Diaries Magazine

Blank Billboards Provoke Existential Crisis

Posted on the 17 April 2013 by Cfburch4 @cfburch4

All of these blank billboards around Myrtle Beach remind me of a story about the time John Lennon met Yoko Ono.

While at one of Ono's exhibits, Lennon saw a ladder leading up to a canvas, and a spyglass was hanging from a chain on the canvas. Lennon climbed the ladder and looked through the spyglass, where he saw one simple word: "YES."

How affirming.

But when the Myrtle Beach area's blank billboards reminded me of that story, I remembered one essential detail incorrectly. Instead of "YES," I had remembered the image being a question mark: ?.

Imagine if that had been the case: You climb a ladder, look through a spyglass expecting to see something intentional, something purposeful, something the artist wants to communicate, but there's a question mark, throwing your curiosity back at you -- so what did you expect to see? That might be the more interesting question than why Ono drew attention to YES.

So, as you're driving along U.S. 17 Bypass or U.S. 501, your eyes likely glance at the billboards, only to see the occasional blank space. What did you expect to see there? What did you hope to see?

A transportation billboard is one of the main characters in a personal favorite movie, L.A. Story. Steve Martin wrote the screenplay and starred in the film.

Early in the movie, the electronic billboard starts spelling out messages for Martin's character when car trouble forces him to the side of the road. The benign message "freeway clear" suddenly transforms into "hiya," and a conversation begins.

The billboard gives Martin's character a riddle to solve, and that riddle holds the answer for what Martin's character should do next.

Apparently, the wisdom held within the riddle will be something more meaningful than "keep right" or "dense fog ahead."

How peculiar that a sign could seem so meaningful while its meaning isn't completely clear. It's both mystical and existential, an odd moment when everyday, mundane matters seem to intersect with something like a greater reality and human decisions take on new gravity.

That thought has been buzzing in my head for a while. I thought about starting a literary journal devoted to the idea. "Blank Sign," I would call it, "A Journal of Indeterminate Epiphanies."

All this, conjured by open advertising space in our tourist market.

So I need the help of local business owners. They need to place ads on these blank billboards. They need to start providing some answers before these blank billboards ask me too many questions.

-Colin Foote Burch

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