“Most people aren’t just bicyclists or car drivers or people who walk. Most of us are cyclodrivarians — we do it all, so people have that experience of being in different positions at different times.”
—Rob Sadowsky of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance
I’ve recently taken over the twitter of a bike non-profit in Portland, and therefore become more keyed in to bike news and online interaction between activists, policymakers, and bike-issue reporting. Yesterday was a fucked up day in this realm, to say the least. Not only did yesterday mark the second time in a week’s time that tacks were strewn on the Hawthorne Bridge—the logic of which, as far as I can surmise, simply boils down to hatred—and bikeportland.org, and then KOIN in the same story mentioning the tacks, reported on a bullshit amateur travel piece which described the fantasy of driving bicyclists off the road as one of 7 “rites of passage” for being in Portland. There is a lot wrong with all of this, but it has little to do with the behavior of everyday Portlanders navigating themselves to and fro. It has really nothing to do with that.
First off, the KOIN headline needs to read “Bikers upset as tacks found on Hawthorne Bridge” because “tacks left on Hawthorne Bridge bike route” doesn’t provide sufficient context for the polemical situation, that somebody intentionally is trying to cause burst tubes and maybe even an accident. The headline might as well be “hippies whining because somebody littered.” The coded message: this story doesn’t affect you. It affects an insignificant minority. There is a fringe community in Portland of which you are not a part. Perhaps you do have a connection to this, if you are a golden retriever wearing glasses, for example: it entitles you to feel glib. You get to redefine “love,” change it to a particular version of hate that spites those who you believe to be your enemy. If you are an image of the local soccer team being crossed out, calling yourself “timberssuck,” you think that the tacks on the bridge are a kind of intellectual argument, and PSU students who can’t afford downtown parking and therefore ride their bike to school will start obeying traffic laws, as though they weren’t already. As though you understood the behavior of all bicyclists. As though, because there are tacks in the roads, their ride will be more safe.
It needs to be explained that bicyclists are humans because the rhetoric on the internet says otherwise, or at least seems to. The contrast between molly’s vulnerable, honest, human perspective after the image of a gun named Shane’s snarky THIS THUMBTACK STRATEGY IS GONNA TAKE OFF! is a tidy analogy to her vulnerability, honesty, and humanity as a person on a bike interacting with two-ton hunks of industry that behave like terrorizing automated machines more than humans, or extensions of their desires.
Has anyone proposed that all internet hate-speak is bot-generated, based in some coding perversion? Maybe a self-driving car tossed thumbtacks out its window? It’s more likely that people don’t understand that horror movies are metaphorical commentaries on real life.
And yet, maybe not. Maybe timberssuck capitalizes OBEY as an intentional reference to another 1980s John Carpenter film, 1988’s They Live—perhaps via Shepard Fairey’s appropriation art—in which aliens infiltrate global banking, politics, and media in order to oppress the human race and harvest the resources of the planet, managing to do so by televised mind control that makes coded messages like “OBEY” and “CONSUME” appear as friendly billboards, and the aliens’ faces into human ones. Pro-human activists develop Ray-Ban technology to filter out the mind control and see the truth:
Whether timberssuck is aware of this*, is in fact an alien, or becomes gleeful at the oppression of all subcategories of mainstream society is uncertain, and I would like nothing more than to send Rowdy Roddy Piper to his (I have no doubt he is a male, whether or not he is human) house to find out, but then I would be falling into the trap of internet nonsense, because it’s easy to threaten people you don’t know when technology and screens separate your actual human bodies from each other—like, for example, the windshield of a car may allow you to indulge fantasies of violence against people you perceive to be different from you. Of course a mouse click is a long way’s off from a floored accelerator. The latter requires a whole foot, while a click requires but a single finger.
Which brings us to #4 in our list of things terrible about the internet:
This article from late December has made ripples in the bike community that crested yesterday, ending up in the KOIN story. Such was the blowback that the story was taken down. The moment in question, of the 7 “rites of passage everyone will experience in Portland” is
In August a blogger compared the experience of riding a bike in a non-bike-friendly city to being a second-class citizen, giving white people an experience analogous to being black in America. The argument was nuanced and sensitive to its pitfalls, and not as obnoxious as it sounds. The metaphor was nothing more than a means to understanding what white privilege is: riding a bike in a car’s world allows you to experience what it means to participate in a system that favors exactly who you are not. And whatever legislation may create equalizing infrastructure, bicyclists “despite having the right-of-way,” are not the ones “driving a two-ton bullet of a machine,” the ones “with all the power.” These words were written on a network with this as their front-page push for subscription:
However, it seems they mean “travel is fatal to the people you hit with your car while traveling,” because they certainly don’t seem to mean “travel immerses you in other people’s values to the extent you rethink your own worldview by trying on someone else’s.” Mark Twain was a satirist, so it’s all really up in the air. A matter of opinion. The jury’s out. Perhaps, as many totally not racist white people defensively explain every day, just because I benefit from and participate in a system that oppresses others doesn’t make me an oppressor. Exclamation point! Haven’t we already conceded enough? Several words: bike lanes and Barack Obama. For everything Portland stands for, it is incredibly accepting of affluent white self-entitled motorist young people in love with their own privilege. They are comfortable here and they invite their friends. They go for a drive and say obnoxious things about the bicyclists on their way to brunch at 1PM on a Tuesday. If it were a scene in a John Carpenter movie, they would hit the bicyclist (a la The Toxic Avenger [not a John Carpenter movie, btw]) and every word out of their mouths would be accurately translated to “White Supremacy,” repeated over and over again, punctuated by laughter. But this is not a horror movie, it is “reality.”
