Robert Burns’ 1785 poem “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough” describes a farmer’s empathy with a mouse’s lost dreams, destroyed by the farmer’s plough. The farmer ponders his own existence at the hands of the fates, musing, “The best-laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry”, inspiring John Steinbeck’s famous 1935 novella, Of Mice And Men.
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Similarly, New York recently lost not a mouse, but a moustache, namely the Moustache Man, his transient empire of mirth plowed under by the well-meaning but misguided efforts of New York’s finest.
"Untitled" Moustache Man 2011
Beginning around June of last year, Moustache Man, as he became known, added his own touch to the upper lips of people and beasts in subway ads all over New York City, simply writing the word “moustache” with a spiral accent on the first and last letters.
In time, his signature moustaches became a frequent and welcome break from the monotonous, relentless subway ads in the city. He spawned imitators. Admirers blossomed. “Bitchcakes”, who writes “Musings of an Irate Commuter” sung his praises. And he noticed.
"Bitchcakes" beside the homage of Moustache Man to her.
His creations never became ubiquitous. With thousands of ads, each changing almost weekly–his moustaches couldn’t possibly become ever-present. Still, he persevered. His reign of amusement ruled for months. And the out-of-home advertisers fumed with rage.
Jowy Romano’s Subway Art Blog scooped everyone with an interview in May of this year. The Moustache Man explained his inspiration.
At it’s simplest level, it’s a quick joke meant to give commuters something to smile about while they’re waiting for the subway, coming off from a long day at work, or getting stabbed on the D train. And that’s certainly how it started. But for me it’s evolved into part of this broader movement of subverting advertisements. Especially in New York, where we’re bombarded with ads everywhere we go, it feels more and more like we’re part of a one-sided conversation. We’re getting these ridiculous images and dumb catchphrases shoved down our throats, why shouldn’t we be able to talk back? So many ads are so laughably stupid that a cartoonish moustache just seems to fit. On another level, it’s a return to hand-written form in a technology driven age where we type so much that some of us have actually forgotten how to write cursive.
Also it’s about war or something.
Whatever his true impetus, the war ended in June. Arrested just a few blocks from the very home of the co-founders of The Bare Square, The Moustache Man, aka Joseph Waldo, 26 (See a photo of the rampant artist here.), had to promise authorities to…stop.
No more moustaches.
The Bare Square immediately tweeted the demise of The Moustache Man. All is well with the advertisers. New York’s finest can turn their attention to fare jumpers and felons. And what are we left with?
“And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!” (Burns)
Thank you, Joe. We hardly knew you.
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