Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Gender and Bicycling Stereotypes

I'm a woman and I've been blogging about riding a bike and researching bikes for four years, but I don't often write about gender issues in bicycling. I grew up reading gendered magazines, like Vogue, and I have seen these magazine markets get reproduced online. I prefer to think of my blog as operating differently than gender-segregated media, more like Highlights than like Harper's Bazaar. I don't write about "cycle chic," I don't belong to a women's cycling club (then again, I don't belong to any cycling clubs), and I don't conceive of gender as the biggest barrier to making bicycling something unexceptional in the United States. We need to get more people to think of bicycling as a possible mode of transport in their lives, regardless of gender.

At the same time, I've witnessed many social barriers to women's participation in bicycling:
- There's a lot of pressure in the bike cultures I know to learn about bike repair and technical gear, but women are often socialized to pay less attention to technical details and more attention to the people around them. I'm probably going to notice how well two people get along before I notice their Campagnolo hubs.
- There's a necessity to assert one's right to the road when biking, but a lot of women have been socialized to be less forthright and more accommodating. When I'm waiting lawfully at a red light and I know there is a motorist behind me waiting to turn right, I sweat it over whether they're going to honk at me or not, whether they're going to scream that I'm in the way.
- In talking about bikes, commentators tend to strip streets of their social and cultural contexts, reducing travel to some mechanistic interaction of individual with roadway. Women are taught to be painfully aware of our bodies, maybe making it more difficult for us to buy into this focus on road design.

And even if they're not familiar with the social dynamics of bicycling, many people seem to think that they have to look a certain way to ride a bike. The images I see the most are of style-oriented hipsters and sport-oriented roadies. 

These pictures were taken seconds apart on a bridge in Chicago in 2009. The first shows a guy whose clothes match, with a helmet whose design references alternative bike and skate culture. He has on a messenger bag and based on the small size of the handlebars, along with the lack of visible shifters, I'd say he's riding a fixie or a one-speed. The term "hipster" means a lot of things, depending on the image in the mind of the speaker. It rarely gets used as a compliment, and implies a superficiality that clashes with the commitment I have witnessed in many stylish people who choose to bike. (That's a whole other post.) Anyway, I think the image of bicycling as only for the cool kidz turns some people off of using bikes at the same time that it attracts others. I imagine a woman in her 20s or 30s who identifies as a feminist, maybe even works for some environmental nonprofit, but dislikes bicycling because she associates it with the cliqueyness of urban hipster culture.

The second image shows a guy who is wearing a number of technical bike garments. He's wearing glasses that have a streamlined look, a racing helmet, bike shorts, and what looks like a dri-weave shirt of some kind. Many people seem to think that getting into bicycling means getting into sport cycling. I see a lot of commuters who wear technical gear, which might perpetuate this idea that you have to get dressed up in expensive and specific clothing to ride a bike. I have never pursued bike racing, but I'd imagine that like in any sport, the stakes of bodily performance are high. Having other people judge my bodily performance does not sound appealing to me, and if that's what women have in mind when they think of biking, I can see why it wouldn't sound like something for them. The imaginary woman in my mind feels intimidated by the sheer volume of things she could do wrong as a bicyclist. What if she wears the wrong shorts? What's a pearl izumi?

Gender and subculture aside, drivers who choose to ignore you can still make you feel disempowered. Sometimes thinking about riding my bike in certain places and sharing streets with people who make no effort to return my eye contact scares me: this is my barrier to bicycling. Maybe this just shows that I'm what planners call an "indicator species" (women, who are less likely to take risks and thus our presence biking on a roadway indicates the perceived comfort of riding there). Whether or not my fear stems from me being a woman, it definitely stems from the root problem of our longstanding acceptance of reckless traffic behavior. If we shift to thinking of our streets as social spaces rather than as traffic channels, a lot of the machismo associated with bicycling will melt away because biking won't be such a renegade action.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Urban Sustainability for Everyone

An odd feature of the sustainability movement is that it brings together people who promote market-driven solutions for environmental problems and people who know that market-driven solutions can hurt communities.

Right now I'm working on a series with one of my main thinking partners, Allison Mannos, that looks at the displacement effect, or what anthropologist Melissa Checker has called "environmental gentrification," in sustainable urban development. Our first piece went up on LA Streetsblog today. More and more studies are showing that displacement in livable neighborhoods is not a coincidence; it happens because some people benefit from property values driven up by the marketability of green amenities and some people do not.

