Last Laugh

Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic (mandatory reading for all humans), posted a Slate column on Friday in which he considers how Hollywood treats non-drivers and bicyclists. We are, apparently, a bunch of losers and creeps.

And the broader culture, apparently, is hip to this if not the source of it:

Or perhaps it’s the wider society that has trouble conceiving of life outside the omnipresent sphere of what sociologist John Urry calls “automobility,” one tenet of which is “the dominant culture that organizes and legitimates socialities across different genders, classes, ages and so on; that sustains major discourses of what constitutes the good life and what is necessary for an appropriate citizenship of mobility; and that provides potent literary and artistic images and symbols.”

But last laughs are sweet.

Just ask anyone who has been commuting by bicycle or bicycling for basic transportation for awhile. Here’s what we see all too often:

  • Frustrated people stuck in traffic
  • Mad dashes from far-away parking lots in the rain
  • People forced to expose themselvs and their expensive machines to danger in the snow
  • Road rage
  • Fender benders
  • Costs: loan payments, insurance, gas, oil, repairs, parking, parts

I could go on and on. But you get the idea. From the saddle of my bicycle, I feel like a winner. Behind the wheel of our 1996 Honda Civic, I feel like a loser (at this point, I wouldn’t feel any different about a luxury car).

I try not to sit there very often.

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Comments 4

  1. Steve A wrote:

    Hmm, it seems to me that “mad dashes in the rain” and the exposure of expensive machines to danger in the snow also applies as much to cycling, albeit in a slightly different fashion than for our motoring brethren. Actually, if you include thunderstorms, perhaps a bit more. And have you noticed that the price of new tubes went up nearly 50% recently?

    FWIW, I don’t think “Breaking Away” made the cyclist out as a loser or a creep.

    Posted 02 Aug 2010 at 7:37 pm
  2. Andy Cline wrote:

    Steve… I bet I stay dryer in my rain suit than most mad dashers :-) And, yes, Breaking Away as good. Hmmmmm… but what to make of Quick Sliver?

    Posted 02 Aug 2010 at 7:40 pm
  3. Keith R. wrote:

    The Flying Scotsman was another good one! Highly recommend it!

    Posted 03 Aug 2010 at 9:26 am
  4. JAT in Seattle wrote:

    the Vanderbilt article really gets the little wheels in my head spinning. Yes we can point to a tiny number of bicycling-centric movies in which the cyclist is not shorthand iconography for loser, but are there ANY mainstream media portrayals of bicycling as a normal incidental part of life?

    The ONLY one I can think of is that in Calvin and Hobbes Calvin’s dad rides a bike. Oh, and Seinfeld had a mountain bike hanging in his apartment, I never saw him ride it.

    What were the factors at work that transformed popular culture from the all-white all-straight all-non-denominiational-Christian world of Leave it to Beaver to The Cosby Show and Will and Grace? Is it just money? It’s not hard to imagine the financial arrangements between the networks / studios and the auto manufacturers, but what would it take to get a sympathetic cycling character in any mainstream movie or series?

    Posted 04 Aug 2010 at 3:39 pm