Home Subway Advertising What We’re Freaking Out About: Rats, Cleavage

What We’re Freaking Out About: Rats, Cleavage

by Benjamin Kabak

It has been a banner week for the mundane in the subways. Mired in the morass of a slow April with the MTA’s ambitiously expensive capital plan on tap, the openings of the Fulton St. Transit Center in two months and the 7 line extension…eventually…, and still no idea how the Governor is going to pay for the new Tappan Zee Bridge, the stories of the week have focused around a rat and some cleavage. These are, apparently, the things that count.

The rat story is your garden variety “rat on subway car, passengers freak out” type. Like many New Yorkers, the rat was trying to get somewhere on Monday morning when it ended up on an A train at Fulton St. The doors closed, and the passengers freaked out at something approximately 1/100th their size. It’s an impressive display of New York cowardice as grown adults stood on subway seats, screamed and, if you listen to the audio track on the video above, sobbed for two minutes while this rat tried to run away from the nutty human giants surrounding it.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m glad I wasn’t on that subway car. And, yes, rats do carry rabies. But something about this reaction just strikes me as incredibly pathetic. It’s New York gone soft, and it’s generated, according to a Google News search, over 170 articles throughout the country. Who knew a rat on the subway was so newsworthy? In response, an MTA spokesman told Metro that the agency is continuing to fight rats as best they can.

While the rats scamper free, what of the breasts? That’s the other big story this week. In a classic “think of the children” moment, Pete Donohue of the Daily News turned a subway ad on breast augmentation into a giant controversy. In an piece filled with concerned parents, Donohue focused his column on the ad’s display. “Whoa! That’s too much exposure,” Connie Johnson said of the ads. “Her breast is out. It’s exposed. As a female, I don’t like it. I think it’s terrible. Kids can see that.” (Kids can also see the cover of the Daily News, but sex and hypocrisy sell newspapers.)

This brouhaha probably would have died down had Governor Cuomo not gotten involved, but seemingly having solved every other transit problem he pretends doesn’t exist, the Governor opted to take the MTA to task for their ad policy. The ad policy recently come under judicial scrutiny, and in order to comply with the pesky First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the agency had to re-write its policy to be more encompassing. Now, the Governor via a letter to the MTA has requested the agency review its ad policy.

Please, think of the children, he said. “Tens of thousands of children ride the transit system every day to go to school,” the letter, signed by Howard Glaser, reads. “The MTA is a public conveyance, subsidized by $190 million annually in the state budget, plus over $5 billion in dedicated taxes. The public has a right to expect that the MTA will strive for a family-friendly environment.”

Of course, because the MTA is a government agency, “family-friendly environment” can also be interpreted as a content-based restriction on free speech. Is there a compelling state interest to avoid ample, but still covered, cleavage on an ad in the subway? If the state hasn’t dubbed it obscene, one agency board member said, the MTA would lose the lawsuit if it rejected the ad.

So now, with real issues facing the region, the MTA will spend time on its ad policy to appease a governor that the cynic in me believes is trying to appeal to more conservative voters in order to ring up some crushing reelection poll numbers in November. This is transit policy in 2014. I think I’ll stick with the rats instead.

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Brooklyn Cowbell Guy April 9, 2014 - 11:30 pm

This is why I am against locking the doors of subway cars. I don’t care about the dangers. Between annoying people, smells, rats & what have you, sometimes switching cars in needed.

Bolwerk April 10, 2014 - 10:22 am

Concur. Banning movement between cars is something that makes sense as a “rule,” with an incredible amount of deference for people to weigh dangers for themselves and leave if necessary.

Of course, police are trained to write tickets, not think about safety.

Jeff April 10, 2014 - 1:36 pm

I thought the doors were only locked on 75-footers?

Brooklyn Cowbell Guy April 10, 2014 - 3:02 pm

Can’t answer that, but I know the R46s lock the doors.

Larry Greenfield April 10, 2014 - 3:41 pm

Those are 75-footers

Chris C April 11, 2014 - 1:54 pm

You are more likely to hurt yourself switching from carriage to carriage than you are from any possible disease the rat MAY be carrying and that you’ll only catch it (a) it bites you or (b) urinates on you.

Whatever happened to the ‘fortitude’, ‘resilience’ and ‘steadfastness’ New Yorkers are supposed to be famous for?

