Ross Smith, the man behind a controversial billboard in north Columbus, said it appears the community overreacted to a benign message about his birthday.
“The point being, it’s absolutely absurd that people would associate something like that” with mass shootings in Dayton and in El Paso, Texas, he said.
Smith also called the public complaints a “massive misinterpretation” of the message: His grandmother was wearing a spacesuit holding a helmet in one hand and an insect gun in the other – some thought it was a semiautomatic rifle – digitally enhanced to resemble an alien-fighting weapon, with the words, “It’s my birthday b*tch,” along with references to Smith’s social-media accounts.
The billboard, on East Dublin-Granville Road just west of Maple Canyon Boulevard, was taken down Aug. 6, several hours after complaints. An ad for the U.S. Marine Corps has replaced it.
“Why are we always going for the negatives?” said Smith, a social-media star with tens of millions of followers worldwide. “Why aren’t we looking for the cause of the problems?
“Let’s stop finding the negative in things and let’s start looking at the positives,” he said. “And when something bad happens, let’s help people and not point fingers.”
Bill Logan, vice chairman of the Northland Community Council’s development committee, said he received several calls, mostly from women, who complained about the insensitive use of “b*itch” being an apparent suggestion of violence and about the timing of the message.
Smith said posters and billboards are everywhere, with stars are gripping firearms to promote action movies.
Smith said the billboard went up days before two unrelated shooting incidents, one Aug. 3 in El Paso and another Aug. 4 in Dayton.
The ad, Smith said, was supposed to be a warm and humorous tribute to his birthday, his real-life grandmother mocking a blitz on Area 51.
The two regularly appear in videos together, taking a light poke at typically noncontroversial topics.
“Our whole goal is to spread peace, love and happiness,” said Smith, who lives in Columbus.
Smith, 26, said he is a graduate of the University of Dayton and has an affection for the school and town. He has started a crowd-funding platform to raise money for the victims of the shooting. He said his goal is to raise $250,000; thus far, $4,000 in contributions have been received.
“That’s the direction people should be focused on,” he said.
He said he paid about $5,000 for the billboard, which was set to stay up for about a month. Lamar Advertising Co. is responsible for the billboard and for taking it down several hours later.
Smith said if he’s reimbursed, he will donate it to the victims fund.