Saturday, June 02, 2007


I took these pictures last year. It was the best use of vandalism I had seen in a long time.

A new building was being built on Broadway across from Lincoln Center. A fairly common sight, as was the re-routed sidewalk and the protecctive wooden barricade which lined it. Because there's little that's more offensive in New York than a blank surface that's not being used to sell something*, the entire wall, a block long, was covered with a billboard size advertisement for the bank that will eventually be on the site.

A lot of money was spent on this ad from conception to printing and hanging. Yet all it took to completely subvert its message and render the money and time spent wasted was a smartass with a Sharpie. How successful was this subversion? Well, I have no idea what bank this ad is for. All I remember is the commentary. Plus it was taken down shortly thereafter; I'm assuming ahead of schedule.

Once while visiting New York City as a teenager, I saw a subway ad that someone had taken a sharpie to, but instead the usual penis going into someone's mouth, blackening their teeth or giving them a Devil's beard, the vandal had done a clever semiotic analysis of the ad, transforming it from sponsored information into a lesson on images and how advertising works. Again, I have no idea what the initial ad was trying to sell (tourism, maybe?) but I still remember some of the ideas expressed by the graffiti.

Sadly, these photos don't do the experience justice or express how funny it was. Walking alongside the mural, the first speech balloon would catch your eye and you'd think "Okay..." But the combination of montonous repitition, its minor variations, and the notion that the only thing anyone could think about was a new bank, served as a parody of advertising's methods and goals. It's also a critique of the changes in New York City. Goodbye playhouse and the arts. Goodbye little shops, like your florist. Hello to a city now dominated by money and populated by those who can only conceive of things in financial terms.

Of course, we all know who ultimately wins in the battle between powerful financial interests and smartasses with magic markers. The proof of their victory is all around us, although I am happy that there are at least a few who fight as if its not over yet.

*Don't even get me started on the ads placed above urinals in bars and restaurants. I hope there a special torment in Hell awaiting anyone responsible for, or who benefits from, this annoying piece (or piss) of marketing.


Bob Fingerman said...

Yeah, I also enjoyed that succession of bank-jibes. It's really sickening that every space that comes up for rent either becomes a bank or a Duane Reade.

the hanged man said...

Or, if you live in Williamsburg, condos condos condos.

Something I realized after posting this entry: the speech balloon "Wow! That blouse goes perfectly with the new bank!" is by a different person than the others. You can tell by the handwriting. So this means that it was either the first comment and inspired the others, or (more likely) someone saw the other comments and decided to improve on the idea with the funniest bit of dialogue.

This alters my thesis from "a smart ass with a sharpie" to "a smart ass with a sharpie and a smart ass with an ink pen." It also reminds me that some ideas are infectious, which ties in with The Tipping Point.