Wednesday April 19, 2006

Billboard fever

Jack Daniels' Billboard

We accept billboards as part of our natural landscape, right? But think about it – these objects serve no purpose other then to block whatever’s behind them in the service of whatever crass message the marketers want you to see. This is not about being anti-advertising, much advertising contributes positively to our society. Magazines would be impossible with ads, and much of the internet would be behind various paywalls. Billboards are different, though, because they occupy real space: the space we all have to share, and they divide it up in a way that is unfair to real stuff. This goes even if what’s behind the billboard is an ugly building, or nothing but sky.

Now, nobody’s advocating getting rid of all the billboards overnight; heck, that might be impossible. But we as a community should be thinking about billboard reduction. (Years ago, I read a great essay that lays out all these arguments I haven’t been able to find it on the internet, but if I do, I’ll add the link here.) Update, March, 2009: How to look at billboards.

In any case, our great state legislators are taking the opposite view — not that billboards should be taken down so we can see the trees, but that trees should be cut down so we can see the billboards! Is it just me, or is it more obvious every single day that political contributions run the government, rather then a commitment to constituents? Can we please get some campaign contribution reform going, to at least cool some of this crap off? (See also Free Culture, and the harm caused to our culture by endless copyright extensions which benefit 2% of copyright holders at the expense of a potential blossoming of new creativity.)

In other news, the legislature is pushing no less then 26 bills that would curb the rights of sex offenders. Now, I’m no champion of child molesters, but there is quite a bit of evidence that most of these laws would do no good, and cause burdens on those who would have to try to enfoce them. It’s time to re-examine some of the arguments we looked at before. Is our state legislature doing anything particularly worthwhile? Maybe it’s time for them to come home.


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  1. Circuit Mouse    Wed Apr 19, 06:24 PM #  

    Ah, but it’s okay to return elected officials to office when they’ve just been convicted! Only in Florida! Remember when Tallahassee issued that list of supposed sexual offenders that turned out to be full of inaccuracies? How about laws curbing the right of builders in South Miami-Dade pre-Andrew to work in the construction trades? You could add to the list ad nauseum…

  2. Jonathan    Wed Apr 19, 09:17 PM #  

    There’s a lot of laws I don’t like, but I would accept freezing all current laws as they are now, in exchange for not having any new laws passed. Of course that wouldn’t give the legislature any product to sell, so it’ll never happen. Democracy sucks. OTOH, I don’t know of a better alternative. And don’t expect any campaign-finance “reform” to work, because the people writing the reform laws are the same people who will be affected by them, and they are only going to write laws that help them and screw their enemies.

    BTW, Alesh, what’s the deal with the billboards—you got something against Jack Daniel’s?

  3. Manola BBB    Wed Apr 19, 09:54 PM #  

    Spain, where I will be in less than two weeks, has no billboards other than than the trademarke Osborne black bull advertising its sherry.

    It is SO refreshing and unbelievably beautiful to travel down any major or minor Spain roadway and not see a damn thing other than landscapes or places. It’s not always pretty (yes, Madrid’s train tracks have graffiti).

    I don’t want to make generalizations about America as my greatest long distance road trips have been Miami-NYC and Miami-Colorado.

    Driving up Florida’s Turnpike there are some very interesting billboards in tacky neon orange announcing the pecans, oranges and strip joints.

    Why do they have to be billboards though? Why not just part of public service road stop signs?

  4. Steve Klotz    Wed Apr 19, 10:01 PM #  

    Speaking of billboards, saw a great freestanding sign on the highway; yellow, with black lettering, 6 foot wide 3 foot high. Said: “KEEP BACK. This Sign Has Sharp Edges. DANGER.”

  5. alesh    Thu Apr 20, 08:43 AM #  

    I’d rather look at graffiti then billboards any day, Manola.

    k00l d00dz like John McCain come along sometimes that are willing to do “the right thing” even if it goes, apparently against their self-interests. Including r33l w00t lobbying reform. No particular reason it couldn’t happen here, to i agree w/r/t its unlikeliness.

    I love me some Jack Daniels, hence the free ad for them! Seriously tho, I’m working on getting a flickr up, then you’ll see my only other billboard pic, and you may see why I went with the JD (hint: the other one is too cool to use as an anti-billboard example).

    KLOTZ: I saw a sign that said “SIGNS SAVE LIVES.” No shit (but it was in small letters on the back of the sign, apparently a plea to vandalisers).

  6. Jonathan    Thu Apr 20, 10:12 AM #  

    -If you look at the history of campaign-finance reforms there is a clear pattern. Each reform produces bad unintended consequences that lead to calls for further reforms, and the cycle repeats. Federal campaign-spending restrictions led to PACs and soft money, which led to McCain-Feingold, which led to 527s. The main beneficiaries of all this have been incumbent pols (surprise), as well as wealthy candidates, who are still allowed to spend a lot on their own campaigns while the restrictions make it extremely difficult for challengers to raise funds (while incumbents continue to enjoy huge advantages from free press coverage). Why not, instead, deregulate all contributions but require immediate disclosure on the Internet? (Hint: politicians don’t like this alternative.)

    -Great idea on the flickr thing.

    -BTW, what would 441 be without billboards? Billboards are appropriate in some places and even make them look better. People aren’t driving down 441 to look at nice trees, they are shopping and billboards provide useful information for that purpose. Put the trees somewhere else. The world is big enough to have different types of views, including views of busy commercial areas.