The government of Arlington, Va., just forced a local pizza restaurant to paint over a mural of pizza that was outside of it — because the mural was of pizza and not something else.
So, you might ask: What could possibly be the problem with an artistic depiction of pizza? After all, I myself saw a lot of cartoon pizza in episodes of Ninja Turtles as a child, and I can confidently say I have suffered absolutely no damage — emotionally or physically — because of it.
Well, according to an article in Reason, the pizza place (called “Goody’s”) was forced to paint over the mural because of the county’s sign code, which prohibits any business from having a mural outside that depicts what’s sold inside. So, basically, the pizza place could have had a mural of pretty much anything else (aside from, like, violence and/or pornography, probably), and it would have been just fine. Here’s the thing, though: Why the hell would the pizza place have a mural of something other than pizza, if the goal of the mural was to get people to buy more pizza? Not to mention the obvious fact that there is literally no discernable reason that a business shouldn’t be able to advertise its legal, family-friendly products using a mural if it chooses to do so. After all, I did a little research, and I was able to find exactly zero examples of anyone being killed (or even injured!) by a painting of dough, sauce, and cheese.
Despite all this, however, Arlington apparently couldn’t just let the mural slide. This past week, the mural that had gone up in November — to “get a little attention from people walking by,” according to owner Glenda Alverez — was painted over with lime-green paint in order to comply with the government’s orders.
Now, it should go without saying that this is incredibly stupid — as are all laws that prohibit things without victims. In addition to being stupid, though, this particular law may also be unconstitutional, according to Robert Frommer, an attorney with the libertarian Institute for Justice. Frommer told Reason that if a government’s code states that “certain subjects or topics . . . are prohibited,” then that amounts to “preventing you from speaking on certain subjects just because they don’t like the message,” which violates the First Amendment.
As ridiculous as this pizza-painting debacle is, Reason reports that this is not the first time that something like this has happened in Arlington. In fact, the Institute of Justice reportedly had sued the city over a similar case in 2011, which involved a dog-grooming business having to cover a mural of dogs on the outside of its building with a tarp until it could be painted over. At the time, Arlington County had argued that the law existed for aesthetic reasons and also to prevent drivers from being distracted. As dumb as that reasoning sounds, the federal courts actually sided with Arlington, and the mural was painted over in 2012.
Personally, I think this law needs to be done away with. As for the city’s concerns, I think that, if anything, outside artwork adds to a city’s aesthetic value, and I also think that it’s pretty stupid to cite worries about distracting drivers. I mean, pretty much anything could distract a driver, and a person is just as likely to be distracted by a mural that depicts something that isn’t being sold inside an establishment as they are by something that is being sold. Are we just going to ban artwork of all kinds? Or instead, maybe — just maybe — we could go in the other direction and give businesses the freedom to use some creativity in their advertisements if they choose to do so.