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Air Stream Ranch: Freedom of Expression is Not Free


Alongside the eastbound lanes of Interstate 4 in Dover, Florida, an individual by the name of Frank Bates buried eight Airstream travel trailers nose-down. It is not far from Tampa, and I often pass it on the way to Orlando and beyond. I finally decided to pull over and take a picture of this creation because it might not be there for much longer. Hillsborough County code inspectors and several of Gates’ neighbors want it gone.

When it comes to ART, our tastes, perspectives, and emotions vary; or, as some of us like to say, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” There are certain elements of design, whether contrived by humans or nature, that we can all generally agree on as beautiful. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I am sure you have been in an individual’s home and wondered if the aesthetic gene went missing in them. Of course, as long as their taste, or misplaced taste, is confined to their personal space then no harm no foul. But when it enters public domain then we have some issues.

Even though I side with Hillsbourough County in this case, I truly appreciate the vision and motivation that manifested in Gates to the point where he took a nondescript and unused area of his personal property and created public amusement. There are so many people that fall prey to laziness or ineptness that they never pursue freedom of expression. Even though “freedom of expression” is a contradiction.

The problem is – there is no true freedom of expression in public domain unless permission to express is first obtained. Otherwise, you suffer the consequences, however small or large they may be. Gates may have gotten his way if he had pursued appropriate actions and received approval. He thought since it was on his land that he could do whatever he so chose. But just like when you don’t pay your property taxes, you quickly find out how far the boundaries, or limitations, of personal property extend.

Gates was bold and creative. He demonstrated good form but bad execution; or is it the opposite? I side with the law because people would otherwise express themselves in distasteful ways far beyond what looks like art. No matter the intentions, I think so many of us enjoy people like Gates who give the system a little test every now and again. By sheer presentation, those Airstreams seem to be giving the law a little bit of the old fuck you. Obviously, they got the message.