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Cars Suck, Reason #32370

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  • Jym Dyer
    =v= A teevee ad depicts a father teaching his son to drive, taking over the parking, and nearly causing an accident. His response is to chuckle indulgently at
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 2, 2001
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      =v= A teevee ad depicts a father teaching his son to drive,
      taking over the parking, and nearly causing an accident. His
      response is to chuckle indulgently at his oopsie. Teach 'em
      young. Just to ice the cake, the ad ends on the car's new
      brand name motto: "Wake Up And Drive."

      =v= Another teevee ad is using The Specials' "Enjoy Yourself"
      as background music. "Enjoy yourself/It's later than you think/
      Enjoy yourself/The world is on the brink." Yeah, it sure is,
      thanks to CARS!!!

      =v= The Specials aren't about cars, dammit! They're about
      racial harmony and getting around town on little two wheeled
      vehicles (Raleigh Twenties come to mind) while wearing snappy
      two-toned clothes and porkpie helmets.
      <_Jym_>

      P.S.: All teevees should sport "Kill Your Automobile" stickers.
    • De Clarke
      Some thoughts on cars as culture, and the *other* reasons people drive -- besides laziness or a subconscious hostility to all life forms including themselves
      Message 2 of 2 , Mar 6, 2001
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        Some thoughts on cars as culture, and the *other*
        reasons people drive -- besides laziness or a
        subconscious hostility to all life forms including
        themselves :-) (warning, this is long and rambling)

        Across the street from me is the yuppie dotcom
        family with two parents, two little kids, and five
        cars. These are car-culture folks to the max -- not
        old-money people who pay others to service their
        fleet, but nouveaux riches who grew up with hot
        rods, and now have more money to buy more hot rods
        and dirt bikes :-) they have two boys, one going
        on four or so, the other around 2 I think.

        Practically every toy the boys play with is a car or
        a motorcycle imitation. They don't have trikes --
        they have a little plastic pedal car and a little
        plastic pedal "motorbike" with training wheels.
        When one of them had a birthday recently, the
        parents rented one of those inflatable
        trampoline/cages -- you know, the kids go inside and
        bounce around on the air cushion, behind netting
        walls. The whole darned thing, about 15 ft high,
        was in the shape of a giant offroad truck.

        Dad spends quite a few of his weekends off-road
        motorcycling at places like Laguna Seca, and his
        evenings tuning up the various vehicles in the
        fleet. Sometimes he and his brother ride mini-bikes
        around and around and around *in the back yard*
        (this is in a suburban residential neighbourhood,
        not out in the sticks btw). The kids sit watching,
        mesmerized. You just know they are dreaming of being
        big enough and old enough to ride a "real" bike
        that goes Vrroom.

        I have a strong sense of nostalgia as I watch all
        this, because I too grew up not with a silver spoon
        so much as a 13mm box-end wrench in my mouth :-)
        Cars are a way of life as well as a commodity item
        and a status symbol and a laziness-enabler. This
        guy works really hard on his cars (and his four
        motorcycles). They're his obsession, like gardening
        or gourmet cooking or collecting stamps. My family
        used to rebuild engines together :- )

        The Jesuits used to say "give us the child until he
        is seven" meaning that cultural/religious
        indoctrination is more effective during early
        childhood than at any subsequent time. Obviously
        this is not a sure thing, or there would never be
        rebellions against any established order -- human
        society would just go on the same century after
        century with everyone behaving/thinking exactly as
        they're acculturated. But early childhood
        experiences are very powerful (one reason why
        advertisers are so interested in getting more access
        to children). Growing up in a family such as the
        one I describe has to make it very hard to question
        the primacy of the automobile. Heck, it took
        me some 15 years away from home to get a clue,
        despite questioning all sorts of other social
        conventions first :-)

        One thing that makes anti-car work so hard is that
        people like this are deeply, emotionally bonded to
        their cars and the amateur mechanic culture. Tell
        them Cars are Bad and you're attacking their family,
        their traditions, their pet hobby. The same kind of
        impasse occurs when trying to oppose the logging
        industry -- that's a long family tradition for many
        loggers; or the drugs trade for crime families :-)
        people can have very positive associations of pride
        and tradition with activities that, objectively
        viewed, are quite harmful.

        It's easy to say that those people should just start
        repairing and collecting bikes instead, but that's
        a massive change of culture and context. I don't
        know where one could even begin to talk to people
        such as my neighbours about the idea of freedom from
        cars. To them it would be like "freedom" from
        everything that's familiar, the whole pattern of their
        leisure time and family life. Hard to imagine how
        one would not be perceived as coming like a thief
        and a destroyer to *take away* something precious
        from their lives. How do we get past this?

