Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Is it okay to write on the Alpha Course ads?

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It's interesting to see that someone was arrested for criminal damage in London Bridge station for ticking "No" on the "Does God exist?" Alpha Course adverts that have been popping up around the country recently (pictured). A lot of the people discussing this in online forums (for example here on Bad Science) seem outraged by this, and there even seems to be a feeling that the individual was targeted by the police because they were writing on a religious advertisement.

As you can read in the Bad Science thread, the arrested individual emailed the National Secular Society to inform them of their plight, and argued that the advert was "inviting members of the public to participate by ticking the appropriate box", and so he did so by ticking "No". He was given the choice to pay an £80 fine, or challenge the charge in court. In the email to the NSS he says he is "left with little choice but to ask that this matter be dealt with by the court".

I'd be interested to know what readers make of this. Apparently six police officers were in attendance, which seems excessive, but surely writing on a poster in a train station is vandalism, no matter how stupid the poster might be? Is writing on this really any different from if someone had written all over an atheist bus ad back when they were running? (Incidentally, does anyone know if that ever did happen?) Of course, the Alpha ad is in the form of a questionnaire, so it is asking for it a little bit, but it should be pretty obvious that you're not actually supposed to fill it in.

And lastly, aren't we all a little bit old for defacing adverts in train stations with marker pens? (Unless of course the culprit was a minor, in which case don't they deserve a clip around the ear from their mother?)

These are just my own thoughts - I'd be interested to know what everyone else thinks....

[Update - Reading through the debate about this on Bad Science, I think this comment by "Warumich", who says they used to work for British Transport Police, pretty much sums up the issue.]

13 comments:

Nicholas Stark said...

Even though I am an atheist, I still think this was a case of vandalism, albeit meant as a prank rather than with malicious intent. Nevertheless, they should not get exception for breaking the law. I would agree that it is likely they were picked out because they wrote on a religious poster, but they were still in the wrong. Their damage was inconsequential, so their fine in fairness should hopefully be small as well. If we wish to lessen the degree of religiosity, we should do it fairly and properly, lest incidents like this fuel resentment of the non-religious instead. By the same accord, this should be made into an opportunity to speak out for more rights to advertising for non-religious, and only if we fight against vandalism in general can we hope to invoke that charge against religious wo would deface and remove our own posters and advertisements. The point: exemplify our own ideals by holding the law equally to everyone, or else fight against the law itself if you think it unjust.

Matt M said...

Someone on the Bad Science thread (who seems to know about these things) claims that the police usually patrol the underground in groups - so it doesn't sound like anything out of the ordinary happened.

If you deface an ad, no matter what it's subject, you can't really complain if you get into a spot of trouble for it.

Me said...

Vandalism's vandalism, although posters like this are defaced every two minutes around the city, so this seems like a bigger deal cos it's relevant to atheism. If there were organisations devoted to people who draw cocks on the heads of models in Gap posters there'd be a lot more news stories along these lines.

Andrew Horne said...

Surely having tick boxes is entrapment! But it's vandalism all the same.

Tom said...

If that's a photo of the actual poster in question, they didn't do it on the poster; they did it on the perspex on top of it. In which case it's more understandable for action to be taken.

Chris said...

It's vandalism, IMHO, and the vandal knew it too, and can't be surprised at being asked to pay the price...

Having said that, Banksy puts up a pretty strong argument against having to put up with dishonest and ethically unsound adverts being pushed in our faces in public spaces, without having a channel through which to retort. I agree that sort of advert is 'asking for it'.

They have purposefully left out, as we all know, a fourth check-box for 'Nobody knows'. And maybe a fifth for 'Probably not'. Dishonesty in Advertising; Example #387,448,952,102.

Richard Eis said...

Vandalism. But not actually worth bothering with.
But isn't it up to the company that owns the plastic advert case to complain?

Annette said...

That ad has annoyed me ever since I first saw it (at London Bridge station, as it happens). The lack of a "Probably not" option makes the thing dishonest.

I've seen another copy of this poster where the "No" box has been ticked - nice to see someone fighting back, but I agree it's actually vandalism.

Anonymous said...

The question is, did he use the correct number 2 pencil? Still, we think it's Clockwork Orange syndrome: he couldn't help himself, having grown up on these tests, even though he knew that it doesn't matter what box he marks. Perhaps had he just marked the box - a bit over the edge to also cross the other two answers out. We also think he might be a character in the next Nick Hornby story.

George Jelliss said...

I saw this poster on London Bridge station on Saturday as my train went past, but there was a large man standing in front of it so I could only read "Does God Exist?". I've been wondering ever since what the rest of the ad said! Has it so far only appeared at that one location? I'd have thought that putting it in that position, where lots of people are on the same level as it, and with the tick boxes at eye level, was clearly intended as a temptation for commuters to fill it in.

Anonymous said...

I have to be honest that when I see these bloody enormous adverts go past me on the side of a bus when I'm on the pavement it's all I can do not to rush over and scribble on the No. It's only self-control that's stopped me so far but I can't guarentee it will hold out.

Neal said...

Sorry to agree with others but I think this is vandalism too. However it is at the very edge of being a crime and if ever something qualified for a caution this is it.

ssica3003 said...

As a feminist activist I know all too well what constitutes "criminal damage" and this is it unfortunately.

I agree that we do not have a forum to critique these ads and we cannot choose to avoid them, like we can with television, for example and as such all public ads should be targets for defacement. But this is not within the law and this man's £80 fine is the cost of failing to spot the rozzers watching over his shoulder. He should be more subtle next time.

There is another version of this ad that is more common in my neck of the woods that reads:
"Is this it?" with the same options of "yes" "no" "probably" and I laugh at this version because with this particular phrase both the "yes" and the "probably" mean 2/3 of people can go on about their day knowing the alpha course is not for them.