At the beginning of Edward Abbey’s rollicking eco-sabotage novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, his character Doc Sarvis is chain-sawing down billboards along Arizona highways. “Everybody needs a hobby,” Doc says with an R. Crumb grin.
Bravo to the city of Minnetonka for fighting lighted billboards. Like we don’t have enough advertising plastered all over every surface of the world.
There’s communicating a message, and then there’s screaming in people’s faces. Driving towards downtown Minneapolis on northbound 35W, I see this excrescence like a huge flat-screen TV flipping bright mindless ads at me. It’s like a bad acid trip where I open up my glove compartment or toilet seat or closet door or my fly and out pops a 22-year-old account exec selling me a credit card. Get away!
Is communication that irritates really effective? Do those dancing idiots on the website ads do anything but speed up your next click to eradicate them? Does my diving for the remote so I don’t have to waste my last few brain cells storing that insipid jingle “Save big money at Menard’s” help Menard’s sales in any way? Isn’t it counterproductive, Denny Hecker, to make me have to peel away the half-page ad wrap that’s metastasized over the sports section before I can get to my Twins stories? That grab-me-by-the-throat approach only makes me vow never ever to buy a car from you because you’re in my way and you piss me off.
Billboards suck our attention in to the mundane so we can’t see anything beautiful or real – a sunset or wooded hillside or the need for urban renewal – beyond them. And lighted billboards – that’s like a yowling baby plopped right there on your dashboard.
So you go, Minnetonka, and the other cities that are trying to protect some small corner of our consciousness from the hucksters. And if the courts and councils don’t come through, the McCullochs and the Husqvarnas might just start screaming back.