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.

8 Responses to “Billboards Are Mental Pollution”

  1. Sabina Pade

    Perhaps we shouldn’t rail against billboards, or battle for a reduction of their numbers in the Seattle metropolitan area. Instead I think we might wisely extoll their beauty and lobby in favour of their proliferation – together with the legal stipulation that all existing billboards be transferred to wealthy single-family neighbourhoods and that any new ones be erected there as well.

  2. Dan Staley

    I think that I shall never see
    A billboard as lovely as a tree.
    Indeed, unless the billboards fall
    I shall never see a tree at all.
    – Ogden Nash

  3. Josh Mahar

    And its not just billboards. Anyone seen those ridiculous E.E. Robbins ads on the sidewalks of 1st Ave? Now, you can’t even stare at your feet to remove yourself from the dizzying world of mental pollution.

    A similar note: A while ago I made some comments that Metro should put advertising throughout the bus tunnels. I whole-heartedly renounce those statements. The extra cash isn’t worth the sacrifice of mental relaxation down there. I still would like to see some commercial uses though. Whether that be for a cafe, bar, newsman, or even street performer. Perhaps when Link opens…

    And finally: Props Dan for not including ads here on your website even in the face of popularity. You are a gentleman and a scholar.

  4. Steve

    Slightly off-topic, but given that a number of new condo/apartment buildings have blank reinforced concrete walls, I’d love to see painted, permanent, ads for local businesses on those blank walls. If we paint them now, they can still be fading in 30-50 years, much as we can still read about the Moore from 3rd Avenue, etc.

  5. Mark

    Who gets the money for them? Are they heavily taxed, or is it just 90% profit for ClearChannel? It seems like the public should receive the financial benefit from them, since we’re the ones that have to put up with them.

  6. Nick

    I actually despise the mobile billboards more than the fixed ones. (and well I actually enjoy Abercrombie and Finch’s billboard along third street.)

    What really irks me is mobile billboards, they’re both mental and air pollution. I almost wrote a letter to King County Health complaining about a mobile billboard they were running for STD prevention, until I realized they were very narrowly targeting Capital Hill around Pride time. That saved them my wrath.

    I’d think we’d be more successful taxing billboards than trying to ban them outright..

  7. gas blower

    SSP As typical this was a thoughtful write-up these days. You make me wish to keep coming back and forwarding it my followers…. -EF….

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