Pete Falina April 10, 2014 - 12:10 am

Ref: the rat story: Could we step back a bit from the “cowardice” angle? Even if the animal does not have rabies, it is by definition, behavior and location filthy. If it believes itself cornered, it may well bite. Nobody wants a piece of that.

Ref: the cleavage story: Many years ago (before you were born, kids) in a film, British comedian/actor Terry-Thomas questioned, about Americans, “What is this infernal preoccupation with bosoms?” Enough said.

Bolwerk April 10, 2014 - 10:08 am

Rats almost never carry rabies. I think rabies spreads higher in the food chain, typically between predatory animals and/or their immediate prey. Rats are small and tend to be chomped up by whatever gets close enough for a bite (mostly cats in the NYC context, I guess). But rats do carry other diseases. There are indeed plenty of reasons to prefer not touching a rat, even if it probably isn’t going to attack you and probably is more afraid of you than you are of it.

Hell if you don’t see cleavage like that on the subway, forget the ads.

rats April 10, 2014 - 11:42 am

Other diseases…like THE PLAGUE?

Brandon April 10, 2014 - 7:33 am

The parents who think an ad that shows a bit of cleavage is a threat to their children need to grow up.

SEAN April 12, 2014 - 3:21 pm

You are so right. This story on exposed cleavage is rediculous.

The four legged rat may cause such a reaction, but what I worry most about are the rats of the two legged veriety.

lawhawk April 10, 2014 - 7:52 am

Want to deal with the rat/mice problem in the subways? Demand that people stop eating on the subways and platforms and expand the plan removing garbage bins from platforms/stations. Reduce the amount of trash available and food scraps that the vermin seek out.

As for the outrageous outrage over the cleavage enhancement ads, I think it hilarious that people are somehow outraged over that, but ignore that there’s advertising for violent movies and tv shows, where there are teasers like “All Men Must Die” for Game of Thrones. It’s far more acceptable to show violence than it is to show boobs.

That’s rather sad and puritanical.

The real boobs are the ones who are somehow offended by those ads.

Ryan April 10, 2014 - 9:46 am

This is your daily friendly reminder that advertisement revenue is such a miniscule percentage of total operating revenue, that a roughly 2.5% fare hike more than covers all the “lost revenue” from just discontinuing the ad offensive and cleaning the visual/audio junk out of our subway system.

So much for that whole “balm for hurt minds” rhetoric.

Bolwerk April 10, 2014 - 10:19 am

Shouldn’t someone inform Pete Donohue and Howard Glaser that babies come out of vaginas and spend much of their infancy sucking on breasts for nourishment? Shocking, but true. Maybe they can do an expose. Or just call in the Paedofinder General.

But, seriously, they don’t seem to give a rat’s ass about, well: rats, grime, crumbling walls and tiles, water damage, trash, aging rolling stock and signals, our slower-than-necessary commute. But breasts offend them? Those “tens of thousands of children ride the transit system every day to go to school” don’t exactly need to dumpster dive for p0rn the way their grandpas needed to for Playboys.

Stephen - NYC April 13, 2014 - 11:06 am

I was lucky, when I was a kid, I didn’t have to dumpster dive for my Playboys.
My grandfather had them. And then my dad even got a Key. (For those that are too young to know about them, a Playboy Key not only admitted you to the Club, but you could pick up the issue just by showing the Key card – they punched it and off you went).

Wayne's World April 10, 2014 - 10:44 am

Thank goodness that Governor Cuomo wants to protect us all from the Breasts of the Northern Wild. I can only imagine the terrible consequences of little kids (or worse yet, babies) actually seeing female breasts.

Ian Turner April 10, 2014 - 11:08 am

We should really just get rid of transit advertising. Much of the advertising uses its first amendment rights to denigrate transit, possibly damaging the MTA by more than the 2.5% it recovers in return. No private carrier finds it worthwhile to cloak itself in advertising to this degree, and I don’t see why the MTA should be any different.

Bolwerk April 10, 2014 - 11:13 am

Rather than that, how about raising prices on ads? I can tolerate some, but we have so many they come across as graffiti. Maybe getting rid of some will make what is left more valuable too.

Ryan April 10, 2014 - 12:16 pm

Do you honestly expect that we can hike advertising rates by a factor of ten?

25% is the absolute minimum point at which I would be able to tolerate the current level of the ad offensive. Even if we could clear two thirds of the advertising out, I’d still want to see 10% for that level of ad offensive.

