Today, according to media reports, the FBI announced plans to display mugshots of the nation's most wanted criminals on a massive billboard near the TKTS booth in Times Square. The media advertising firm, Clear Channel Outdoor, is providing the agency use of the 40-foot digital display at no cost. The idea is that placing these images in a spot where thousands of people congregate will result in arrests.
So, in addition to lining up for theater tickets, dining in nearby restaurants, shopping in superstores, and playing with the kids in the new family-friendly pedestrian plaza, it will now also be possible to catch America's most wanted criminals. The most successful public places are the ones with a variety of activity, so I imagine the added opportunity to memorize the faces of criminals and be on alert for them will make Times Square even that more popular.
This afternoon, hoping to see this spectacle, I took the subway to Times Square and located the proposed billboard, just off to the right in the image before you, but all I saw were promotions for CNN. I was anticipating a Big Brother image or something out of Blade Runner, but I didn't see any big pictures of bad guys. It's OK, really. I suffer from visual overload in Times Square as it is, and I would end up confusing criminals with the stars of Broadway.
We have an interesting precedent in New York for the FBI's big billboard in Times Square. In 1964 architect Philip Johnson commissioned Andy Warhol to make a large mural for the exterior of the New York State Pavilion in the New York World's Fair. The mural, titled "Thirteen Most Wanted Men," consisted of black and white mug shots published by the New York Police Department in 1962. Shortly after the mural went up, Johnson told Warhol to remove the work because the governor worried the number of Italian men depicted in the artist's artwork would insult constituents. Warhol was mad, of course, and blamed Robert Moses, the powerful city planner, for being behind the move. Warhol then wanted to remake the mural with twenty-five portraits of a evil-looking smiling Moses. That idea wouldn't fly either, so the work was painted over.
Image of Times Square from the afternoon of January 15, 2010 by Walking Off the Big Apple.
See the NY Daily News story "Times Square billboard to display nation's most wanted criminals."