In Seattle, environmental justice group Puget Sound Sage recently released a report on the need for racially just outcomes in transit-oriented development. They found that transit-riding communities of color are leaving the Rainier Valley area for more affordable suburbs and wealthier people are moving in from suburbs and bringing their cars, at the same time that the local transit authority is investing in development along a new light rail line. Seattle frequently refers to the Rainier Valley zip code 98118 as the "most diverse in the United States," but this appears to be changing.

While it may be possible to write off displacement as an externality in private development, we need to speak up when it takes place through public investments that are supposed to benefit society at large, such as bike infrastructure projects and transit-oriented development. Sustainability usually refers to ecology and economy, but the need to sustain our diverse urban places should also be in the foreground. When we lose diversity, we take away our opportunities to learn about other ways of life, to become comfortable in integrated neighborhoods. Americans need more of these opportunities, not fewer.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Bicicultures Project

The window display at Safety Cycle in Los Angeles
There are many kinds of bicycles on this planet, and many places to ride them. And there are many kinds of people on this planet. When people come together in social life, they create culture; they share ways of being, ways of thinking, meanings, practices. What happens when different people come together on different bikes in different places? They make different bicycle cultures.

There are more than roadies in spandex and hipsters on 1980s road bikes, there are day laborers riding mountain bikes on sidewalks, there are teenagers riding fixies in packs, there are parents riding with their kids, there are immigrants who bike in U.S. cities because they biked at home. For many people biking is one aspect of a multifaceted shift in how we live as Americans; for others, it is a toy or a temporary vehicle.
What happens when different people come together on different bikes in the same places, but we have a narrow definition of what a bicyclist can be? Some of them become invisible. An important part of promoting diversity in bicycling is recognizing that there are far more people using bikes now than fit into the types we associate with "bike culture."

I knew about bike culture before I felt like I was part of it. When I started riding in Portland in 2005, I didn't make any new friends through biking, though I saw a lot of people who seemed to know each other on bikes. On my first big group ride in Los Angeles, the Midnight Ridazz All-City Toy Ride in 2007, I remember feeling like an outsider looking in on some cool party to which I didn't have an invitation, even though I was an experienced bike commuter. These people were part of a network and I wasn't. And then, over time, I became part of a network, and I didn't feel like an outsider anymore. I felt like a bikey person.

When I started my dissertation project on bikes in Los Angeles, I thought about creating a taxonomy of bike people, but I wanted to avoid the cartoonish caricatures I'd seen, diagrams that asked, which kind of bicyclist are you? I wanted to study people who rode bikes but weren't participating in my subculture, which has been and continues to be documented and discussed by many writers and artists in zines, on websites, and in books. I was mainly interested in the contrast between what I was thinking of as "intentional" cyclists, people like me who choose to bike for eco, political, and other reasons, and "working" cyclists, people who bike out of economic necessity. Another term for the latter group is "invisible riders," which LA writer Dan Koeppel used in a 2005 article.

What I found out through ethnographic research and living in LA was that these invisible riders had a network among themselves, bike shops they frequented that my friends and I did not know about, and techniques for avoiding police harassment. I learned these things through working on the City of Lights/ Ciudad de Luces outreach project, which I co-founded with Allison Mannos and Andy Rodriguez in late 2008 to connect Latino cyclists with the bike movement in LA.

From what I've witnessed, it seems like we are still learning how to understand that there are multiple things happening on bikes, so I got together with some other bikey researchers to start the Bicicultures Project. Bicicultures aims to shed light on the many bicycling cultures taking place alongside each other in our cities and towns. It's a network of scholars who study bicycling as a social and cultural phenomenon, and many of us ride bikes too. "Bici" is Spanish for bike. We're still figuring out what shape it will take, but we plan to share our work with the public.

Since I started doing bike anthropology in 2008, I have been gathering photos that show many different contexts where people use bicycles. Some pictures show different images of bicycling than I have encountered in mainstream media and in bicycle promotional materials, and some show the DIY bike culture that's my home. Below are a few images that portray everyday bicycling as I have seen it. More pictures and information here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It's Ok to Bully Bike Hipsters on Ladyblogs

I read a few "ladyblogs," primarily xoJane and Jezebel. If I click on a post, I usually read the comments, too. When the topic of bikes comes up, there's always a mini-war in the comments between people who despise "bike hipsters" (read: entitled, privileged jerks who think they own the road) and people who actually ride bikes. Commenters trot out their most extreme stories of negative interactions they've had with people on bikes, sometimes concluding with things like "FUCK BIKING HIPSTERS I HOPE A BUS HITS YOU."

