Adam Mansbach, the bestselling cool dad author of Go the Fuck to Sleep, recently approached the MTA with the ads for his new book Rage Is Back. CBS Outdoor promptly shut down his request to put that on the exterior of subway trains. They don’t want anything that looks like graffiti.
To be fair, the book is about a graffiti writer and his son, so the “font” is somewhat graffiti-esque, more so than the scribbles and bleeding text on the Massive Attack and Lou Reed album covers that were banned by the TfL in London. And yet, Mansbach makes some good points at the Awl.
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.
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?
Oh man. Cool dad! Cool dad!