Riding the subway is the most social of personal actions in the city. We try to pretend that millions of other people aren’t doing the same thing every day, and yet, packed subway cars and station platforms teeming with other straphangers are a testament to the fact that, while we want to spend our commutes alone, we simply cannot underground.
With so many other people around to provide a social check on behavior, I’m often astounded at how flat-out rude other subway riders are. People hog seats, block doors, stand in front of turnstiles and don’t give way to fast walkers on staircases. Those with iPods play music at volumes loud enough to hear from 20 feet away. Others use video game consoles without lowering the volume. Some people use the subways as their personal garbage cans. It can be tiring.
Over the last few months, I’ve tackled subway ethics and the way we ride on more than one occasion. In addition to my story about a father’s attempts to kick his daughter’s discarded chicken fingers and fries under her seat, I’ve looked at those who abuse emergency exits, those who do not give up seats to the aged, infirm or pregnant, those who grope others. The subways are fraught with people too unaware of their surroundings to be courteous toward their fellow passengers.
Yesterday, a guerrilla artist started to take matters into his own hands. Jayshells printed 40 silk screen editions of 10 mock service advisories and labeled them as products of the Metropolitan Etiquette Authority. He will spend the week hanging them in subway cars and stations through the city as reminders of how we should behave underground. Animal New York caught up with the artist and has a slideshow of each of the posters. He spoke about the creative process:
I surveyed 100 people on their top pet-peeves (not service related) while riding the Subway. I narrowed the results down to the top ten most occurring issues and rewrote them as a sort of list of rules. I designed posters in the style of the Service Changes posters we see everyday and silkscreened about 40 of each (400 total) and am currently putting them up on trains throughout the city, throughout this week. I encourage people to look out for them, and to take them before the MTA does.
New York Magazine’s Daily Intel blog also had a chat with Jayshells, real name Jason Shellowitz, who spoke about the illegal nature of his act. “I like to think that the positive nature of the messages will keep me out of trouble,” he said. “Also, I am using removable two-way tape, so they are not permanent, and leave no residue or marks behind.”
Vandalism is vandalism is vandalism, and I’d have to guess that Transit won’t be too thrilled to see these signs pop up. I think, however, that Shellowitz is on to something. The MTA has tried to push PSAs for illegal or blatantly boorish behavior. They urge riders to report sexual untoward actions and ask people to give up seats. But their anti-littering PSAs are laden with ten-cent words and phrases such as “trash receptacles.” There’s a disconnect between the message and its medium. Shellowitz takes the familiar service advisory signs and repackages them into a simple plea for positive and polite interactions amongst straphangers.
Whether his guerrilla act/exhortations will get the message across remains to be seen, but at least it makes people think for a second or two about how they act on the subway. “I’m not sure how much of a difference these will make,” he said to New York Magazine, “but so far, people seem to be enjoying them.”
Photos of the faux-Service Advisories by Jason Shellowitz via Animal New York.