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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Big Ugly Billboards

Driving around Austin, it's easy to notice that Mopac is relatively pleasant even when it's choked with traffic, while driving I-35 is nearly unbearable even when traffic is light. Mopac is pretty in part because it is mostly free of billboards, and I think this lack of aggressive signage makes for a more relaxing overall drive. You don't feel like anyone is shouting at you on Mopac.

The disruption of this visual silence is for me why billboards are inherently tacky and always mar what would be an otherwise more pleasant landscape, even in the heart of a city. Cute little messages from "God" or "Billboard" don't help either. In a way, though, billboards become a kind of totem of the divine as it appears in a highly materialistic society such as ours: we look to them on high for guidance as they shine brightly in the heavens, but when compared with a highway devoid of billboards (that increasingly can only exist in the imagination) they are revealed (and reveal commercialism) to be empty substitutes for the divine or trees or anything else of real worth as Fitzgerald so aptly implied in The Great Gatsby.

This comes to mind as over the past few weeks, I've noticed a billboard spring to life in a neighborhood near my own. It towers over the landscape calling attention to itself, and though it is currently blank since the owners are in a dispute with a local home owners association over it, it is an eyesore and a sad reminder of how little aesthetics are valued when there is coin to be made.

I am pleased to learn that a group of local homeowners is trying to fight The Man on this one and even have the help of at least one county official.

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