Demotivational subway art

I thought the Church of Scientology’s impromptu bookstore had been ousted from the Times Square subway station, but yesterday a bright-eyed lad with a “Free Stress Test!” sign blocked my path through a throng of dazed and mapless tourists.

“You look tired,” he said. “Let us test your stress levels.”

He stretched his hand forward, as though to grab my shoulder and steer me toward the 7,000 copies of L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics stacked on a nearby table. (Times like these, I wish I carried a concealed weapon. Having a switchblade to flick open would make rebuffs like “Why don’t I give you a real stress test, you bagbiting fuckwad?” all the more persuasive.)

I pushed past him to turn down the tunnel leading from the A train to the 7.

There I caught sight of “Overslept,” the first plaque in the demotivational artwork/poem that appears at intervals along the corridor. (The whole thing reads: “Overslept, so tired. If late, get fired. Why bother? Why the pain? Just go home do it again.”)

I thought of the scientology plugs embedded in the subway centennial posters. And it occurred to me that those plaques could (or should) be sponsored by the Church of Scientology. You know, remind the commuters how much their lives suck, offer them stress tests, which they’ll fail, and then shake them down for money to support the freaky sci-fi faith.

But Gina Trapani has done the research, and it turns out the MTA commissioned “So Tired” from Norman B. Colp as a temporary work in the mid-90’s. And I don’t think the scientologists started the stress tests in the subway until a few years ago.

Colp, who’s also organized a series of exhibits for the Center for Book Arts, apparently has explained that the work was “inspired by the old Burma Shave advertisements that were seen along highways from 1927 to 1963. The signs were spaced a few hundred yards apart and were to be read one line after the other as you traveled along.”

He says the signs aren’t meant to taunt commuters, but to express empathy for their position. I’m not so sure I’d be feeling the love if I walked through that tunnel to get to the cubicle farm every morning.

Images taken from Gina Trapani.


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