Thursday, May 3, 2012

Why does "car-free = loser" in movies and TV?

"Einstein rode a bike!"
...The continuing contempt for the poor is a huge problem for sustainable transportation because so many Americans think of the stuff we promote as symbolic of poverty and disempowerment. Whether it's intentional or not, imagining that people can be tainted by the mode of transport they use is pretty dehumanizing. I've felt the shame of standing at a bus stop, waiting and waiting, while cars flow past. You're not supposed to have to wait; you're an American, the cultural conditioning says in the back of my mind. Well eff that. 
For-profit entertainment media hasn't caught up with the reality I inhabit, where lots of people get around outside of cars. Grown ups of different socioeconomic strata are commuting to work, toting kids, hauling goods, all on bikes, despite these continued assertions that only people who do not matter get around this way. I don't have any interest in perpetuating the idea that I should stay in a car so that I can stay away from the undesirables who can't afford to drive.
As National Bike Month has begun, this article comes at an appropriate time. This is particularly relevant for me; I took up biking as a means of transportation during my year in Columbus, and I've written in this space before about filmmakers who promote alternative transportation in general.

One thing this piece doesn't mention, but which I think is also relevant, is how Hollywood has, it's fair to say, a vested interest in keeping the auto industry happy. Car ads are given prominence in prime-time television, as well as in the ads that precede trailers - hell, even in the films themselves often times (the Transformers films, for example, as well as the recent Lorax tie-in). Is it any wonder that it seems as if a pro-car agenda is at work?

"Why am I even listening to you? You're a virgin who can't drive."
Living in the Northeast, it's easy to forget how much of the rest of America lives in car-oriented areas. It's something I became aware of while living in the Midwest: for many Americans, walking or riding bikes is less feasible than driving because they live in sprawling, decentralized cities and towns with wide, straight, multi-lane streets that encourage driving at unsafe speeds, endangering the lives of pedestrians and bikers.

And as for public transit, too many cities, New York included, are unable to build and/or sustain the capital necessary for a viable system. New York has the largest subway network in the world, but we're reliant on the state government for funding, and in recent years, they've stolen funds from city transit to balance their own books, and city transit is drowning in debt as a result. If that can happen here, you can imagine how vulnerable other places are as well.

Unfortunate as it is for Hollywood to look down their noses on alternative transportation, they're simply reflecting attitudes in real life. Fortunately, however, some of those attitudes are changing, and the work being done to promote National Bike Month (with a shout-out to my friends in Columbus for their efforts) has been, and continues to be, a major catalyst for that change. One likes to believe that Hollywood will eventually follow suit, but that will take time.



  1. this is so true and although i am planning to learn to drive as soon as its legal for me i see it as being a useful skill to have rather than something i plan on doing everyday
    also love the clueless reference!
    Jessica :)

  2. I hope you become a safe driver!


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