These are the same websites that promote things like fat acceptance and anti-bullying campaigns. Why are bicyclists portrayed as inhuman creatures unworthy of sympathy, dismissing an incredibly diverse world of practice (bicycling) because of the stupid behavior of a few jerks? And, this is the thing that really confuses me, why do people find jerk bicyclists so harmful to society when they constantly interact with motorists who run red lights and stop signs, use infrastructure like traffic circles in dangerous ways, talk and text in the car, drive without looking from side to side when entering intersections, and engage in other dangerous behaviors that kill people every day?

I asked a few of my friends, one a bicyclist and one less inclined to the bicycling arts, what they thought about this phenomenon. Both responded that it's because you can see a bicyclist's face, whereas it's easier to think of a motorist as a car. The interactions with bicyclists stick out in people's minds, and maybe they feel more personally insulted by the face-to-face flouting of laws. I think it's also because we've trained ourselves to think of driving as passing through an obstacle course rather than moving through a social space. Cars that do dumb stuff are a nuisance, but they do not interrupt the illusion until there's an actual crash. Bodies that do dumb stuff are a threat to the idea that driving is a no harm, no foul activity. You might actually hurt someone!

Getting sensitized to this fact has made driving a lot more harrowing for me than it was when I was an Orange County teenager. I spent a lot of time in my car, especially when I was home from college in the summer of 2002, since I didn't have much space at my mom's house and I was working as a pizza delivery girl. I thought of the interior space of my car as a private world where I could listen to music and the exterior of my car as an identity statement, putting on bumper stickers and gluing astroturf racing stripes to the roof. The car was a mobile place. I didn't think much about the people outside my car, except for always locking my doors. Now when I drive, I think of myself as operating a dangerous and unwieldy mass of metal.

So, when I hear people who regularly operate dangerous and unwieldy masses of metal characterize people outside of those masses of metal as objects of hate, I can see that there's some car culture discipline going on. People who act like jerks behind the shelter of a windshield may also be despised, but they don't seem to come up as much. Driving is the norm, and doing something different gets policed as deviant. But what about when the people complaining are pedestrians who feel harassed by bicyclists? I wonder if they feel as harassed by motorists, and, if not, if maybe it's because they know what it's like to drive but they don't know what it's like to bike. Maybe they have sympathy for drivers, but not for bicyclists.

All this has made me think about the impact that our everyday interactions have on our worldviews. There just ain't no denying that driving is a deadly mode of transport, and yet the statistics seem to influence people's perceptions of safety less than their individual experiences of bike jerks. I'd say that bike jerks should stop being such jerks, but a) being a self-righteous turd is clearly part of the fun for some people on bikes, and b) what makes a "bike jerk" is totally subjective in a country where many motorists have no clue that bicyclists can use streets just like they do. And, as this piece on xoJane points out, trying to ride a bike, even in a bikey city, might reinforce negative views of bicycling. So the real point to me is that people who don't know what it's like to ride a bike should try talking to some people who do ride bikes, and maybe going for a ride with them to see what it's all about. Hopefully positive engagement with bicyclists can have as much of an impact as negative engagement does.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The First Time I Rode a Bike I Went Insane

(Not really. I just wanted to reference a Jeffrey Lewis song.)

I started using a bike for transportation in May 2005. I did it to impress Bobby Gadda, who had been bike commuting for a while. I remember going to the Goodwill outlet and getting a $10 red bike with cylinders sticking out on either side of the rear hub, which we promptly christened Pegs. Soon we went for a ride, and all of a sudden, I realized that I was going to have to ride Pegs in the street next to cars driving. And up hills. These were not things I had done before.

Growing up, I sometimes rode my bike on the sidewalk of a quiet neighborhood street to get to a regional bike path, would quickly lose interest, and would then ride home. I don't have the nostalgia for glorious childhood freedom on a bike that I've heard from lots of other bike advocates. Instead I got that sense of liberation from walking and riding the bus. In college, I had inherited a roommate's lovely Schwinn cruiser with a nice big basket, and I sometimes rode it across campus to the library, but it never occurred to me to ride it into the city.

