Thursday, June 18, 2015

Poetics of Billboards

I wonder if U.S. citizens take the prevalence of billboards for granted… because they feel helpless to have any effect? Consider: If they feel “everybody else” believes in “extreme freedom” for capitalists to put up lots of billboards, then they feel helpless to discourage billboards, and so they stop paying attention: They take such eyesores for granted, like a husband not noticing dirt.

I for one believe there is hope. I say this based on a California writer, whom I’ve met, and my brother in law.

I’ve often mentioned writer David Gerrold, and his masterpiece, which is NOT about war, called The War against the Chtorr. Not about war? Not war as we know it: It’s about an alien-from-outer space ecological invasion. Remember: Gerrold is from crazy southern California, and so his series, understandably, is hopeful, about a hero, and his stressed-out society, learning to grow, and accept more and more responsibility…. I have to chuckle: I too have known personal growth, and I too, like the hero during book four, have known the embarrassment of suddenly realizing that I still haven’t grown up as much as I had hoped.

In the book Hawaii is totally free of infestation. No war. The army endorses a California-type human potential course on the big island—and sends the hero there. I’ll never forget one brief scene: The hero is looking out his hotel window and marveling at how quiet things are. Then someone tells him: The street seems so quiet because of something psychological… there are no billboards allowed.

I believe Gerrold the artist is aware of the subconscious price we pay for an overly chaotic environment. Here in my home town—very short on billboards I might add—we respect the subconscious by having a building code where, among other things, there are height restrictions so the human sky line along the river valley matches the skyline of nature: no chaotic jagged roofs along the valley. I suppose our American cousins would have suppressed their awareness in order to accept billboards. Too bad.

What makes me hopeful is that so much of Gerrold’s Chtorr future series is based on the present day. What if Hawaii, unlike the U.S. mainland, really does have such zoning? An exciting thought. Could the rest of U.S. America grow to have such awareness, and grow in responsibility to engage in such zoning?

I’m also hopeful because of something my brother in law told me. He lives in the middle of British Columbia, a province of Canada. He’s part aboriginal, by the way. So it’s politically OK that he told me how when you are on the remote highway you can tell when you are suddenly driving through an Indian reservation: There’s an abrupt presence of billboards. Which implies that non-Indian land, both private and crown, enjoys zoning regulations against billboards. Not like in the U.S. of A. Which means there’s hope for Americans: They could follow Canada’s example, becoming less libertarian, and acquiring more common sense. A hopeful thought.

In the meantime, until the day Americans wise up, a sense of humor is never out of order—so here’s this week’s poem:
by Ogden Nash, 1932

I think that I shall never see,

A billboard lovely as a tree.

Indeed, unless the billboards fall,

I’ll never see a tree at all.

Sean Crawford

~I copy-checked the poem using Quote Investigator.

~For Canada and Britain's equivalent of the Chtorr, for a weed where it's a criminal offence to remove it yourself (because it's too powerful) see today's June 19 CBC radio,   

~As for the Chtorr story, Gerrold has finished the ending but now needs to fill in the missing volumes. As I understand it, he put his story on the backburner after accepting responsibility for raising The Martian Child, now a major motion picture starring John Cusack as the father. Strange how having a child illuminates your priorities.

Sometimes, like everyone else, I dim my awareness; I resort to humor.

I don’t have any mid-life crises myself, no, not I, but if I ever reread Gerrold’s Martian Child book I’ll know to skip the gloomy-to-me first chapter where he reveals his yearning for adopting a child. My God has not blessed me with children. Perhaps because I don’t have a wife.

1 comment:

  1. Billboards are shill boards for the uninformed! Else, how would I know where to get a delicious hamburger along the way?