The stories we tell
Let us first, before we get any further, all agree that this guy in the video below is an insufferable crusty botch of nature.
Now, to the question at hand. Why is this a special situation? Why does it deserve our attention? Why is a video of a person over-ruling the agreed social norms for his own benefit made any worse because he is doing it while riding a bike?
Where is all the outrage, the news stories, the headlines, the endless trail of hostile comments on social media whenever a car casually coasts through a red light?
Why are cyclists supposed to be held to a higher standard? Why do we have to continually prove our worth for all eternity?
Because in places where cars are irrationally considered to be more important than people (which is still many places), cyclists are illegitimate.
Cyclists are not welcome. Not wanted. Not respected. Not even considered to be equals on a human level.
I’m not saying that it’s necessarily this bad on the streets every day, but news stories that treat cyclists in this way affirm this kind of thinking – this thinking that capitalizes on the way that we are aghast that a person on a bike is doing something that the rest of us do on a daily basis. These stories perpetuate it. They help to ensure that our societies are frozen in a time and place that refuses entry to progress, critical thinking, meaningful solutions, or a general feeling of community or togetherness. They do nothing to help. They do everything to hinder.
By arbitrarily assigning and judging others for standards that we conveniently step back from whenever it suits us, these “news stories” are part of the problem. A rather large problem.
Sure, they might say that they are completely neutral. They might say that they are simply showing something that happened and people can do with it what they want. Where then, are the stories of people in cars performing these actions, which are plentiful, and infinitely more dangerous?
The simple act of a news network deciding to print a story or show a video like this, without engaging in a public and reasoned debate about the behaviour of people – not cyclists, or motorists, or jaywalkers, etc – is divisive and destructive. Certainly in our present context.
These little clips are shown because their contents are controversial. They are controversial because people feel that they are dangerous. They are dangerous, presumably, because of the harm that they cause.
Why then are the headlines about cyclists? Why do people get more worked up about someone on a bike running into and injuring a handful of people each year than they do about someone driving a car and killing hundreds or thousands each year?
Because it has been done on purpose. Like racism, this is a taught behaviour.
(edit: upon further reflection, I’ve decided that though it certainly is taught/heavily reinforced, people could, and do, arrive at this conclusion simply out of self-interest. I’m in a car. I can go faster. I am bigger. I am stronger. Get out of my way. Still…)
We’ll do the thinking for you
We have been told for generations that the roads are for cars. That they are the basic criteria that we need to design our communities around. That anyone not in a car should stay out of the way of those in cars.
The greatest irony is that we are told that they are dangerous, but only as it applies to others to be vigilant around them.
Throughout all of this, the cyclist has been made illegitimate. While historically pedestrians have been moved ever closer to the edges, cyclists have been pushed right out of town.
Cycling presented an obstacle to those wishing to cash-in on the giant economic opportunity that the motorcar ushered in. With our present global situation slowly tipping the scales away from money-at-all-costs and slightly towards a basic quality of life that is shaped by our natural and social environment, cycling is gaining traction.
Like the jaywalker before it, there are many whose interests in maintaining the reign of the automobile trigger a fight response. Cycling is maligned, being presented as a nuisance, a threat to our economy, or a danger as the situation calls for.
The media is complicit in this. Whether they are actively in on it or unconsciously enabling it in a quest to chase advertising revenue doesn’t matter, as the results are the same.
What is being lost in the meantime is the greater good of our communities. Rather than asking how we can move the most people with the greatest overall benefit to society, or asking where the greatest danger lies on our roads and raising this as the real concern, we are told in both cases that it is bikes that are the problem rather than the solution that they actually are.
I should hardly think that this is because people don’t know the right questions to ask. They are not asked on purpose. What needs to happen is for our news media to realize that it is actually possible to both support the truth and present stories as balanced while attracting an audience.
Obviously it is possible to be controversial in favour of cycling, though I understand that to do so on an ongoing basis would likely alienate the majority of viewers. That’s not the point, though. The controversies should be uncovered, not created, by the news media.
I realize that this isn’t quite as cheap and easy as stirring up controversy to placate the most economically attractive audience, but if we want to actually become better at this thing we call life, then we’ve got to start somewhere.
Header image: source