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Design as Symptom / Tatsuma Padoan / Beneath Signs

05 14th, 2012

This paper intends to investigate the functioning and efficacy of visual design in everyday urban life, by exploring the strategies of prescription and negotiation of behaviours employed by a particular corpus of subway posters. In September 1974 the Tokyo Metro subway company spread a series of posters which invited, in a humoristic style, to respect the “good manners” inside its stations and trains in service in the Japanese capital. The name assigned to these adverts was Manner Poster. From then on, this initiative was repeated every month, by changing every time messages and images, but maintaining an annual format. The three editions from 2008 to 2010 are particularly striking for their irony and visual impact. Produced by the graphic designer Yorifuji Sunpei, they depict- in a comic-strip style and using white, black and yellow colours- narrative situations inside the subway stations and trains, where one or more persons perform, under the astonished eyes of the other passengers, actions considered

as “ill-mannered”. The images present a large variety of such situations, ranging from occupying priority seats for elderly people and pregnant women, to rushing to board as the doors are closing, from throwing waste tissues on the ground, to blocking entrances with suitcases and backpacks. But the range of “ill-mannered behaviours” becomes
quite wide. Indeed, it also includes eating food inside the trains, applying makeup, talking on mobile phones, pouring water on the other passengers while shaking the umbrella, falling down drunk and doing gym exercises in the metro. The images actually suggest paradoxical narrative sequences, visual hyperboles which exaggerate actions considered as impolite, trying 10 emphasize the negative effects on the other passengers. The bad-mannered subjects are visually distinct from the other passengers and tram the portrayed settings according to different colors, positions and traits, in order to indicate the improper character of their behaviour. The victims, depicted with large bulging eyes, are active agents who perform through their gaze the negative sanction of the ill-mannered action presenting an universe of values which has to be adopted in order to guarantee the good functioning of the social relations. And the messages written above the images do not leave any doubts about the target of the posters, “Please do it at home”, says the one above the instant ramen (noodles soup) devourer, “Please do it at the office” says the message over the businessman engaged in writing notes while talking on the phone in the train. Manner Posters are first prescriptive and then proscriptive: they tell you what you “have to do”, in order to make you understand what you “have not to do” when using the subway. Posters are characterized by a written message (“Please do it at home”) which, according to the same author Yorifuji, conveys “the repressed frustration of the typical commuter” who is emotionally affected by the impolite behaviour. These posters, in other words, construct a form of identity for the metro passengers, posing everyone under the gaze/judgment of the other commuters, and prescribing situations and places which are appropriated to take specific courses of
action, They are “regulators of the social life”, which charge everyday actions with positive or negative values, according to their spatial-temporal localisation. An analysis of this “subway etiquette” discourse and of it’s development along the three editions, reveals a particular linguistic and visual differentiation of identity, which points to models of behaviour and sociality very different between each other, according to the Japanese or foreign origin of the passengers to which the poster’s persuasive action is directed, I will therefore try to demonstrate, on the one hand, how the interactions between poster-actors and human actors try to define distinct regimes of political enunciation (Latour 1999), on the other hand, how parodic translations of the Manner Posters- which immediately proliferated on web-sites and magazines in Japan- also lead to modes of negotiation of the values and social bonds prescribed.

Tatsuma Padoan (*1979, PhD) obtained his doctorate in Languages, Cultures and Societies from the University of Venice Ca’ Foscari in March 2011 with a thesis entitled: Attori, reti e linguaggi dell’esperienza religiosa. Indagini semiotiche sulle strategie di enunciazione nel discorso religioso giapponese [Actors, networks and languages of the religious experience. Semiotic investigations on the strategies of enunciation in Japanese religious discourse]. He is a part-time lecturer in Cultural Anthropology at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano and a member of LISaV (International Semiotics Laboratory of Venice, IUAV University). His research areas include the semiotics of religions and the anthropology of language, brand management and the politics of urban space. In terms of methodology, he is particularly interested in the relationship between semiotics, anthropology and Actor-Network-Theory as part of studies on Sciences and Technology, studies on ritual and pilgrimages and in design and visual communication. He was a visiting research student in the Study of Religions at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London) and a research student in Cultural Anthropology at Tokyo’s Keio University, carrying out research activities in this field in Japan.

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