Be cool. Drive a car.

20 Nov

Recently, I've been thinking about how cars are portrayed versus other forms of transportation in movies, TV shows, even commercials. In fact, what really prompted this was the following Audi commercial, which was picked up by a number of transportation and urban planning blogs. Observe.

Now, what must the ad wizards who came up with this one have been thinking? I'm even willing to concede that maybe they thought this was a fairly innocuous message. Everyone likes, driving, right? Well now you can enjoy driving without the latent guilt of wondering whether you're being environmentally unsustainable while you do it. Why put yourself through the discomfort of walking, biking, or taking public transit to get where you're going?

I bet they didn't even consider how casually and easily they assumed that people who don't have a car, or choose not to drive it, are losers. Or uncool. Or at least, inconvenienced.

It's not the first time I've seen that trope. In fact, this ad immediately reminded me of the film The 40 Year Old Virgin. You might recall in the opening scenes, and throughout the rest of the movie, Andy (Steve Carell's character) is shown riding his bike to work, and to get around in general. He doesn't even have a license, and this repeatedly gets in the way of him sealing the deal on trying to lose his V-card. His lack of a car and ability to drive are a key way in which his character is dysfunctional and socially inept. I really liked the movie, and when I first saw it, I accepted this portrayal implicitly. To be fair, at the time I wasn't as into biking as I am now, and the movie does take place in Los Angeles where car ownership is more crucial to normal social interaction than it is here in New York.

I was also reminded of this season's opening credits to Saturday Night Live. If you're not familiar, each season SNL has a new opening title sequence which features the cast hanging out and generally looking cool and hip at night around New York while Don Pardo reads off their names. This season's are interesting because they feature a number of shots of Keenan Thompson standing on the Brooklyn Bridge high-fiving cyclists as they ride by, and one shot looking north up the East River apparently taken from someone riding across the bridge (you can tell it's someone riding a bike, because you can see over the exterior bridge cage that would otherwise be there if it was from a car). Check it out:

Even a few years ago, I doubt this would've been included. Also, cars whizzing by is still the most notable image here by far. Recently, though, cycling seems to have become more a part of the urban lifestyle zeitgeist of New York. Some would argue that that is mostly among upper middle class white men like me, but that's a topic for another post. The New York of my parents' generation of 20- and 30-somethings wouldn't have thought much about biking except when they were dodging psycho bike messengers. Let's hope the trend keeps going.