Friday, June 1, 2012

Is advertising a form of panhandling?

America has turned into one big commercial, and I don't like it one bit. The fact that PBS threatens to insert commercials in the middle of its shows, and lawmakers seriously consider selling naming "rights" for roads and putting ads on school buses, means our goose is damn near cooked.

Many cities have ordinances banning aggressive panhandling - or any panhandling. These laws have some appeal to folks who just don't want to be confronted by panhandlers, but I have a soft spot for people in need. I'm a real-life Robin Hood. If panhandling is so bad, what about advertising? Isn't advertising a form of panhandling?

Some of my own projects are ad-supported. And advertising is often so stupid as to be entertaining. Few people have been able to hold back laughter over the commercials with the "Dristan breathing bag test" or the woman who seethes about the shampoo that "makes your hair smell like medicine." Nobody is going to outlaw advertising altogether, as there are some legal protections for commercial speech.

But if we ban panhandling, how do we respond to advertising?

Did you know the FCC used to limit the amount of ads radio and TV stations could air? Oldsters like me can remember when there was no such virus as an infomercial. This is a day we should return to.

And what's with the billboards along I-471 in Newport that were erected in violation of the Highway Beautification Act?

Conversely, wouldn't the Citizens United ruling protect panhandling if it protects corporations' "right" to spend limitless dollars on political campaigns?

I guess panhandling is only legal if you're a superPAC, a billboard company, or the operator of a fraudulent pyramid scheme.

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