I take public transit to get to work. There are two parts to my trip: a bus to get to the subway, and then the subway to get the rest of the way. Like most other public transit systems I’ve been on, there are ads up on the walls. Like most other printed materials I run into, mistakes and falsehoods leap out at my eye.
Sometimes these are as simple as a grammar mistake, or a typo, although that’s the most boring. What I live for are the ones that are just purely wrong, whether accidentally, or out of a desire to misinform and deceive. There’s something about having my blood boil that makes me feel alive. I’m sure my therapist would have something clever to say about it, but it’s still a fact.
I’m often tempted to take out a Sharpie and write responses to these ads. Writing on the walls is definitely vandalism, but I think writing on an ad that’s just going to be taken down anyway is exercising my freedom of speech. (If I can’t write witty comebacks to ads, the terrorists win!) I’ve never done it, but when I see an ad from the coal industry rah-rahing themselves for being so clean and environmental, or from a religious group claiming that women can have abortions at any point during pregnancy for any reason at all (say, for yuks during the eighth months, I guess), my writing fingers begin to twitch.
But better than all of these subway ads are the public-service ads in the buses. For some reason, the Ride-On bus (the public bus system of Montgomery County, Maryland) doesn’t have any commercial ads, just government-sponsored ones. Some of these I applaud, for encouraging people to save water, or stay home when they’re sick. But some
One of my favorites shows children exhibiting good behavior on the left, and bad behavior on the right. It admonishes parents to set a good example for their kids. But one of the bad kids is raising an angry fist to the camera, face contorted with rage. It’s kind of a cute picture, really. But it’s plagiarized. I’d seen this picture floating around the Internet years earlier, with one difference: the bus ad had been Photoshopped to remove the upraised middle finger from the little boy’s hand. I’ve been meaning to call the phone number on the ad and tell the government I’m the copyright holder for the image, but I just don’t have the nerve.
Even the angry kid doesn’t hold a candle to my favorite, though. It’s one of those vaguely Maoist posters which stridently inform you that the only way to stay safe is to inform on everybody else. These usually call up images of literary dystopias for me, but this one was a shining gem.
If you’ve read George Orwell’s 1984, you may recall the first time that the reader is shown Big Brother. Winston Smith, the protagonist, is on the stairs in his slum tenement, and sees a poster of Big Brother. The narrator (limited to Winston’s perception) remarks that you can’t see the expression on Big Brother’s face — his mouth is completely obscured by a large, bushy moustache. Only his piercing eyes give any real clue to his internal state. This image bookends the novel; we return to it only at the end, with the revelations forced upon Winston by the book’s progress.
Thus, you can imagine my hilarity when I saw this overly snitchy poster, which has a nice border running along the top and bottom made out of photos of people’s eyes. Of course, even if I hadn’t read 1984 (or if the eye image hadn’t been in it) I would have found this choice of imagery funny, since what was probably an attempt to convey watchfulness instead shows a remorseless, deadly observant public completely stripped of any identity outside of their ruthless vigilance. But when you add in the fact that this is a clear (if accidental) allegory to the most famous police state dystopia ever written, you have an ad deserving of some sort of award.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Apparently, me.