It feels… kinda personal. Right at the end of my street is a gigantic yellow billboard that’s so huge, it nearly blocks out the sun. I see it every single time I leave the house. Like one of those creepy portraits in a mystery film whose eyes follow you around the room, I feel like it’s watching every move I make. In that sense, it reminds me of that Police song – ‘Do do do, da da da’. And just like that Police song, it’s an assault on the senses that makes me feel slightly ill.
In bold lettering, the billboard screams ‘FREEDOM FREEDOM FREEDOM’. I’ve no idea why. I mean, as words go ‘freedom’ is as good as any but that still doesn’t account for why it’s printed three times. Perhaps the author wracked their brains for weeks to come up with a buzzword that would electrify the nation. Having landed on the word ‘freedom’, the author was then stunned to learn that it would only take up a third of the headline space and was pushed into one of those hurried, last minute decisions that usually sees me panic and order the ‘large’ version of the three-piece box at KFC when the ‘regular’ size will more than suffice.
Stricken with dread whilst standing at the front counter of the billboard shop as a queue of increasingly cranky strangers continues to grow and threatens to push through the door, the author panicked. Instead of coming up with three different words with a view to developing something meaningful, he instead ordered the same word three times over. Granted, it fills the space, even if ‘freedom’ cubed would have been far more economical and direct.
Perhaps it’s a tribute to the late, great Aretha Franklin. As anyone who’s ever seen ‘The Blues Brothers’ can attest, ‘Freedom’ is one of her greatest songs and the chorus involves belting out the word over and over again. Personally, if I had to choose an Aretha song for a billboard, I’d have gone for ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’. Granted, it’s a lot of words for one billboard, but it’s a pretty terrific song.
With any luck, it’s the first of a series of billboards, each one highlighting classic song lyrics. Some billboards will ask the tough questions. I dare say few of us can confidently answer the question ‘Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near?’ It’s a query best left unanswered, although if the birds are seagulls, then the object of the song probably smells like a chip. Some billboards will be informative – ‘I’ve got a brand new pair of roller skates, you’ve got a brand new key.’ Others, simply mystifying. I, for one, look forward to the day when a big yellow billboard appears near my house that reads ‘Awopbopaloopa Awopbamboom’.
Come to think of it, Aretha sings the word ‘freedom’ four times in the chorus of that song, rather than the measly three on the billboard. I’m beginning to suspect the author may not be that familiar with the works of Aretha Franklin at all. Perhaps these aren’t song lyrics at all but something more sinister. But if it’s not a tribute to the First Lady of Soul, what message is the billboard trying to convey?
Maybe there is no message. Perhaps ‘FREEDOM FREEDOM FREEDOM’ is an entirely random piece of verbiage that’s been haphazardly thrown up on a billboard to distract commuters from using their indicators when changing lanes. It may well be that any three words would have sufficed. In a way, I’d prefer it if the giant billboard near my house screamed ‘HOTDOGS CHICKEN PRETZELS’.
Because whilst the word ‘freedom’ is used a lot, the billboard is terrifically vague. Freedom from what? Freedom from punctuation, certainly (but that’s a whole other story – specifically, from about three weeks ago). Freedom from explaining or providing anything resembling a cogent argument. Instead, it seeks to tap into some kind of bubbling discontent without having to nail its colours to the mast. Frankly, I’m suspicious.
There’s only one rational conclusion – it’s Marxism, pure and simple. In particular, it’s Groucho Marxism, who once sang the song ‘Whatever It Is, I’m Against It’. At least Groucho was trying to be funny. The billboard at the end of my street is unintentionally hilarious. But much like Groucho, the billboard at the end of my street has siblings. Lots of them. In fact, yellow billboards are popping up all over the place. It’s sort of like ‘Day of the Triffids but with bigger font.
It’s an election year. Politics, at its best, is a contest of ideas. But there should, at the very least, be some kind of idea. At least to start with. I guess there’s something that feels – to me at least – brazenly cynical about these billboards and it’s making me cranky. I’m sure there are some people who love those billboards. People fond of the colour yellow or Aretha Franklin, for starters. But not me.
It’s been a long couple of years. There’ll be lots of advertising over the next few months from all kinds of political parties. I’ll disagree with most of it. I’ll probably believe none of it. But if I could say anything to those responsible for the big yellow billboard – stand for something other than opposing everything. Please.