On Thursday, a group of anonymous artists and activists dressed as MTA maintenance workers made some subtle yet powerful adjustments to the “If You See Something, Say Something” advertisements in New York subways.
New Yorkers will immediately recognize the MTA’s iconic, orange campaign posters, which feature photos of “regular New Yorkers” like Gregg T., Jo M. and Officer Chin alongside testimonials that recount their supposed paths to becoming everyday heroes by reporting suspicious behavior from fellow passengers.
The new campaign posters appear almost identical to the originals, but look closer and the testimonials have been changed to reflect the pressing fears stoked by our current political climate.
“I felt like a hero reporting what I saw,” Melissa C.’s quote reads. “But what scares me more than an unattended package is an unattended politician. We have to keep an eye on how our representatives vote and hold them accountable.”
“I’m glad I was reminded to report that suspicious bag,” Jo says in her snippet. “But I wonder, when my own president uses a willing media to perpetuate a constant state of fear, who are the real terrorists and who profits off my panic?”
The five replacement ads also feature the hashtag #Resist, and a phone number connecting to the MTA safety line.
“I have no problem with the [original] MTA campaign,” an anonymous artist behind the subway ad remix explained in an interview with Hyperallergic. “It’s smart and it’s responsible — it was a backpack that was involved in the Boston bombing, so we should be on the lookout for suspicious bags, and I didn’t want to take that away from the ads. But to me, a campaign that’s telling you to be vigilant, but just say something when the problem’s already in front of you, is kind of useless. Let’s try to get a little bit more upstream from the problem. Where is the root of this problem?”
An artist also told Gothamist that the public intervention was inspired by President Donald Trump’s November victory. In the past few months, minorities in New York have been subject to violence and intimidation, from racist graffiti to bomb threats to fatal shootings. “I’m just more sensitive to every kind of message around me now that’s coming from a government agency,” the artist said.
Because the fake ads are technically illegal, the artists involved have elected to remain anonymous, a Gothamist reporter told The Huffington Post. And, in an effort to keep the posters circulating as long as possible, they ask the public not to disclose which subway lines they are on.
New Yorkers, on your next Subway commute, be vigilant. Both in terms of the safety of your fellow commuters and the potential for compelling activist art.