The medium may be the message everywhere but Muni bus shelters. Because the agency and its ad contractor, Titan Outdoor, remain insistently apolitical, we've been regaled with a full menagerie of propaganda, even in the last year alone.
Over summer Muni deflected pleas from Supervisor Scott Wiener, who wanted the transit agency to rescind $5,030 it earned from ads deeming Israel an apartheid state. That was roughly a year after it handed over $15,780 for a series of anti-"Jihad" ads that demonized Muslims.
Now the bus shelters are supplying a blank canvas for the California Department of Corrections, an irreverent media organization that distorts other people's ad campaigns in order to reverse their message. This month, the CDC (no, not the state prison system) decided to confront America's drone policy by adulterating a series of smartphone ads on Muni bus shelters, including the one at Seventh and Market streets.
Unveiled on Election Day, the new ads show a cellphone picture of predator drone strike, with the word "Pakistan" swapped in for the phone logo. It's capped off by a suitably provocative slogan: "The Next Big War Is Already Here."
The group explains on its web site that the ads serve more than one purpose: They provide a drone primer for citizens whilst parodying the Obama party line, which has doggedly guarded its assault program from the public eye. Despite widespread criticism, federal officials refuse to address criticisms about civilian casualties and criteria for kill lists, the artists explain in its press materials.
"As these operations are shrouded in secrecy, the California Department of Corrections released the rehabilitated smartphone ads to assist our colleagues in the federal government and explain the benefits of drones to war-weary Americans," the organization explains, in a statement. It goes on to tout those benefits: "cost savings from limited personnel serving overseas, streamlined executions unimpeded by judicial oversight and reduced environmental impacts due to the short commute of drone pilots operating close to home."
We have yet to hear how Muni feels about being used as a blank canvas for political pastiche art. Nor have we heard much consumer reaction to the ads, which the artist group hopes will shift the tide of public opinion. Roughly 61 percent of Americans approve of U.S. drone strikes, according to a July Pew Research pole, though it's a safe bet that most of the supporters don't live in San Francisco.
Moreover, CDC timed its ads to hit streets just when the message would resonate most. A few weeks ago Florida Congressman Alan Grayson held a drone survivor hearing on Capitol Hill, featuring testimony from people who'd seen their family members felled by errant missiles. According to The Guardian, only five elected officials showed up.
Perhaps they really do need better communication channels.