12
Aug

2010

Hollywood Says You’re A Loser (If You Don’t Drive A Car)

Post by Steven Dale

A week and a half ago, Tom Vanderbilt of Slate magazine wrote a fantastic article entitled Dude, Where’s Your Car? How not having a car became Hollywood shorthand for loser.

It’s an eye-opening and persuasive article whose central thesis is this:

Hollywood films depict characters who don’t own/drive cars as worthless human beings that are leeches on society. If you don’t drive, you are a deviant, adolescent man-child – quite likely a virgin – and hopelessly, desperately dependent upon others.

Vanderbilt is best known for his book Traffic and its companion blog How We Drive. He’s an excellent writer who doesn’t burden his explanations of mobility with the mundane plannerspeak we’ve all come to know and loathe. He’s refreshingly readable and his recent Slate article is no different.

His article, however, misses a key counterpoint: Car usage is no more “independent” than other forms of mobility, except maybe walking.

While we like to imagine hopping in a car and speeding off to tame a wild frontier like some sort of Cowboy in a Honda Civic, the reality is quite different.

Without highways, roads, repairmen, stop signs, traffic lights, licenses, GPS, map books, civil engineers, parking lots, etc. there is no private automobile. Like it or not, the automobile is dependent on a whole system of people and infrastructure to allow it to function. Without those systems, people and infrastructure, good luck trying to get anywhere in your new BMW.

The car driver may rely on a different slew of dependencies than the transit rider does, but that doesn’t make him independent. A crack addict may not be a drunk, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t an addict.




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