Thursday, October 5, 2006

Billboards from hell(2)

There’s a (2) up there because I used the same title last year when the Anti-Billboard Coalition (ABC) whipped up a storm. Many storms have come and gone since that time and billboards have continued to collapse on highways, vehicles, transport systems, structures and human beings except on those who put them up.

Someone suggested I use the title “Death by billboard”.

The man who instantly died after he was hit by a falling billboard was probably still being embalmed when this outdoor advertising executive said on national TV something like this: Milenyo was a strong typhoon and things standing were expected to fall, among them trees, electric posts and billboards. If we ban billboards, he said, we might as well ban trees and electric posts.

Ano raw? Trees aren’t marijuana. You don’t have to be a true-blue greenie to know the basics about trees. And electric posts? Many have contributed to the ugliness of the metropolis because of the entangled wires they weave around them but they stand there for a purpose. And we expect our power providers to someday do away with unsightly wiring.

But the billboards? The mushrooming thousands of billboards on top of buildings, along roads and superhighways? And throw in the smaller ones that hang on lamposts, columns and street railings. What purpose do they serve?

I do believe in advertising but not in the use of billboards and hangings that litter the landscape. Sure, advertising adds to the vibrancy of the economy, and if well done, informs and educates consumers about product choices, it increases sales volume and helps lower prices, etc. As an industry it also gives jobs to a lot of people. But it could go overboard in content and method and become exploitative, offensive, destructive and dangerous.

The billboard overkill is an example. Now every outdoor ad agency and its clients want a piece of that wall, that roadside, that skyline, even the blue above.

I suspect that if billboards were banned altogether, manufacturers would be happy, equally happy. This would level the playing field, so to speak. Manufacturers, all of them, no longer need to spend for that kind of advertising. Hey, there’s still print, TV, radio, word of mouth, events sponsorship, even charity and social advocacy.

We’d just have a handful of losers—those who invested their money in the uglification of the environment and those who work for them. But there is life down the road when it is all cleaned up just as there should be life after jueteng.

EDSA is not my regular route but when I drove through there a few days ago, I was aghast at how cluttered it has become. No more piece of blue sky in one’s peripheral vision, just the darkening horizon. The whole beyond has been obstructed by rows upon rows of screaming ads that are not just there to be seen but to be read as well. Oh yes, I’ve caught myself reading some of those ads while driving. Careful, those billboards may not flip over but your vehicle might.

This brazen assault on your senses just blows your mind to billboard hell. How have we come to this?

Last year I received a letter from a reader who complained that the letter M (which stands for Mary) on the Antipolo Marian shrine has been obstructed by the giant M or twin arches of McDonald’s. Well now, what do you say to the church officials who run the San Carlos and Guadalupe Seminaries along EDSA who have allowed their haven of green (for the motorists’ eyes) to be taken over by the advertisers? How many pieces of silver did they earn?

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

This reminded me of the European artist Kristo who covered entire structures with canvas and then had them photographed. He mummified entire landscapes 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.

Someone should do a Kristo and use discarded tarpaulin from billboards and wrap an entire landscape. That would be a statement.

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. Cell phones, garments and accessories, food, health and beauty products, real estate, accessories, hardware. Just as guilty are the self-styled evangelists, politicians, movie promoters and TV stations.

The bucolic and beautiful landscape in the provinces that beckon people home—it too is 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.

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.

As of last year, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago already had 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.’’

Billboard advertising—big or small—should be banned altogether.