Danger: a sticker silently comments on the cult of public safety

This week’s Weekly Photo Challenge: DANGER.


DANGER. Sometimes real. Sometimes imaginary. Sometimes somewhere between those extremes.

Warning of the cliff that falls to the sea at Coogee Beach headland in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, the sign is perhaps a little over the top and somewhat redundant as you cannot go near the edge — as it warns not to in big, bold lettering — because Randwick Council has installed a steel fence preventing you doing that. In warning you not to do something you cannot do, the sign becomes as redundant as the bureaucratic, risk-adverse local government mindset that spent public money in producing and installing it.

Perhaps we should see the sign as an artifact of the cult of excessive safety that is found in the depths of local government bureaucracies. Life was breathed into it when health and safety became an industry with a qualification granted by completion of a tertiary course, and when people started to be paid for working in the field.  That’s what the little official-looking sticker at the top of the sign suggests — FEAR EVERYTHING. It’s a silent but pointed comment on the lengths the cult goes supposedly to protect the public but also, more-so perhaps, to protect the council from litigation in case someone actually does disobey it, climbs the fence and falls into the ocean. They might do that anyway, irrespective of the sign.

Now, looking out for public safety is a good idea for local government. A sign or a steel fence along the clifftop does that quite well, but, really, does the public need both? Is that not… well… a little excessive?

There’s a tricky border between public safety and the experience of danger. We need both. We need local government to warn the public that something is potentially dangerous. But we also need to feel that edginess, that tensing of the muscles in the torso, that hightened psychological sharpness that is the legacy of humanity’s combined experience in facing the daily danger of life.


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