(This article originally appeared in handlebars.org)
While walking down Division Street one day this summer in Portland, Oregon, I spotted this billboard. It was a sunny day in Portland, a city well-known for its long bouts of rain, so there were quite a few pedestrians out and about enjoying the weather. No one seemed to pay much attention to the billboard. The weather was nice, and the general mood was one of enjoying the little things; walking, taking a deep breath. The visual noise of advertising was the last thing on everyone's minds. But I had my camera, and this makes me take a close look at everything I see. So I snapped a few shots. With intent.
In its manic race to secure more markets and to consolidate more power, Big Business has been unable to keep track of the ever growing ironies and absurdities inherent in its efforts. Big Business has shown (through greed and the condescending view that it is the savior and guardian of employment) that it will leave the world a worse place than before it made its appearance on the world stage. Degrading and destroying the lives and environments of its subjects is just a necessary evil to secure jobs for the future. Without jobs, we would all perish. So Big Brother Business is actually doing us a favor.
The bitter tone of my words in a way betrays the spirit of this photograph. I hope viewers initial reaction is that of laughter. But after meditating on it for a bit, I hope it becomes the impetus for thinking about how powerful forces are imposing their self-serving will on more and more aspects of our daily lives.
This billboard (one of more than half a million) is owned by Clear Channel, a major media conglomerate that owns outdoor "displays," as they call them, radio stations and plenty of other media; television programming, entertainment venues, etc., etc. They play a major role in determining what information and events reach the people and what information and events don't. They often get into hot water with the FCC because citizen groups cry foul at Clear Channel's behavior and programming, and claim rightly that they are not providing programming which is for the public good, which is a requirement for getting a renewed license.When the pressure gets to be too much, Clear Channel often "fires" offensive DJ's, which means that they relocate them to another market where they haven't yet worn out their welcome.
A group of benign vandals in Portland recently altered some of the Clear Channel logos at the top of the billboards to read Clearly Evil. There are also parody stickers of Clear Channel's logo that say, "Fear Channel, Corporations Good, Government Honest.? If you look further, you'll also find Clear Channel logos under which is written ?Sieg Heil Goebbles, Propaganda-F?hrer.? Though they may seem like adolescent pranks, this underground use of poetic license must be used because all mass media overwhelmingly reflects the basic agenda of Big Business, because it is Big Business, which makes it nearly impossible for meaningful criticism to reach the public.
And, of course, then you have the actual advertiser on this billboard, who asserts "We solve real estate problems." In fact, by advertising with Clear Channel, they are helping to preserve a real estate problem. Billboards are ugly, and this billboard makes this house ugly. More than likely they contacted Clear Channel about getting ads in the Portland area, and that was that. Clear Channel took the order and threw the sign up, just another sign, another day. So you have this photo which pleases me greatly, not in the sense that it gives me equanimity, but in that it is yet another example which confirms the ever-present suspicion that something is rotten in these United States.
scott larkin email