So, cutting the amount of advertising in the system down to a third of what it is today, and quadrupling revenue from all remaining ads.

Maybe we could manage that. We definitely can’t get ten times more than what we’re getting for our advertising today.

Bolwerk April 10, 2014 - 12:39 pm

I don’t know where you got factor of ten from, but probably not. But a few things:

1) I wouldn’t assume a linear relationship between proportion of potential ad space dedicated to ads and revenue. They can always add more ads, but each one competes with the rest and other phenomena. We’re probably already in the diminishing returns realm.

2) I’m not sure there would take much reduction to notice a big difference in the amount of space left over.

3) I don’t really know what the logic behind the current system is. Maybe it’s to maximize business’s access to ad space, rather than to maximize revenue.

4) Personally, I think we could tolerate a loss for a less offensive environment.

But who knows? Perhaps they studied this, and maybe they have a study showing why I’m wrong. Maybe this is the revenue-maximization point.

lop April 10, 2014 - 3:46 pm

I like the ads. Gives me something to look at while on a trip too short or a train too crowded to take out a book, and I don’t like to have headphones in my ears all the time. All the announcements bother me more. Getting rid of/reducing the ads would be fine, but replace it with something. NY1/CNN scroll maybe? Would still be an ad with their logo, but maybe less bothersome than what’s there now. Or more, frequently cycled MTA facts? NYC history bits, like did you know XX people died building XX?

Bolwerk April 10, 2014 - 4:52 pm

I’d like to see more art, personally. I don’t think there is no place for ads, but we really do get bombarded with them. And many of them seem predatory.

PATH seems to have more in the way of newsfeeds, though not on trains.

normative April 10, 2014 - 11:20 am

“While the rats scamper free, what of the breasts?”

I hope one day to write a book with that as the title.

Stephen - NYC April 13, 2014 - 11:10 am

Just be sure to give him a shout-out on the Thank-you page.

Phantom April 10, 2014 - 12:19 pm

I’d be happy to pay a bit higher fare to avoid the ads.

Michael April 11, 2014 - 5:11 am

The interesting thing about advertisements in the subways is that there were often too competing ideas: 1) there are too many ads, and 2) ads bring in money, so more ads are needed, and placed on subways, buses and stations.

In the 1970’s and before there were plenty of advertisements on the subways, buses and stations. Many more ads than what is now allowed now, or that there is space for. On the trains and buses there were ads for all types of services and places, and on the station walls ads for movies, services, events. Etc. It did not help that graffitti, the ads, etc gave the subways and buses a kind of worn down look.

About the 1980’s and 1990’s – the MTA started on a program of station renovation and clean up that removed many of the spaces and places for ads, preferring beautiful clean tile walls, etc. Think of it as a kinf od “Subway Beautiful Movement”. On the trains and buses, beyond the removal of some places for ads, the was the push for larger by length-wise ads that would cost more, than the various smaller ads often used. This movement also influenced ideas about the concessions in the stations, what could be sold there, vending machines and their removal, and other features about the environment of traansit.

Often from a seated or standing position on a train or bus, it was effortless to see 10 or more ads, with dozens of ads carried by each vehicle. The new push was for fewer ads but also allowing theme ads to be displayed on subway cars and buses, say by a single advertiser. In any case this new program resulted in a drop of ads on the subways and buses. There were too few ads on the subways, and fewer places to display them, as well as restricitions on the kinds of ads.

Due to now available space, the MTA started to use the display space to promote itself, its srvices and plans. In addition, this allowed the MTA to promote its poetry series, and other displays. So the discussion about the “Double D” ads takes place within the context of the competting ideas and that whole long debate.


Nyland8 April 19, 2014 - 9:58 am

Trains should have continuous wrap-around scrolling programming the entire length of the car. The content should have PSAs, ads, movie trailers, TV, Broadway, concert and arts promos, and transit updates including train and bus arrival times at the next station, schedule changes, etc. AND a news and weather crawl on the bottom, a la Times Square. Ads should include, but not be limited to, images of breasts and rats.

The revenues should be enough to make riding the subway free, and fund the future expansion of the system.

Don’t wake me from that dream … or do so at your peril!

J April 22, 2014 - 5:02 pm

My issue with the boob job ad is that women on the subway already have enough to worry about, without needing to develop body image issues…


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