Defacing Britney

W 42nd St & 8th Ave, New York, NY 10036

Neighborhood: All Over, Multiple

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Williamsburg residents Will Becton and Stephen Hoban spent much of November, 2001, riding the New York City subway system, recording the many ways in which other New Yorkers have chosen to deface the Britney Spears posters that for nearly a month were ubiquitous on subway platforms.

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In their first five outings, Stephen and Will collected numerous examples of defaced posters.

The project started when Stephen and Will were struck by the diversity and vehemence of a seemingly spontaneous campaign against the country's "virgin" queen of pop music.

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Subway posters have always been defaced, but while some of the graffiti was your garden-variety, juvenile bathroom scrawl, much of it seemed to tap into a deeper level of frustration and confusion. Britney's iconic status attracted a number of angry, scrawled rants - against her status as a sex symbol, against America's status as a global power, against the current state of the music and culture industry, against the growing power of multinational conglomerates like AOL and Viacom, and, thanks to the poster's unique iconography, against the pop star's attempt to look like Elvis.

The posters became a forum for the opinions of an exasperated population, an outlet for a New York unsure of how to deal with the mixed messages a figure like Britney conveys.

When Will and Stephan went out on Monday night, November 19th, the day after the live HBO broadcast, in search of more posters to photograph, they were disappointed to find that nearly all of the posters have been covered over by ads for a new game show on TNT, "Santaclaustrophobia."

Britney Defaced:


Caption on Britney's right (our left) reads: "I let my daughter's tits be sold over her own voice. Aren't I a great mom! - Lynne Spears"
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Britney Spears with moustache, while being attacked by many penises.
[That is actual gum. Possibly Spearmint]

A series of defaced posters on the Lower East Side of Manhattan appear to be the work of the same individual or group of graffiti artists. They all share a signature style where the vandal blacks out Britneys eyes and covers her mouth with what might be a cage or muzzle device or a primitivist depiction of teeth. Accompanying the drawings are threatening and often anti-American pronouncements. Friends who have noticed these have remarked that it reminds them of something out of Silence of the Lambs; others have noticed a similarity with the Mexican skulls displayed on November 1 and 2, the Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead (the posters were all photographed within one week of this date). More than one person has openly wondered about the similarity of these markings with what they've read about FBI profiles on the art of serial killers (the accuracy of this is currently being researched). Here is a selection of this work.

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Speech bubble on breast reads: "Liberate me!"
The poster peeking out from where Britney's face has been torn off appears to be an advertisement for the WB series, "Roswell."
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"It's OK, don't be sad. Don't cry. I'll make you a sandwich."
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