By Dave Cooper
In March I wrote an essay for North of Center about the excessive amount of outdoor advertising along New Circle Road in northeast Lexington. My little screed, entitled “No more tube dancers!” was fun for me to write because I enjoy spreading awareness about the many insidious manifestations of our society’s corporatization.
Tube dancers are an advertising gimmick used by car dealers, check cashing firms, and other retail-oriented companies to attract the attention of motorists. They are tall, brightly-colored, fan-powered “men” that wave and flail their arms as the traffic roars past. I hate those things.
While researching the article, I also learned the advertising industry term for the 12-foot tall flags that are sprouting up around town in front of pawn stores, fast food joints, and muffler/oil change shops—they are called “feather flags.”
After my essay and a photo appeared in the March issue of North of Center, and a companion op-ed ran in the Lexington Herald-Leader, I decided to write my LFUCG Council Representative Kevin Stinnett to ask if anything could be done to reduce the number of feather flags and tube dancers on New Circle Road. Back in February, there were over 100 of them planted in a four-mile stretch of New Circle—so many that they were creating a visual distraction and a traffic hazard.
I assumed sending an email about this to Mr. Stinnett was probably a waste of time: the people in city government generally have much more important things to worry about than advertising clutter. I copied Mayor Gray in my email, hoping that someone would look at the situation. But I didn’t have real high hopes.
To my amazement, I received a prompt reply from both my council member and the Mayor, saying that city officials were already aware of the problem and that the city Code Enforcement crews were beginning a crack down on the feather flags, which apparently violate one of the city’s sign ordinances.
In March, Code Enforcement officials began visiting all of the businesses along New Circle Road NE that had the illegal flags and the tube dancers. After informing them of the violation of city ordinances, officials gave the businesses 30 days to remove the flags or face fines of up to $500. I forwarded the Mayor’s email to Tom Eblen of the Herald-Leader, who wrote about the enforcement action in one of his Monday columns in the Business section.
I was out of town for the entire month of March, but when I got back to Lexington I decided to take a little drive around New Circle to see if the city had done what they promised. I was again amazed. All of the illegal feather flags were gone—even the ones in front of The Castle and Dan’s Pawn Shop and the mattress store where Kmart used to be.
New Circle Road looks much nicer now. It’s almost pleasant to drive. You can see some patches of grass between the drainage ditches and parking lots, and some places where the trees used to be. Patty and I drove around New Circle on a sunny spring day and dared to dream that one day the businesses on our end of town would re-plant those trees and maybe even some shrubs and flowers and other things that add beauty to the roads, instead of ugliness.
We dreamed of living in a town where our senses would not be assaulted by ugliness every time we went out. And we dreamed of a town without any ugly billboards advertising gun shows or trucks or McDonald’s sweet tea.
The big picture
I find outdoor advertising to be degrading and offensive. It demeans and cheapens the appearance of our town. And there is just way too much.
When a business is closed for the night, the business owners should not only turn off their inside lights, they should turn off their sign out front. Paris, France just passed this law. We should allow no lighted billboards or lighted signs with moving graphics or messages that change. No cheap placards for cigarettes and beer posted in front of the convenience stores and gas stations. No banners for Pepsi 2-liter bottles strung up between two metal fence posts.
Some people don’t understand why I get so irritated about outdoor advertising. Here is one reason why I find it so offensive.
Suppose that a cigarette company started buying full page advertising in children’s magazines like Boys Life or Sports Illustrated Kids Magazine, or a beer company began running ads during Sponge Bob cartoons on Saturday morning. Parents and public health and children’s advocacy groups would be outraged.
Yet kids on a school bus or in the back of the family minivan can see huge billboards advertising Maker’s Mark Bourbon on New Circle Road. There is no filter with outdoor advertising.
Think that billboards don’t influence you? Don’t be naïve. Outdoor advertising works—that’s why corporations buy billions of dollars of it every year. They aren’t stupid. They know it works, and they know that it influences your purchasing decisions.
I remember one billboard for bourbon that I found especially offensive: it was around Christmas time four or five years ago, and the billboard art showed a Christmas cookie shaped like a bottle of bourbon, with a big bite out of it.
Hey kids! Drinking bourbon is just like eating a Christmas cookie!
So let’s put an end to offensive outdoor advertising in Lexington. All of the feather flags planted around town violate city ordinances—not just the ones on New Circle Road. Any law-abiding citizen can pull them out of the ground and toss them in the dumpster.
Feather flags, like the tube dancers, can also be easily disabled with a pen knife or box cutter. And when they have a big hole in them, those tube dancers…just don’t dance very well.