Billboards Are Mental Pollution

That Tulalip Casino billboard sure adds a nice touch of class to the Pearl Apartments. Why the hell do we put up with these fuggin eyesores? And the thing is, they are more than just eyesores: In the words of Adbusters founder Kalle Lasn, billboards are mental pollution:

“Our mental environment is a common-property resource like the air or the water. We need to protect ourselves from unwanted incursions into it, much the same way we lobbied for non-smoking areas ten years ago.”

You’d think that a city of bookish liberal nerds like Seattle would have banned billboards by now. But for one thing, there are a lot more of them out there than most people probably realize — 507 are registered with the Department of Planning and Development. So it’s not just about getting rid of a handful.

But likely the biggest obstacle to any new billboard regulation would be corporate media giant Clear Channel, which seems to own just about every large billboard in Seattle. In Houston Clear Channel fought a billboard ordinance for 25 years before finally losing the battle in 2007. And they are currently suing the City of Tacoma over 10-year-old ordinance that requires them to remove some billboards.

On the other hand, Clear Channel isn’t about to win any popularity contests in a city like Seattle, so one might reasonably assume that it would be a good political move to take them on.

Like much signage, billboards visually assault our mental environment. But because billboards are designed to be seen from such great distances, the assault spreads all too far into the common realm — it is almost impossible to ignore them when moving around in the city. As with environmental pollution, we have every right to put a stop to the widespread spewing of mental pollution.