My ad blocking internet browser and lack of a YouTube habit keeps my life pretty free of marketing. No more network or cable television helps too. But there is an insidious force afoot when I step out into the real world. Billboards are an awful stain on the visual landscape of most cities and highways. This eyeball pollution is tacitly accepted around the world by the meandering citizenry, allowing companies and the hosts of these parasitic images and words to feast on passive attention. Cathedral City, CA recently banned the construction of new billboards and has required existing ones to be phased out. Sao Paolo has made billboards illegal and removed all of them; other cities have experimented with temporary billboard removal and replacement with art or other non-marketing messages.
The above and below billboard images are located two blocks from my home in Madison, Wisconsin. They are next to a set of warehouses, railroad tracks, and a municipal services building, but it’s also a bike route and high-traffic area for cars. Lots of bang for the buck if you’re trying to get people attention. But here’s the thing; the things people see every day matter for their sense of place, feelings about society, and transactional vs. complex & sticky relationships with other people. These billboards also interrupt the view of a beautiful sky’s checkerboard clouds. I think it’s about time we take back our eyes. City by city, state by state, let’s advocate for the removal of these malicious bacteria; if a company (or Jesus) wants our attention, let them get in touch with us another way, and only then if their message is actually worth hearing.