Plumb Lines

April 14, 2009

The Evil of Billboards

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 9:08 am


In 1960, Howard Gossage wrote in Harper’s making a liberal argument against billboards:

It is so strange that billboards exist at all that the current controversy about whether outdoor advertising should be allowed along federal highways achieves the unreality of a debate on whether witch burning should be permitted in critical fire areas. Apparently no one has thought to wonder just what in the hell billboards are doing anywhere.

[. . .]

First, what is the difference between seeing an ad on a billboard and seeing an ad in a magazine? The answer, in a word, is permission–or, in three words, freedom of choice. Through a sequence of voluntary acts you have given the magazine advertisement permission to be seen by you. You bought the magazine of your own volition; you opened it at your own pleasure; you flipped or did not flip through it; you skipped or did not skip the ads; finally, it is possible to close the magazine entirely. You exercise freedom of choice all down the line.

Gossage predicted that billboards were on the way out. If he had stuck around forty years he would have learned that billboards were like corporate flags planted to claim territory in the great exurban expansion. First the advertisements for in-town businesses moved out of town, then the businesses followed them. Soon enough, billboard had become store sign.

(via kottke)

-Matthew Schmitz


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