently.
So today after lunch my manager called me into his office. Jokingly I asked what I had done wrong (having forgotten about the poster incident at that point) and he replied that I had actually done nothing wrong, but he had a formal request for me to remove the poster. The best I could do was laugh maniacally, like any number of protagonists at the end of an H.P. Lovecraft short story immediately before some eldritch evil consumes them.
Which, I guess in this case, wasn't too far from the truth.