        ----------------

        Cars are not just industry, they are culture... like
        TV ads. Recently I was at a meeting to review a
        police grant proposal for bike/pedestrian safety
        measures. The grant had been strongly criticized for
        pro-auto, anti-ped/bike bias. While waiting for the
        meeting to begin I was sitting at the table with
        police officers, safety analysts, etc. Their topic
        of conversation: how sexy and cool the new car was
        that one of the analysts had just bought; how much
        she was looking forward to driving it on weekends;
        how the superbowl game wasn't that great this year;
        how they all thought the commercials were *the best
        part* of the game.

        So I sat there while these adult professionals
        recited the scripts of commercials to each other,
        laughing and slapping the table... and while they
        all expressed their envy of the shiny new black
        ragtop sports car and how much fun it would be to
        drive it really fast w/the top down (nudge-nudge
        wink-wink here from the traffic cops)... and this is
        the *cultural* context from which they are making
        decisions about public health and safety and urban
        design.

        When the other cyclists walked in to the discussion
        in their bike clothes, helmets, etc. you could see
        the laughter and camaraderie on the City staff's
        faces die away: it was Us vs Them, the bike people
        were like space aliens in that atmosphere of cosy
        car-centred, TV-centred, commercialist culture. It
        was a vivid illustration of what "mainstream" means
        and what it means to be outside it. If you- all are
        old enough to remember "hippies" and the reaction of
        law enforcement officials in the bad old days to any
        guy with long hair or a girl wearing too many beads,
        then you know what I mean :-)

        The cultural divide is daunting... dealing with
        carcentrism (recent though it is) is just like
        dealing with any other "ism" that's deeply
        enculturated, like race or class or sex prejudice.
        We learn it as kids ("You Have to be Carefully
        Taught") and it's re-inforced every day of waking
        life. Undoing it is very difficult.

        So what I'm finally getting at here is that I
        support Larisa's argument, that shaming and
        insulting people is not the best way to change
        hearts & minds on the ground... the divide is
        already in place, and rock-throwing can only deepen
        it. I wish I knew what would work better.

        Venting our frustration does have its place -- say,
        in political cartoons, satire, and sarcastic
        rantings! A political cartoon lambasting the Unimog
        is desperately needed :-) and I'm sure one will pop
        up soon. Cartoons challenging American
        overconsumption of resources, poking holes in
        people's smugness and complacency, are part of the
        countercultural effort (culture jammers have
        developed a lot of other interesting ways to
        "subvertise"). But on an individual or community
        level, standing up in City or County meetings and
        insulting the car-driving residents is unlikely to
        get results. They close ranks against the zealots.
        And wouldn't we do the same?

        Every countercultural movement faces this burning
        question: how to reach out to the opposition in
        ways that are neither insulting nor condescending --
        yet without watering down one's message to the point
        of complete sell-out and ultimate futility. Argh.

        ----------------------

        I do hope there's more than sheer laziness to appeal
        to. After all, if Americans were *only* creatures of
        total laziness, they wouldn't recycle; but in fact,
        recycling programs are popular. Now, recycling is a
        pathetic effort in the face of our overconsumption
        (there was a very, very funny article in _The Onion_
        on this topic a while back!). But the success of
        popularizing it does show that people will make a
        small extra effort if they feel it's worthwhile.
        The trick is to expand the notion of what is
        "worthwhile".

        I like Adams' Hypermobility essay because he points
        out that if you show people a car-centred
        neighbourhood or city, and then you show them a
        human-centred design, they will prefer the second
        picture. So as well as appealing to laziness, car
        reduction activists can offer people a choice --
        which neighbourhood would you rather live in? and
        would you be prepared to drive less in order to live
        in the more pleasant one? Between the evident
        advantages of fewer cars, and the willingness to
        make small alterations of lifestyle if the social
        consensus on good citizenship is shifted a bit,
        there's some room to work *with* people.

        Enough room? I dunno. If we didn't have multiple
        billions of dollars being poured into propaganda
        campaigns to keep people buying, buying, buying,
        (and driving, driving, driving) it would be easier
        to conduct this discussion in public. As it is, the
        machineries of government and media are so strongly
        biased towards the auto and road industry that it's
        hard for any dissenting voice to be heard. A Polish
        film maker once commented that the censorship of
        governments can be protested, challenged, and even
        defeated -- but the censorship of money is almost
        impossible to overcome.

        As usual, no answers. Only questions :-) I'm
        curious to know what people on this list have done
        themselves, personally, that has had any effect
        on others (that we know of)...

        de

        .............................................................................
        :De Clarke, Software Engineer UCO/Lick Observatory, UCSC:
        :Mail: de@... | :
        :Web: www.ucolick.org | Don't Fear the Penguins :
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