By “reality,” in this moment, I mean the internet, and that is what is at the heart of this, what is in front of me, and you, what inspires list/click-oriented “writing.” People using facebook click on list-oriented content, so list-oriented content gets more ad revenue, so bullshit makes money and even more if it stokes controversy. The internet is destroying intelligent discourse. QED (as though people on a large scale were ever engaged in or with intelligent discourse, as though there were ever any to destroy…).
Case and point: “The Matador Network” which encourages people to approach places like Portland as a colonist, seeing the locals as backward yokels so other to their experience that you may feel entitled to joke about driving them off the road with your car.
How can you try on, as a tourist tries on a pair of clogs in Holland, a cartoonish generalization of a society’s values if those values seem to be contradictory? How can you call a city bike-friendly if there seems to be such palpable anti-bike feeling, in the form of online commenters and tacks on the Hawthorne Bridge? How can you call a city American if it caters so heavily to the bicyclist? These are 7 rites of passage “everyone will experience,” after all, because we are Americans, and, apparently we are traveling to Portland, which would explain why there are so many people driving on the bike routes because they don’t know any better. The experience of the bicyclist being passed by an SUV is excluded from “everyone”‘s experience, because, in the story of America, only idiots, lunatics, poor people, and children ride bicycles. If any of these people insist on their right to the road it is not only comic, it is obnoxious. The open-minded traveler is charmed to see this surreal procession from sidewalk brunch, but when actually driving they feel entitled to pass dangerously, honk, shout, etc. because nobody’s ever told them they can’t go on a certain street in a car. Nobody’s ever told them that honking at a bike two feet in front of you feels closer to violence than the simple microaggression you might think it is. Nobody’s ever told them that the act of driving in a neighborhood creates a psychological imprint on the mind of pedestrians, children, and bike commuters telling them—you are not welcome here, tread lightly, or, better, not at all. These oppressions of the non-motorist go away, after all, the moment you get into a car. It is then that you win at America. Why should Portland and its drivers—residents, commuters, and visitors alike—bow to a scrappy fleet of losers?
According to the silhouette of a circle named Dennis featured above, it is time for the cars to take the roads back—cyclists have had a bad habit of terrorizing the driving public in Portland, this seems like a well deserved turn. I could angrily pick apart Dennis’ “argument,” raise my blood pressure, etc., but I have to remember that Dennis is a silhouette of a circle on top of a section of a larger circle anthropomorphized by virtue of the words of some idiot—perhaps also named Dennis—being placed next to him. This is who KOIN needs to cater to and why the bicyclist must remain other. When we all see each other as brothers, sisters, etc. in the same struggle against oppressive powers, then such polemic binaries will disappear. However, an oligarchy profits from our decisive obsessions. To them we and where we live are expendable resources, even our social activity is a source of revenue. How can we even come together if we see the road 15 feet from our front door as a violent space not intended for humans? If we choose each other over struggling for someone else’s bottom line then maybe we’ll be nicer to each other in those places where bikes and cars share the road and cyclists and motorists share the internet. I have a driver’s license, and most drivers know how to ride a bike, so can we please stop inhabiting roles written for us by those who, with the Keystone Pipeline, conflate environmental destruction and filling the pockets of the already rich with “job creation”? GDP and car use stopped being the same 20 years ago, and car use peaked in 2004, but that’s not the story being told. Tacks are being left on the Hawthorne Bridge, which raises a lot of questions about the bike problem in this city.
*Perhaps timberssuck, and the capitalization of OBEY is satire. If we do indeed live in a They Live situation, then following traffic laws as a cyclist that are designed for cars for the protection of people from cars would be analog to bowing before our alien oppressors who seek to divide and conquer us while stripping our planet of its natural resources for its own gain. Or, as the stop sign is translated through the Ray Bans, the traffic signs insist we SLEEP and deaden our impulses to question. No matter what draconian measures are taken by, or inspired by, those who seek to disconnect us from the truth around us, we refuse to submit and obey. I think I get it, timberssuck. Thank you for your nuanced contribution to the field of intelligent human discourse.