Brain Pickings

Subway Etiquette Posters: New York, Toronto, Tokyo

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Sardines, anthropomorphic luggage, and what the beach has to do with train doors.

The thing about public space that’s both a blessing and a curse is that we have to share it. And in order to avoid complete anarchy, we need a set of commonly agreed upon rules to govern this sharing — a code of etiquette. Subways, with their boisterous highschoolers, gospel-preaching nomads and vocal trinket sellers, are among the most anarchy-prone of public spaces. So today, we look at three brilliantly irreverent efforts to foster subway etiquette with wit, humor and a wink at authority.

NEW YORK

Last week, artist Jason Shelowitz, a.k.a. Jay Shells, took New York’s Metropolitan Transit System by storm with his clever guerrilla campaign promoting subway etiquette to combat people’s chief complaints. He surveyed 100 commuters on their top pet peeves, then designed a series of posters modeled after the typical MTA Service Changes announcements, silkscreened 400 of them and began deploying them under the “Metropolitan Etiquette Authority.”

Shells encourages people to take the posters home before the MTA starts taking them down in typical no-fun fashion.

TORONTO

Never late to the sticking-it-to-the-man party, the Canadian were quick to appropriate Shell’s idea. Only two days after the New York deployment, the good folks at Toronto’s National Post designed their own version of the posters, hijacking TTC, the Toronto Transit Commission, and turning it into TTCC, Toronto Transit Civility Commission. Under TTCC, they released a series of etiquette posters, encouraging the public to print their own copies and plaster them all over the subway.

Decidedly snarkier than the New York ones, these posters do make one question the whole but-Canadians-are-so-much-nicer stereotype.

TOKYO

In a lot of ways, a subway train is full of Hollywood movie set staples — the stuntman diving through the door and escaping its clench by an inch, the diva in the corner powdering her nose, the muscle-jockey doing pull-ups on the hand-grips. The Japanese are here to remind us the subway is no movie set with a series of tongue-in-cheek but very to-the-point etiquette posters by graphic artist Bunpei Yorifuji that are tragicomically accurate in the stereotypical annoyances they depict.

Of course, the directive to go home and exercise binge drinking does raise a whole other set of concerns, but we’ll settle for it if it keeps the chin-up masters at bay.

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