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Issue #102 / 13 June 2008



Why Is This On A Public Street?



WHY IS THIS on a public street?

It shouldn't be on a public street where children and old men can see it. Each would be confused by it, children and old men equally but not in the same way.

This billboard faces west on Ventura Boulevard near Beverly Glen in Sherman Oaks, California. It sits above Handy J Car Wash and down the street from Infield Hot Dogs. My apartment is one block away; I walk past this billboard every day.

It’s an ad for Joe’s Jeans. That graphic to the right of the word “JOE’S” is a logo. It could be all the letters in “Joe’s.“ Or it could be all the letters in “Joe’s” plus “Jeans.” It’s a glyph; it’s illiterate. Illiteracy is cool.

I was standing on the corner of Beverly Glen and Ventura waiting for the light to change. A young man was also standing there writing a text message. Then he read a text message and laughed and brought a cell phone to his ear. Talked and laughed some more.

When he stopped talking I said, “You need a third arm.” And he said, “Thanks. Yes.” Said it dismissively, cool.

That ad on the billboard exists to break through the noise in his head.

That ad was not mine to see; it wasn’t talking to me.

The logo, that same glyph, can be seen on woman’s rear. It seems to be in the form of a tattoo. So she has the logo of Joe’s Jeans tattooed on her rear, and she’s showing her rear to a man.

The woman is glaring at the man. The woman is glaring at me. I walk down the street every day and she glares at me.


I don’t think that pornography belongs outside. I think that if you want to watch pornography in your office while trying to write about an obscene billboard well then that’s OK but pornography should not be visible outside, so that young children and old men are exposed to it. It confuses them equally, children and old men, but not in the same way.

I’ve been pronouncing “flaccid” incorrectly for many years but particularly in the last five.

Old men do not want to be aroused by such, don’t want to be reminded. Old men can’t be aroused by such. Old men try to think of something to write about the billboard, cultural criticism maybe, something political, while looking at a photographic image of the billboard, poorly printed on a piece of copy paper, while sitting in an office having been aroused and not.

Why are these people dark-skinned? The billboard is in an Anglo neighborhood, but they are not Anglo. Are they Latino? Are they Middle Eastern? Would the ad be more provocative if the people in the ad were thought to be Middle Eastern and the woman was fresh out of the hijab? Think of her eyes, with their heavy makeup, behind the niqab, the Muslim veil, where only the eyes can be seen. Infield Hot Dogs is down the street on the corner. “Infield” and “infidel” are anagrams.

Or should the people in the ad be thought of as Latino? Come fresh to consumerism? Look at my jeans. Look at my ass. Look at my ass. Buy me more jeans. Oprima dinero. Maybe she can buy her own jeans. What do I know? It's a billboard. I’m old and walk down the street every day, thinking of how I hate Mexican music, Mariachi—thinking about cross-culturalism when it’s the culture of peasants and the culture of the Enlightenment that are crossing. Some cultures makes me cross. Oprima cero if you’re old and cross.

Why is the young woman scowling? Maybe she bought her own jeans. Maybe he doesn’t have a job. Maybe she buys his clothes for him. Who has the power in the ad on the billboard? It’s not the man even if it's his money. Maybe an old man walks on the street near his home. Maybe an old man has no power.

The sexuality of the dark-skinned is always acceptable. The sexuality of the dark-skinned on display on a public street is always acceptable. Yes, behavior expected of a servant class. Makes them inferior, so that exploiting them is acceptable. They are not us, not Anglo. The woman is not a blonde. How does that work to sell jeans to Anglos? Because it’s still sexual, exotic and sexual.

I don’t know of any public protests about the billboard. Haven’t read of any contact with the city council. Because the woman on the billboard is not blonde, that's why. Are they supposed to be Latinos? Latinos in an Anglo neighborhood are servants, even on a billboard, moving stuff.

Look at her goddamn eyes.

Flaccid. The first syllable is pronounced flak. Hard c. Flak-sid.


—Britt Leach



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