PosterBoy Arrest and the Need For A Democratic Outdoor Media Landscape
You may or may not know that PosterBoy, a friend and colleague in the battle to re-imagine our public media landscape, was sentenced to 11 months at Rikers island for the defacement of CBS Outdoor's subway advertisements in NYC. RJ at Vandalog expressed what I believe to be most peoples reaction to this sentence very clearly in a recent post on the topic. You should also immediately join the Free Posterboy Facebook page so there is at least a document of the outrage in numbers. I personally have yet to weigh in on this disturbing turn of events, partially because I am upset, and partially because I feel that beyond decrying the injustice that this sentence invokes, a real explanation as to why PosterBoy's actions are not criminal but rather a protest of the current monopolization of public space by large multinational corporations like CBS outdoor, has yet to be laid bare.
Timing being on our side for some reason, I was just sent the most incredible academic paper I have ever read on the topic, written by Kurt Iveson at the University of Sydney, school of Geosciences. In this paper he argues for a more democratic outdoor media landscape that addresses the concerns of the multiple public's which make up our shared urban environments. He obviously sees the need for open forms of outdoor communication in order to address the multiple public identities that make up our cities, as well as take advantage of the cosmopolitan nature of city residents in order to fulfill the great potential of our public environment and our cities as a whole. In the paper he points out that the new neo-liberal arrangements between outdoor advertising companies and public authorities to supply public services in exchange for exclusive advertising rights (like the arrangement between CBS outdoor and the Metropolitan Transit Authority) are expediting the monopolization of outdoor media opportunities across the board. Interestingly enough, the recent attack on our long time rival NPA by the NYC DOB (and NYSAT) can be seen as yet another way the city and large multinational outdoor advertising firms are joining forces to control outdoor advertising, and media opportunities in general. Essentially the city is saying away with the illegal, under the radar advertising, we will control where and when this media is placed without concern for whether or not the media being presented reflects the concerns of the residents of our city. Im still not okay with NPA's abuse of public space but there is an argument to be made that their non authorized use of the public environment might be one step better than overt control by NYC.
That said, I do not believe there is any way that advertising can exist in public without serious detriment to the residents of this city. We may argue for a more democratic use of the the outdoor media landscape but PublicAdCampaign's goal is ultimately its elimination from our shared public spaces.
In regards to Henry Matyjewicz (herein referred to as PosterBoy), he was not only making critical comments on the content of advertising with his work, but in doing so he was also making a critique on the form of advertising in major metropolitan cities. Where are the public's outdoor media opportunities in a city where public communications like street art are criminalized while the city champions full scale media buyouts by corporations intent on presenting messages of a singular commercial nature? As Kurt points out in his paper Branded Cities, our public media opportunities are fading fast and ultimately to the detriment of the residents of this city as well as the vibrancy of the city in general. Locking up Posterboy for addressing this incredibly important social health issue is not dissimilar from locking up any other number of civil protestors whose right to peaceful protest is secured by our constitution. (I'm not so naive that I do not understand the arguments against this claim to constitutional protection, but my belief in non-violent civil disobedience makes what Posterboy does civil protest in the most accepted form) If some eggs need to be broken (ads defaced) to bring this issue to light, so be it. Posterboy's incarceration is political silencing on behalf of a regime of publicity run by CBS outdoor and the City of New York. Maybe the judge, in his determination should have realized Posterboy's work is less vandalism than it is protest of how our public space is being sold to the highest bidder without concern for the public's interest in outdoor media communication. A better deliberation would have addressed this issue and questioned why, out of the hundreds of thousands of advertisements that are forced upon subway riders on a daily basis, is no space included for public thought. As well he might have used Posterboy's protest to question why a billion dollar outdoor advertising business is not benefiting our urban infrastructure and the cash strapped MTA more than the pitiful amount that it is now.
Either way the whole debacle wreaks of injustice and a city without the proper legal structures to address political dissension in public space. This was clear with the NYSAT arrests as well, and is a major issue we will all face as our urban spaces become less accessible and our need to protest this monopolization grows. PosterBoy's arrest goes far beyond street art and graffiti and raises serious questions about who has the right to access our public space. I don't care if you think Posterboy is wrong, the questions his work raises about the monopolization and control of our public environment are well worth the petty damage incurred at CBS's expense. The answers which might be plumbed from the depths of his artistic process could potentially have serious benefits for all of us and should therefore be taken seriously by our city authorities. As well, his incarceration and the antagonistic attitude of the DA in dealing with his case shows that the city is less intent on hearing the concerns of its residents as they enact their civic duties in NY's vibrant culture, and are more interested in treating us as criminals without a vital role in the exuberance of the streets we live on.
I am awaiting the Authors permission to make the full Branded Cities paper available for download. If permission is granted I will make the publication available as soon as I can. Until then...Branded Cities Abstract:
"In many cities both rich and poor, new forms of outdoor advertising are emerging with potentially significant implications for the nature of the urban public realm. Public-private partnerships for advertising-funded provision of basic items of urban infrastructure such as bus shelters, street signs and public telephones have grown as a result of shifts towards neoliberal forms of urban governance. This article critically interogates the inplications of these new outdoor advertising arrangements for the urban public realm, and argues that they have potentially harmful consequences for the accessibility and diversity of the outdoor media landscape. It then proposes three strategies for the democratization of the outdoor media landscape. These strategies are not premised on an outright rejection of outdoor advertising, but rather seek to contest the monopolistic capture of outdoor media by public-private partnerships involving urban authorities and outdoor advertising companies."