This is Steele Street between 28th and 32nd in SE Portland, where I first remember getting the new physical sensation I have come to associate with bicycling, the double whammy heart rate caused by fear and exertion:

A low-traffic street! With a bike lane! Terrifying! Granted, Steele does get much hillier a few blocks east, but when I was biking this way last month I had to stop to take this picture. I was on my way to talk to undergrads at my alma mater, Reed College, about experimental urban anthropology. It made me laugh to see this space now, seven years into being a bike commuter and five years into being a bike researcher/activist.  

It reminded me of the summer in 2008 when I left my bike at my mom's house, thinking she'd be able to use it while I was away on research trips. She tried to get on, and I have rarely seen my mom look so graceless. Huh, it dawned on me, road bikes with dropped handlebars aren't necessarily the easiest bikes to hop onto if you're not used to bending over while you ride, not to mention having to lift your leg over the bike to get on. I'd been riding for long enough by this time that I didn't remember these things.

When we learn how to ride bikes, we're teaching our bodies to adjust to specific machines. I always feel unsteady for the first little bit when I borrow a bike, having to figure out brakes and gears and my body's position. But we're also teaching them to adjust to specific spaces. This street seemed really scary to me when I was first riding. When I rode here recently, I did not get the double whammy heart rate feeling. The theoretical framework of my dissertation focuses on these phenomena, how talking about "bicyclists" makes less sense than talking about "bicycling assemblages" that we make out of our bodies, our bikes, and our cities. These elements come together in a definite shape as we develop what Marcel Mauss called "techniques of the body" and become comfortable riding in traffic.

Back in 2005, I didn't have an inkling that riding a bike would become such a central part of my life, but it quickly became something I loved.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Juxtaposing CicLAvia and Disneyland: Engineering Place or Living It?

On Sunday, April 15, I biked in CicLAvia. On Tuesday, April 17, I went to Disneyland. Let's compare.

CicLAvia is free to participants. The experiences you have of the day come from the people surrounding you and the interactions you have with the urban environment.

Disneyland costs at least $80 for a one day pass. The other people in the park become a nuisance, something to be avoided by using fastpasses and smartphone apps that tell you the best moment to get in a given ride's line.

Disneyland attracts crowds of people who don't necessarily like being in crowds. At CicLAvia, people take pictures of crowds.

There's a lot of car culture at Disneyland.

I'm not a fan
But there are more cops at CicLAvia.

One of the "lands," Toontown, brings to fiberglass life the setting of the 1990 movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, a film that comes up surprisingly often when I tell people about my research. Ah, they sigh, the beloved Red Cars used to run all over, General Motors bought up all the tracks in the 50s and made people buy cars, what a shame. This is the conflict the movie dramatizes, like how Chinatown sort of tells the story of William Mulholland. In reality, people in LA started buying cars and rejecting streetcars in the 1920s, voting against purchasing the failing streetcar lines because they saw the privately-owned systems as corrupt and greedy.

Real trolleys were a lot more crowded than this by the 1920s, kid
I wonder how much crossover there is between people who choose to visit Disneyland and people who choose to participate in CicLAvia. In my research on urban space, I've come across a number of critiques of Disneyland as a dangerous vision of a homogenized society. In the 2004 book Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight, Eric Avila argues that Walt Disney’s choice to site Disneyland in Orange County “suggests the affinity between the park and its suburban setting. In Reagan Country, Disney found a physical and cultural environment that accommodated his determination to reassert more traditional notions of an American Way that conformed to popular idealizations of suburban respectability in the age of white flight.” This could be what Disney had in mind, but I don't think that the imagineers have the power to actually brainwash people upon entrance. The park certainly is a nostalgic and hypercontrolled simulacrum of small town America (you must enter through "Main Street U.S.A."), but it also attracts a hugely diverse crowd of people who know that they are paying to be entertained.

Disneyland is a great example of "enchantment engineering," the idea that designers can create controlled simulations of experiences and then sell them to consumers. This idea has been picked up by urban planners. In a 2008 essay, Yves Winkin and Sonia Lavadinho described the imagined response of city inhabitants to urban planners' efforts to engineer enchantment this way: "Sure, I know it is still my good old dreary street, but I will act as if it had dramatically changed for the better." Improving neighborhoods becomes a wink-wink-nudge-nudge agreement between planners and users, as though the latter have no role in placemaking and are merely an audience. I don't know about you, but I'd rather build my street through my daily practices than buy into a vision of urban design as collusion in fantasy. In fact, I find this conceptualization of public space as something to be packaged and consumed a lot more frightening than a day at Disneyland.

