Even when the art is legit, the MTA’s decades-long “War on Graffiti” is still claiming casualties. In a city still struggling with budgetary concerns, turning down revenue from a New York Times bestselling author probably isn’t the best way to go about addressing your bottom line.
Coming off his well-received “Go the Fuck to Sleep,” author Adam Mansbach’s attempt to advertise his latest novel on NYC transit is being shutdown because “the MTA wants nothing that looks like graffiti.” Mansbach admits that the cover for “Rage Is Back” does have colorful block letters, so given the city’s views on subway art, it isn’t all that surprising he’d be denied. In a piece at The AWL he notes:
Mayor John Lindsay first declared war in 1972, and over the next 17 years, the city would spend three hundred million dollars attempting to run graffiti-free trains—this, during a period when the subway barely functioned and the city teetered on the brink of insolvency.
This was a fight over public space, and we would do well to remember that at the time the fight began, teenagers were also being arrested for breakdancing in subway stations, and throwing un-permited parties in the asphalt schoolyards of the Bronx. Taken collectively, these three activities also represent the birth of hip-hop, the single most influential sub-culture created in this or any country in the last half-century.
The MTA’s largely uncompromising stance on all things graffiti is all the more curious given the recent Anti-Palestine ads which were given the go ahead. Seen in that light, along with a spate of questionable ads which have appeared over the years, the refusal to run any “Rage is Back” advertising seems suspect.
What exactly is the rubric by which the MTA judges a letter’s graffiti-ness? At what stylistic tipping point does a word becomes impermissible to the same entity that has approved liquor adverts depicting naked women in dog collars, and bus placards featuring rhetoric widely condemned as hate speech against Palestinians? And if the NYPD defines graffiti as “etching, painting, covering or otherwise placing a mark upon public or private property, with the intent to damage,” isn’t a graffiti-style letter kind of like a robbery-style purchase?
To recap: Hate speech ads are okay, but you can’t sully the subways and busses with anything which “looks like graffiti.”
Check out the accompanying “Rage is Back” mixtape release by DOWNLOADING here.