‘Manspreading’ illustrated: Exhibit studies subway etiquette
"Manspreading" is an indelicate new term to describe how some male subway riders deprive other passengers of a seat. But seat-hogging is just one of many inconsiderate behaviors that have been the bane of commuters at least as far back as the 1940s in transit systems across the globe.
Subway etiquette is the subject of a new exhibition in New York City featuring recent and vintage campaign courtesy posters from metro systems around the world, from New York to Tokyo.
"Transit Etiquette or: How I Learned to Stop Spitting and Step Aside in 25 Languages" is on view at the New York Transit Museum's gallery annex in Grand Central Terminal.
The posters address just about every bad behavior commuters inflict and endure on crowded trains and platforms, from spitting, littering and eating to blocking the door and talking on a cellphone.
"All of these topics transcend time, place and culture," said museum registrar Todd Gilbert. "It's interesting to see the different ways that graphics and humor and those universal languages are employed to get people to behave themselves."
The exhibition gives special space to posters from the 1940s, `50s and `60s created by artist Amelia Opdyke Jones for a New York City posters series that promoted courtesy on public transportation.
In one, dating from the years after World War II, she depicts a cartoon of a very large man with his legs wide apart and two passengers looking on with dagger eyes. The caption reads: "Don't Be A Seat-Hog."
"It's a problem worldwide," said Dora Rekatsina, a 34-year-old fabric designer from Athens, Greece, as she toured the exhibition.
Last year, New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority began targeting "manspreading" with public service ads that admonished riders to "Stop the Spread" -- opening their legs in a wide V. It was part of a new campaign with the slogan: "Courtesy Counts: Manners Make a Better Ride."
The exhibition also devotes a wall to Japanese graphic designer Hideya Kawakita, who created the Tokyo metro's diagrammatic map and courtesy posters between 1976 and 1982.
They frequently reference Western pop-culture figures, like one that features two Charlie Chaplin-looking characters eyeing a Hitler-like caricature spread over several seats. The caption reads: "The Seat Monopolizer."
Other manners missives include: "Don't be a pole hog" and "Clipping? Primping? Everybody wants to look their best, but it's a subway car not a restroom."
A few elements in the posters seemed dated. Museum-goer Barbara Hemmendinger, a native New Yorker who lives in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, said she doubted commuters today would know the meaning of expectorate, a word used in a 1940s poster about not spitting in the subway.
"You don't see signs about spitting anymore," noted the retired clinical social worker, "because tuberculosis is essentially controlled and that's what it was about back in the day."
"What's interesting about the posters, too, is that typically they're done with humor," said Gilbert. "They're always trying to be light and appealing to people's sense of humor and good nature."
The exhibition runs through July 10.
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