Home Subway Advertising Not finding much of anything in subway ads

Not finding much of anything in subway ads

by Benjamin Kabak

AtheistAd Let’s talk for a minute about God. Or maybe I should say: Let’s talk for a minute about those who don’t believe God, a god, any gods exist. Now, I’m not going to get all religious on you, but a recent advertisement in the subways has raised the ire of, well, anyone religious who does not respond well to people with beliefs that may differ from their own.

The brouhaha over the ad at right started last week when Jennifer 8. Lee of The Times first reported on the impending atheist ads. An anonymous donor paid the $25,000 in order for the Big Apple Coalition of Reason to place this pro-atheism ad in 12 subway stations systemwide for one month. Deemed the cheapest advertising solution — a subway car costs $70,000 for a month and Times Square billboards go for $45-$50,000 — the ad will appear at the three 14th St. stations on the West Side; 23rd St. on the 8th Ave. line; Penn Station in three locations; 86th and 96th Sts. on Lexington; 42nd St. at Bryant Park; Lincoln Center, 72nd and 86th Sts. along Central Park West; and W. 4th St.

Of course, whenever religion is involved, people tend to grow a little hot under the collar. Jason Fink of amNew York tracked down some disgruntled straphangers. “I teach my children to believe in God and lead a life faithful to Him,” Aime Roberts of the Bronx said of the ads. “If my children see these ads that say there is no God, they’ll think their mother is lying.”

Another woman — obviously ill-informed of the Constitution — used the ad to bash the MTA. “The MTA can just do whatever it wants and get away with it,” Charlene McNair-Lawery of Brooklyn said to Fink. Of course, since the MTA is a government entity, freedom of religions and various sundry First Amendment concerns practically guarantee that this ad will appear, and an agency spokesman said that only nudity and vulgar language are prohibited in advertisements shown on MTA property.

The real fun began when Sean Hannity jumped into the fray. In one clip, the Fox News commentator posed a question, “Can you imagine the outrage if a Christian group put pro-God ads in the New York City subways? What outrage.” But as Subway Sights noted, Christians have been plastering the 41st St. walkway at Times Square with pro-Christianity placards for years, and other religious-themed materials abound underground.

So 400 words into this post, where does that leave us? With a big to do about nothing. The MTA has to place the ad, and for $25,000, they certainly will. Meanwhile, I have to wonder if subway advertising is really this insidious. Do we look at the ads we see every day? Clyde Haberman accused the Train of Thought program of being too gloomy last week, but outside of MTA PSAs and Doctor Zizmor, can anyone name something hawked in the subway?

For most of us, the subway is a chance to escape. We read our books; we do our crossword puzzles; we zone out to music on our iPods. If someone wants to preach, go for it. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before, and most of us won’t even notice it’s there anyway.

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Nowooski October 27, 2009 - 2:54 am

D.C. 37 had a subway car ad campaign a few months back. The only reason I remembered it, however, was because I work in political communications and was marveling over how poorly constructed those particular ads were.

I also tend to remember ads that buy up whole cars–both the ceiling and wall panels–Jamison Whiskey did this a while back to great effect.

Alon Levy October 27, 2009 - 5:12 am

It’s not just that Christian fundamentalists have been camping out at Times Square for years. It’s also that they distribute Chick Tracts, which are full of hateful stereotypes of anyone who’s not a fundamentalist Protestant: Jews, Catholics, Muslims – you name it, they hate it. I don’t see the atheists do anything like that.

But the anti-atheist reaction is common. I know someone from (I think) NYC Atheists, who as an experiment set up booths promoting various religious views in the city. When his group promoted a religion, they’d be either ignored or approached politely. When they promoted atheism, they were violently accosted; at one point, someone knocked their table over.

Adam October 27, 2009 - 7:31 am

I remember a few months back seeing a Christian ad on the 1 train; and several years ago the walkway between 7th and 8th Avenues in Times Square was dominated by Jews for Jesus. I’m Jewish and I wasn’t outraged. So there should be no outrage now.

Cen-Sin October 28, 2009 - 5:20 pm

It’s funny you say that. I feel the same kind of outrage the Christians feel towards Atheism when I see pro-Christian ads.

AlexB October 27, 2009 - 7:27 am

This is funny.

Scott E October 27, 2009 - 8:07 am

I remember lots of the ads I see on the subway – especially the ones that dominate one half of the car: Jameson Whiskey, Delta Airlines, WWOR Channel 9, the endless lawyer ads…and who can forget Dr. Zizmor? They are something to look at when its too awkward to stare at fellow straphangers.

But religious or anti-religious ads? They don’t mean anything to me. Personally, I think the divorce lawyer and DUI lawyer ads speak more of society’s ills than the atheism ones. But I don’t get into an uproar over them either.

Marc E October 27, 2009 - 9:18 am

The organization must be going all out because I’ve started to notice them on the MBTA, like this advert in the high capacity Big Red cars on the Red Line: http://twitpic.com/n4wml

I don’t usually pay close attention to in-car or station adverts myself, but when you commute through the same stations every day, your eyes begin to wander. At least it’s nice to see my own views being broadcast amongst the discordant sea of in-system adverts.

I do wonder sometimes about those people who seem to forget about the Constitution, like the woman cited in this post, and its major principles. It’s little controversies like these adverts, especially with regard to such a sensitive topic as religion for some people, that make me wonder how much we’re spinning our wheels on the road to social progress and awareness of our cultural history as a species…

Kid Twist October 27, 2009 - 9:38 am

So religious people believe that faith is so fragile that it can’t survive exposure to a poster in a subway car?

Mike HC October 27, 2009 - 11:20 am

Anyone who makes fundamental decisions like whether or not to believe in God based on subway advertisements, deserve what they get anyway.

Josh October 27, 2009 - 12:02 pm

Yeah, considering that the wacky Jews for Jesus and Scientologists can set up shop in subway stations, I don’t see any legitimate cause for complaint here.

AlexB October 27, 2009 - 1:12 pm

Riding the subway is a religious experience.

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Christopher October 27, 2009 - 1:44 pm

I’m fairly agnostic (both religiously and about the proliferation of advertising), but atheists and humanists bug me in the same way that libertarians and communists bug me — rational idealism is anti-culture. And therefor I see as a personal attack against people and our power to conjure.

Alon Levy October 27, 2009 - 3:43 pm

What’s rational idealism?

Adam October 27, 2009 - 1:59 pm

Hannity must not ride the subway; it’s full of Christian ads. I can think of at least two different Christian ad campaigns right now. And they are a lot more visible than these atheist ads will be, since I saw them in the cars, where people arguably spend more time looking at the ads than they do in the stations.

Adam October 27, 2009 - 6:38 pm

No, Hannity is proud to drive his giant SUV and will only fly in a private jet. He’s got the biggest sense of entitlement of any of Fox’s chickenhawks.

cfb October 27, 2009 - 4:16 pm

To the mother in the story who “teaches her children to believe in God”: The ad doesn’t say God doesn’t exist, just that not everyone believes in one. Your family can believe what you want, but perhaps understanding the world around you would be useful instruction for your children as well.

Matthew October 27, 2009 - 9:54 pm

I think exactly the same thing. To the mother… If your parenting skills are so poor that your kids question your judgment by an ad posted in the subway, take this opportunity to have a discussion about critical thinking.

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