Heard something this morning on a radio news channel about a protest in Paris with regard to billboards. The folk organizing the protest aim to take matters literally into their own hands and paint over the advertisements, so the message of the advertisers will be indecipherable and their own ‘message’ up there for all to see. They have also decided not to be secretive about it – in fact, they welcome being arrested, as this will enable them to initiate a serious debate on this issue through the French legal system. Their rationale is fairly simple and in this day and age of treasuring one’s ‘rights’, makes pretty good sense. In short, they feel that a billboard, as opposed to advertising on TV, radio or other media outlets, does not allow the individual the right to ‘turn it off’ if they choose not to be affected by it. There is also the case that it is visual pollution and spoils the ambient beauty of the environment.

Java and I also view billboards as an unnecessary evil that is forced on us – whether we like it or not – by advertisers, which include the folk who want to sell their products and the advertising companies that encourage them to. Java reminded me of the scenario on the East Coast after the tsunami had wreaked its havoc all the way down the coast, when a whole slew of medium-sized billboards appeared, almost overnight, to advertise a brand of tri-shaw. It was like blight on the sea-scape and an affront to our sensibilities – for more reasons than one. There we were, trying to help out the survivors of the awful experience, and there they were – the advertisers, trying to hock their wares – possibly hoping that some of that ‘aid’ money would flow their way.

Billboards in the city (Colombo, in this case) are not quite as bad, given that they are crammed in with all sorts of other visual pollutants and don’t disturb the aesthetics of the surroundings as do those placed at strategic locations that succeed in destroying the scenic beauty of our rural environment. One just has to take a bend on the Colombo – Kandy road to be assaulted by monstrous rectangles depicting an assortment of personalities or just plain folk imploring the viewer to ‘get some too’. What a fucking bore!

I remember in the early eighties there was some manufacturer of shock-absorbers who took the liberty of painting what would have been considered to be ‘suitable’ rocks, with the message that X shock-absorbers were great and where to get them. This was done continuously along the road and succeeded in getting us and the friends we were with so pissed off, that we got ourselves some spray cans and set about obliterating the white painted messages with black paint, so that the rocks looked reasonably ‘natural’. It was both painstaking, as well as expensive, but we did our bit as our consciences deemed appropriate. Billboards, however, are a whole other can of worms! How to fight them?

The Parisiennes are giving it their all – and more power to them. But looking at the scenario here, I guess that public opinion is just not in that place, where protests on such ‘mundane’ issues are concerned – and who can blame us, with all the other shit that’s going down? But in the end I guess it will be up to the advertising agencies and their clients to have the sensitivity and be in tune with infringing on the sensibilities of a lot of us who do care about the environment and the visual beauty of our land, and not too much about which mobile phone is superior or what milk is better for your children – particularly when most of the populace just can’t afford any of what is being shoved in our faces.

Do you think that if sales plummeted for stuff advertised on particular billboards (the ones that screw up our countryside) that the Agencies and Clients would flash on the reverse effect they have on the psychology of the consumer? So perhaps boycotting products advertised on offensive billboards would be the way to go?

What do you think?