By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Let's get one thing straight: I hate Calvin Klein ads more than I could ever express in mere words. Especially heinous is the one with the crazy-looking fat guy in the horrible jeans standing near the heroin addict in the terrifying perm. Why I--or anyone whose parents aren't siblings--would care to look like this is, of course, impossible to know.
The only thing worse than Calvin Klein ads, however, is the MTA telling us we're not allowed to see them on public transportation anymore. While it's true that those white-trash ads would look better on the sides of trailers than on the sides of buses, it's not up to MTA suits to decide the issue. We Americans have a proud history and heritage of bad taste. We cannot let anyone--let alone anyone named E. Virgil Conway--take away our right to be annoyed, offended, and pissed off.
In case you don't know, E. Virgil is not only head honcho at the MTA but a right-wing Republican who has been leaning so far right for so long that he apparently can't stand up straight anymore. Proof of this lies in the fact that he and his boys believe that a public agency supported by public funds actually has the right to ban free speech. Even free speech that costs a lot to create.
While something this fundamentally crazy should, of course, be open to debate, don't count on it. The MTA recently adopted new rules allowing them to ban not only ads they find distasteful, but also ads that criticize the MTA! It's not that difficult to understand, except in reality, of course. C'mon, now! The MTA may disagree with what you say, but they will fight to the death your right not to say it.
This justification was best summed up by the MTA's general counsel, Michael A. Vaccari: "We've got over 100 lawyers," he said. "Lawyers need to eat." Why? Even if you could, for some perverse reason, justify feeding a lawyer, most of them are already so full of themselves that they just couldn't eat another bite. Vaccari gives flesh to the old line that there's a reason some lawyers work for government bureaucracies and some earn millions in the real world.
Worse--despite the fact that the MTA already has 100 lawyers on staff--they still felt compelled to hire yet another attorney, Michael McConnell, to help draft their wacky rules protecting their right to ban free speech. McConnell, out of Salt Lake City yet, specializes in defending the religious right's right to ban whatever they don't agree with, as well as freedom from taxation. In fact, according to Newsday, McConnell is Jimmy "I Have Sinned, My Lord" Swaggart's lawyer. McConnell recently attempted to save Jimmy from the sin of paying taxes, but the Supreme Court--not the Supreme Being--tragically disagreed. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.
Call me strict, but why is Jimmy Swaggart's lawyer being paid with public funds to tell us we don't have the right to free speech on public transportation? Maybe it's because McConnell's other specialty is attempting to get rid of the separation between church and state.
E. Virgil's justification for all this is that he and the board don't want citizens to be forced to use other methods of transportation just to escape offensive ads. Other methods? What? Cabs whose back seats have been invaded by government-sponsored, self-promoting celebrities telling us what to do? I'd like to ride, but I gave them up for Lent. I'd suggest riding a moped, but the city banned them, too. Years ago.
It's a good thing the MTA has 100 staff lawyers. They're going to be awfully busy defending this latest decision against all the suits that will definitely be brought by civil libertarians.
Maybe the MTA is simply repeating history. My grandfather used to say even Mussolini wasn't all bad. After all, he made the trains run on time. Maybe someday they'll say that about Virgil.