Monday, May 7, 2012

My Thoughts on Bicycling and Seattle, 15 Months In

My bike showed me this view of the Puget Sound
There's a longstanding Seattle tradition called Bicycle Sundays where the city invites people to enjoy a carfree street along Lake Washington, in an area that has a lot of large, expensive homes. According to the negative comments on this Rainier Valley Post announcement about upcoming dates for the event, it raises the ire of some residents. It certainly wouldn't surprise me to hear that wealthy homeowners dislike a public event that blocks their driveways and invites riff raff into their neighborhood; bicycling is still associated with poverty in a lot of Americans' minds. What's weird, though, is that biking in Seattle doesn't have this image. Biking in Seattle looks like it's for rich white people.

Seattle and its surrounding suburban region is home to a lot of recreational cyclists who do long distance rides. There seem to be a fair number of commuters, too, but the geography and climate raise the barriers to participation in bicycling; that is, it really helps to be "into" bicycling to get around on a bike here. If you're part of a historically disempowered community that sees a lot of social value in symbols of wealth like owning a car, you probably don't know a lot of people who can show you the ropes on biking in a wet, hilly city. However, the lack of diversity on bikes, both in terms of race and class, does not deter people from claiming that Seattle is one of the best bike cities in the U.S.

Moving to Seattle from central Los Angeles, I didn't know that bicycling had such an elite image here. I was accustomed to transport biking in LA, where there are a bunch of scrappy bike cultures and a lot of low income people riding bikes. It was pretty clear there that when wealthy homeowners didn't want to see bikes on their street, it was because they didn't want undesirables to come into their neighborhood. In fact, it was hearing some people voice this fear in Long Beach in early 2008 that first got me going on this topic as a researcher/activist.

But up here, it seems like bicycling has gotten the shaft because it's easy for people with an agenda to point to recreational cyclists in corporate-logo-splattered spandex and say that bicycling is for a privileged few. There's an odd hypocrisy at work in this "emerald city," cause it isn't green because of the way people live here. When it doesn't rain for a few days, you see smog in Seattle. The central city is expensive, and though a few close-in neighborhoods remain sites of struggle over gentrification, a lot of low income families have moved to cheaper areas further away. I am seeing what could be the future of American cities: expensive enclaves where livability, bikeability, and walkability mean robust resale values on homes, people still choose to drive everywhere, and the question of who can afford to enjoy this quality of life never gets asked.

Maybe it's our unease with discussing questions of race and class that makes people silent on these issues, but this silence has consequences. One consequence of bicycling being implicitly associated with a particular, privileged socioeconomic stratum is this bizarre backlash where carfree people get characterized as a special interest group. Eco practices like biking get framed as subcultural rather than for everyone because the bike movement has not done enough to confront and question the ways that transportation fits into long histories of discrimination and injustice in America. And yet most bike advocates I know are hard at work not because they want to dominate the world with bikes the way we have allowed our world to become dominated by cars, but because they have a passion for healthy communities and sustainability. If we want to make biking for transport as normal as we claim, it's crucial to include an explicit commitment to equity. It's a shame that this has been left unsaid for so long.

Biking for transportation is too awesome (good for the planet, good for the community, good for the body, good for the local economy, good for the goose, good for the gander) for it to belong to one group. We need to acknowledge and celebrate diversity in bicycling where it exists, and we need to work our butts off to find out what's going on when there's only one community in a large city using bikes.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Overwhelmed by the Sound of Protest in Seattle

Protest marches bring people together and create mobile places that subvert many people's quotidian uses of streets. I ride a bike, so I'm in the street quite often, but is that the case for most people at a protest? And even if we're accustomed to being in the street, we're not usually in a dense crowd of bodies, which feels a lot more exciting than being in a dense crowd of vehicles. So often, though, this placemaking feature gets overlooked because protests primarily aim to make political statements that don't hinge upon the experience of the protest space. Protests carry a shadow, referencing earlier spectacles from other movements and times.

On Tuesday, I marched in a Seattle May Day demonstration organized by El Comité Pro-Reforma Migratoria y Justicia Social, an immigrant advocacy and labor rights group that has been facilitating this march for 13 years. It had been an odd day; the local Occupy movement had held its own march downtown, which had devolved into some petty vandalism that the media gorged upon like hungry houseflies.

