If you scanned the public service announcements in your subway car this morning—and happened to be adequately caffeinated—you might have noticed something slightly off. There's Melissa C., of small-time "See Something, Say Something" fame, with her gold hoops and salmon-pink hoodie. She's smiling next to the familiar MTA logo, but her message isn't just about reporting a suspicious bag on the platform and feeling heroic.
"I felt like a hero reporting what I saw," her 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."
In place of "Take a moment to alert a police officer or MTA employee," the sign reads, "Call your elected officials and make yourself heard." Next to the actual MTA help line (888-NYC-SAFE), there's a tiny #RESIST.
The subversive fake posters were installed on two subway cars overnight—that's two cars across the entire system—mingling with original posters from the MTA's March 2016 campaign. Gothamist spoke with the person who conceived and installed them on the condition of anonymity. The artist also asked that the train lines be withheld, in the hopes that the MTA won't track them down immediately and remove them.
The concept, he said, is to encourage people to say something when they see something unsettling coming out of government.
"I think it's great that they are doing the See Something Say Something campaign. I don't think it's Orwellian, and I think it's responsible to be vigilant," he said. "But given the state of the world that we're in, I wanted to do something that took that conversation and elevated it so that people could be vigilant beyond what's directly in front of their eyes."
"Yes, terrorism is a real issue," he added. "But aren't the behaviors of our government... and these ideas of how the media is straying into fake news, aren't all of these things contributing to an atmosphere that makes us more unsafe, that gives rise to terrorism, that makes us panic?"
Each car features Artem F., Jo M., Officer Chin (the only cop in the campaign) and meme subject Gregg T.
"It's important to report suspicious activity," Officer Chin says (his name is changed to Chen in the poster; the artist said he "didn't feel right" attributing his quote to a specific cop). "I feel weird telling people this when I know ratting out a fellow cop for unethical behavior or brutality could make my life a living hell."
The artist added that the campaign was inspired by Donald Trump's presidential win. In recent months, hate crimes have risen and women have grappled with threats to their reproductive health. Non-citizen New Yorkers are living in heightened fear of deportation.
"I'm just more sensitive to every kind of message around me now that's coming from a government agency," the artist said.
The artist also took special satisfaction reimagining Gregg T.
"He's not my favorite for a couple of reasons," he said. "In real life, are you aware of what he does?"
The install took several hours, while the artist and a group of three helpers—all dressed as maintenance workers—sought train cars that were running the "See Something, Say Something" campaign, and weren't also packed with riders. Last week, on a trial run, the group tested out removing posters from their plastic sheaths without ripping them. The new posters, printed on special paper to accommodate a backlight, cost about $650 total (two of the posters had to be reprinted because of a typo).
"I look at this as an extension of [the MTA] campaign," the artist said. "I hope the MTA will say, 'You know, this still helps people see something and say something, so we'll keep it up.'"
We'll update with any reactions from riders, or MTA enforcement.
Update 1:45 p.m.:The artist said that he intentionally changed Artem's name to Adam in his version of the poster because he believed that name to be more "familiar."
Update 4:45 p.m.: MTA spokeswoman Beth DeFalco told Gothamist via email that the posters are illegal, citing the following possible issues: vandalism, theft, the MTA's ban on political advertising, defamation of character ("our campaign subjects are now seen as potentially supporting political views they may not share"), impersonating transit workers, and trademark infringement (the MTA logo).
"The fake ads will be removed and anyone found posting them could face fines and penalties," she said.