MTA Pulls Subway Ad Featuring Woman's Head in Plastic Bag

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Where to draw the line on MTA subway ads? The MTA draws it at political speech, illegal activities, tobacco, prostitution, child pornography or an ad that "depicts or describes in a patently offensive manner sexual or excretory activities."  

An ad depicting the head of a woman in a plastic bag, tied by a noose and advertising the Randall's Island Haunted Hayride apparently passed muster.

But after WNYC inquiries, the MTA decided has decided to pull it. "MTA has determined the ad violates our ad policy – specifically that it is 'so violent, frightening, or otherwise disturbing as to reasonably be deemed harmful to minors' and we have instructed our advertising contractor to have the ad pulled immediately," spokeswoman Beth DeFalco said in a statement.

"In my view, this demonstrates not just a lack of taste, but a clear absence of taste," MTA board member Charles Moerdler said. "Unfortunately, under the case law as it's been coming down from the federal court of appeals, there's not much the MTA can do about it." 

Courts have ruled that the subways are a public space, and while political speech is banned in ads, the board has difficulty removing ads some people may find offensive.

The MTA also doesn't approve ads that appear in the subway — the advertisements are outsourced to OutFront Media.

Moerdler has a message for them: "My only hope is that some of the fine people who render these decisions have to sit facing these ads."

Others online have questioned the appropriateness, particularly during Domestic Violence Awareness month.


"There are violent images of women that surround us in our culture and the danger with that is that it does become something that is somewhat normalized," said Jean Bucaria, the New York City deputy director for the National Organization for Women. 

"This is already way too real for women," she said, pointing to statistics that show one in five women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, and that more than a third of women killed are killed by a partner. 

"To make light of it for something like a haunted house promotion, to have that image on the subway that can be traumatic for some people but it's something that just shouldn't be out there," Bucaria said.

"The artwork has nothing to do with domestic violence," said a spokeswoman for Haunted Hayride. "Our intentions are not to offend anyone." She said the company has no plans to replace the ad.

After controversy about another ad campaign, the MTA voted to ban all political advertising in the transit system last year — with mixed results.