Thursday, April 21, 2005

Billboards from hell

If someone had already used the above title, please, may I use it again? I couldn’t find a nastier one.

Every person and her/his first cousin living in this metropolis and yonder surely have a billboard complaint to air. I have mine, you have yours and chances are, we’re all talking about the same things. The unending row of gigantic billboards lining the highways. The smaller ones, zillions of them, hung on lamp posts in the middle of the road. The defacement, the darkening, the uglification of the sky and the horizon. The offensive, stupid content.

In saecula saeculorum. The repetitiveness, the eternity of this brazen assault on your senses just blows your mind to billboard hell. It is an Andy Warhol nightmare except that it is also yours and mine. How have we come to this?

Last year, I wrote a piece on billboards when the offensive, double-entendre ``kinse anyos’’ ad of Napoleon Brandy created a furor. I had an email avalanche from irate readers who were thankful someone had expressed their pent-up disgust in print.

But that was about content. I mentioned then that before the outcry against the Napoleon Brandy ad, there was this huge billboard near the foot of the Nagtahan Bridge that was just as offensive. I saw it every time I came from the Inquirer in Makati and headed for home via Nagtahan. It showed a young girl, about 15 or 16, in a reclining position and with her legs sufficiently spread out. She had her big pleading eyes looking up, and she had the fly of her jeans unzipped and wide open to show her skimpy panty and most of her pubic area. Lee was the jeans brand. The sell jeans that way?

It was there for many months and I wondered whether Manila mayor-pro-lifer Lito Atienza noticed it or whether the President did every time she came from Malacanang and was headed north.

Billboards used to be made of metal sheets that were hand-painted. Now they are made of plastic sheets that come out of giant printing machines. I once saw a team of workers preparing to hoist up a billboard. The sheets flowed like a river and covered a whole sidewalk.

This reminded me of the European artist Kristo who covered entire buildings and structures with canvas and then had them photographed. He mummified entire landscapes even if only for the duration of his outdoor exhibition. He was making a statement while the population watched in awe and puzzlement. Our advertising and billboard industries leave nothing for the imagination.

The issue now against billboards is not just their content. It is their proliferation. It is the inconsiderate, wanton, crude, rude desire to call attention and to sell. Manufacturers plaster giant pictures of their products everywhere. Globe and Smart, you are number one. Happee toothpaste, you made Jasmine Trias’ face pathetic.

Well, their days might soon be over. Citizens have banded together to fight this mental and physical hazard, this aggression and oppression. Environmental activists, motorists, artists, educators, social scientists, consumers, lawyers, media practitioners, public servants, businessmen and many others from various fields have formed the Anti Billboard Coalition (ABC). Call 6471181 if you want to join to the effort.

EDSA and main thoroughfares, expressways, rooftops, the bucolic and beautiful landscape in the provinces that beckon people home—they are now groaning under the weight of billboards. We have become a billboard wasteland.

Once upon a time billboards stood parallel to the highway. Now they are placed on a diagonal position or on a right angle to the road so that they can face, overwhelm and distract motorists.

How many billboard structures have collapsed during the typhoon season? How have these billboards affected our aesthetic values, how much have they added to the cacophony in our lives?

The problem with billboards is that when one brand manufacturer puts up one, the competition has to do the same and so forth and so on. There is no end, no limit. But what about those who are not selling a consumer product, why do they have to join the fray? You see huge ones announcing the arrival of evangelists or crowing about the projects of elected officials.

The billboard disease has spread to the rest of society. Now, everybody just hangs or nails anything on an empty space. ``Tubero’’, ``room 4 rent’’, ``lady bedspacer’’ and ``manghihilot’’ announcements have been around for a long time but now you have ``Happy Fiesta’’ and ``Congratulations graduates’’ from councilor so-and-so.

And what about those billboards on seminary property along EDSA? The priests there must be making oodles of money. Taxman, here. And who’s making money from ads hung on government property such as overpasses and traffic lights?

During a gathering of the anti-billboard activists, I said that perhaps, banning billboards all together would make the competing brand manufacturers happy. With billboards outlawed, they no longer have to spend on this type of advertising to outdo one another.

The billboard industry is big. Many sectors are involved--the manufacturers, advertising companies, models, site-hunters, property owners, billboard printers, construction companies. Will this Goliath crash and crumble? Sorry for those who invested in this business. You put your money and people in something so ugly and so wrong.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has two bills pending. Senate Bill 1714, the ``Anti-Billboard Act’’ seeks to regulate the placement of billboard signs. SB 1668 is ``an act prohibiting officers from claiming credit through signage announcing a public works project.’’