The Fearful Implications of ‘If You See Something, Say Something’

another compelling piece from the Race and New Media participants -- originally posted 2008-05-19 07:29:24 - bumped, cho

In 2003 the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) introduced an advertisement campaign titled “If You See Something, Say Something”. Since its inception, New York City has been bombed with posters and billboards proclaiming this ambiguous slogan, most notably on subway cars, buses, and railroad stations. The MTA Newsroom remarks that the security awareness advertisement campaign is to “reinforce the effort to enlist customers to join the police and MTA employees as the eyes and ears of the system… The ads remind customers of the need to stay aware of their surrounds and to report anything suspicious… [and] that continued watchfulness is necessary to help prevent terrorists from carrying out their plans”.

In it’s core foundations, the MTA slogan is based entirely on fear-mongering tactics. The very fact that the slogan is left so open and in-finite suggests an underlying agenda of New York City officials to create a stronger sense of ‘us versus them’ within the city. After 9/11, much of the world reached out to the United States, and especially New Yorkers. Since the decision to go into war with Iraq, the support from the world has lessened so much that the United States of America is now one of the most unpopular nations in the entire world. Our government went into a war on misguided hatred and fear, and the price we continue to pay is a nation confused with whom to trust. It was fear within the nation, the people and the congress that led the United States into the War on Terror in the misrepresented country of Iraq. Led by a government that chooses to pick the wrong battles, how can this nation’s people learn to respectfully interpret their surroundings without fear-colored glasses? And what does that then mean for people who see something and say something?

Post-9/11 force-fed the American people notions and images that connected fear with the Muslim world, when still to this day Islamic fundamentalists make up only a miniscule fraction of the over 1.3 billion Muslims throughout the world. I question whether the intentions of the ad campaign are to prevent domestic terrorism or if to further separate the people outside the western world from us within. The impact of the MTA slogan continues to not only affect Muslims in New York City, but also the lives of racial minorities including blacks and Hispanics. The ambiguity of the slogan lends racial and religious stereotypes the support of the City, and forces people of difference to be viewed through a lens of suspicion.

8A Collective is an art collective, based in New York City, that has recently been using the free material supplied by the MTA to express the absurdity in implementing fear. Their method of replicating and destroying the supplied materials represents the damage they associate with the city’s desired control of fear. The culturally diverse nature of New York carries the city positively as an icon of the world, however, the alluding nature of the MTA slogan, turns that positive attribute into the very thing to fear. Because of the unidentifiable and heterogeneous characteristic of New York City, the art collective uses an urban icon to represent all of man in the city: the pigeon. Faceless and void of racial, ethnic, or religious identities the pigeon is placed into scenarios that force the viewer to implicate associations of identity.

Last July, the MTA declared results of the advertisement campaign on new posters and in television ads: “Last year, 1,944 New Yorkers saw something and said something.” In an article in the New York Times, In Response to M.T.A.’s ‘Say Something’ Ads, a Glimpse of Modern Fears, William Neuman questions the intentions of the latest slogan. “The new posters… left out two things: What, exactly, did those 1,944 New Yorkers see, and what did they say? Presumably, no active terror plots were interrupted, or that would have been announced by the authorities… Indeed, no terrorists were arrested. One thing the overview did not clear up: just where did the number 1,944 come from? Police and transit officials could not say exactly.” Neuman’s articles states the statistics of the calls to the counterterrorism hotline affirms that only an extremely low fraction of them that were actually cause for suspicion.

The cycle of racism and bigotry will only continue to spiral with fear-mongering propaganda like this advertisement campaign. The television and newspaper ads last year, cost $3 million, money that would have been much better suited actually keeping the people of New York safe.

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I love your sentence, the construction, the meaning and the images:

"Led by a government that chooses to pick the wrong battles, how can this nation’s people learn to respectfully interpret their surroundings without fear-colored glasses?"

Nice comment. Thanks a lot.