Around town for the last month, I'd seen signs connecting Occupy Seattle's plans with the legacy of the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. I remember reading about those protests as a teenager, sitting in front of a computer in Southern California. In those days, my head was filled with Rage Against the Machine and the EZLN, and the WTO uprising gave me a restless feeling I didn't understand until later when I actually started participating in marches. It was the feeling of wanting to join a crowd, join a chant, get overwhelmed by the adrenaline that gushes into your bloodstream when you add your voice to a chorus of "el pueblo unido, jamás será vencido."

But instead of acting out my teenage fantasy, there I was sitting in a coffee shop in Capitol Hill, reading Twitter updates about the "riot" developing downtown and thinking about the march I planned to attend in a few hours. Was Twentysomething Adonia going to let Teenage Adonia down by foregoing the potential excitement of the downtown march for the family-oriented calm of the more established march?

I have grown skeptical of the nostalgia that seems to fuel some participation in protests at the same time that I have become attentive to the visceral feeling of being part of a temporary something that moves and fills the street with feet, banners, strollers, megaphones. I didn't break any glass on Tuesday, but I did get that adrenaline rush as I marched down Jackson Street in a crowd of thousands.

Many, many police waited around as a rally finished in Judkins Park and people lined up for the march to begin. As we started to move, I wished I had a noisemaker. Chants were starting up at various places in the sea of people, and I joined in when people around me got going. It wasn't until we passed under I-5 on Jackson, though, that I started to feel it happening.

This is what we looked like:

This is the space we filled:

View Larger Map

And this is what it sounded like:

I don't really know how to explain the feeling that comes over me when I am in a protest space. It is like a pressure on my eyes that makes them water, I draw ragged breaths and look down so nobody can see the tears. I think it is a feeling of connection with something larger, or at least of being overwhelmed by the sounds, ideas, realities people create when they come together.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Media Representations Alone Don't Change the World, Our Actions Matter Too

Pretty much every time I watch TV or mainstream movies, I notice some scripted jab at people who don't drive. In The 40 Year Old Virgin, the filmmakers indicate the main character's incompetence at being an adult, along with his virginity and penchant for collecting toys, through the fact that he rides a bike to get around. Last week I watched an episode of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" where one character tells another that any adult who does not drive must be "retarded." Jokes built on the subtle or blatant assertion that only driving counts, that people who bike, ride transit, and walk are weirdos, seem to be stock material for writers.

These jokes hinge on the idea that people who can pay to drive everywhere should know better than to choose to associate with the dregs of society outside of cars. To me, this comes across as pretty racist and classist. The continuing contempt for the poor is a huge problem for sustainable transportation because so many Americans think of the stuff we promote as symbolic of poverty and disempowerment. Whether it's intentional or not, imagining that people can be tainted by the mode of transport they use is pretty dehumanizing. I've felt the shame of standing at a bus stop, waiting and waiting, while cars flow past. You're not supposed to have to wait; you're an American, the cultural conditioning says in the back of my mind. Well eff that.

For-profit entertainment media hasn't caught up with the reality I inhabit, where lots of people get around outside of cars. Grown ups of different socioeconomic strata are commuting to work, toting kids, hauling goods, all on bikes, despite these continued assertions that only people who do not matter get around this way. I don't have any interest in perpetuating the idea that I should stay in a car so that I can stay away from the undesirables who can't afford to drive.

This is what came to mind when I started reading about the controversy over the TV show "Girls." The cast does not reflect New York's diversity, and people have a lot to say about that. I get that media representations are influential, and impact larger shared ideas, but why are we giving it so much power? I hope that lots of the people who are critical of "Girls"'s depiction of a homogenous community have awesome friend groups that cross lines of race and class. Unfortunately, many many Americans are not living like this. Shouldn't we be pissed about that?

Recently I was watching Ghostbusters, another media representation of New York, but one where there is a black character, Winston. However, he shows up late in the film, after the other characters have already been developed. He's not friends with the three main characters, he's a co-worker. He acts strangely in the mayor's office, providing some stereotypical race humor. Token characters are an option Hollywood has visited before. Did it make things better in society? The central problem is how segregated we've allowed ourselves to remain, not whether we're pretending onscreen to be more comfortable with diversity than we actually are. It'll be really cool when, one day, someone from each sitcom is carfree (seriously, "Parks and Recreation" is in a small town and nobody ever bikes?). But a lot of us are living this way now and you're not seeing it on TV.