About two months ago, the Boston City Council passed an ordinance to require the removal of old satellite dishes and a ban on mounting new satellite dishes on the front of residences (except if they would only work in the front.) My town recently passed its own version of the ordinance.
My initial reaction was delight; I, too, consider them an eyesore. But once I started reflecting upon this new regulation, questions started to emerge:
- Apparently there is a consensus that these dishes detract from the overall look of a home. But why is that the case? Is it because a dish disrupts the hegemonic lines of traditional architecture? Is it the somewhat jarring juxtaposition of the 21st century saucer with the 19th century triple decker?
- Or, perhaps, is the objection to satellite dishes a regressive position, an objection to encroaching mechanization and automation? The home, of all places, is supposed to be a refuge from such concerns. Unless it’s a handy, unobtrusive (or beautiful) machine like a dishwasher or a KitchenAid mixer.
- Ever since those pesky surrealists pointed out that determining what goes with what can be a tricky proposition, we have been confused about this. What constitutes order? An array of similar shapes, or it is perhaps denoted by color, or age, or material? Can we outlaw satellite dishes in all instances except when they are mounted on grey houses?
- Why can’t the dish manufacturers create some kind of charming design for these dishes? Perhaps a large flower motif, or a blazing sun, or a smiley face?
- It really says something about a culture that we so freely abandon modern marvels, often for no reason other than the owner purchased an upgrade. I frequently pass by discarded television sets, for instance. They still work once they are plugged into the digital translator box, but everyone seems to be moving on to flat screen, theatre-style viewing or micro, mobile viewing.
- The entire enterprise illustrates the tensions between individual versus community agency. The community (see above) has deemed that these objects are ugly. The individual may disagree, but too bad. There are many examples wherein individual desires (such as “I’d like tos strangle my neighbor”) are thwarted by society, or at least delayed. But those are literally matters of life and death. This is a matter of collective aesthetics.
I’m very curious as to what other folks think about this… please do drop me a comment and let me know.