By R.M. Schneiderman
Last week, Jason Shelowitz, 30, a Chelsea-based painter and freelance graphic designer, started hanging very realistic facsimiles of MTA service advisories in subway cars and train stations around the city. The goal: to call New Yorkers out for their inappropriate or disgusting behavior, and to make them laugh i the process. “Keep your hands to yourself, perv,” one sign says. Another: “Keep your finger out of your nose. Please.” The posters bear the stamp of the MEA: Metropolitan Etiquette Authority.
Shelowitz created more than 300 posters, which he will finish hanging up over the next few days (though he plans to keep a few to sell or give away to friends). We caught up Shelowitz and asked him a few questions about his campaign for civility.
How did this project come about?
It came about just experiencing different things on the subway and kind of always sharing stories with friends and co-workers. I’m sure you’ve come into work before and said something to the guy sitting next to you, like “You wouldn’t believe it but this morning, someone was eating a big thing of chicken wings and making a mess and throwing bones on the floor and stinking up the whole train.”
Is this a joke?
It’s not really a joke, it is serious. I love New York and I love the idiosyncratic behaviors of people, but when it starts to invade people’s space…on the subway where you have no escape, it’s messed up. If someone is sitting on the train during rush hour eating a meatball sub, dripping sauce on people’s shoes and they look up and happen to see my poster, they might think, ‘This is incredibly disruptive to other people. Maybe I shouldn’t be eating this on the train. Maybe I should just wait to get off at my stop.’ So I was hoping I get through to a couple of people, but really I just wanted to make people smile and relate to it.
How did you decide which behaviors to target?
I sent out a mass email and asked people to send me some their subway gripes. I decided I was only going to do ten posters so I narrowed them down to the ten most occurring. Nail-clipping was a little more obscure, but I threw it in there because I just thought it was funny. Once I had them, I re-wrote them and formulated them into some clever copy so people would at least smile when they saw them.
Where did you put them?
Mostly on the trains themselves. I’ve done the F, V, A, C, E and L trains. I tried and put them next to the service-change posters. Brooklyn and Manhattan are the only boroughs that have them in the stations…I shuffled them so that they would be in random order. The only site specific ones are the staircase pieces, which I try and put near stairs.
Are you going to make more?
No. I decided I wanted to do a small amount because I believed it wasn’t going to take much to get the message out. I’m doing such a small run, I’m not really causing a pollution problem or a mess problem in the stations.
Have the police contacted you? Any fines?
There are probably only ten you can see up anywhere because people are taking them really quickly. I think that’s why the MTA hasn’t contacted me yet. They haven’t really seen them. I witnessed two workers in Union Square checking some out after I put them up. And they loved them. They were laughing and kept walking.
Do you think the MTA should be doing something like this?
I don’t know if it would be as effective. They tell you not to hold the doors open. There are little notes on buses and there are signs on the subway that say give up your seats to people who need them. And to not throw trash around. But they are so ubiquitous that people don’t pay attention.
What’s the most annoying thing that is ever happened to you personally on the train?
I saw a woman eating — she had a plastic bag full of crabs. And she was straight up sucking the meat out of crab parts and then throwing them on the floor. That was probably the most disturbing, just purely disgusting, thing. I had a little turd next to me on the seat once. I was trying to figure out where the smell was coming from. I thought I stepped in something. I don’t know if it was from a baby or a chihuahua or what. That was gross. The turd was on the 1 train. The crab was I think on the F train.