Our entertainment sources play a huge role in terms of how we imagine the world to be, and how we imagine it could be. Consider for a moment the frequency with which you see people driving – in adverts with those mythical open roads, in dramas and documentaries. Politicians and celebrities step out of especially shiny ones to the flashes of many cameras. Superheroes have massively powerful ones. We watch them race for sport, we even given them names and personas and create films about them.
Imagine what it would be like if every day you saw the same amount of footage of people arriving on foot and by bicycle. If celebs turned up on buses as a matter of course, if politicians travelled by train, if more of the epic chases in films involved people running rather than driving. Imagine how your sense of the future possibilities would change if you saw stories about the future full of clean, quiet cities and where the car had ceased to dominate. Imagine what would happen if toy cars became as suspect as gifts for children as toy guns have become in recent years.
Every day, we tell each other stories about how the world is, and could be. The stories washing about our media and popular culture are the ones impacting on the most people. Currently our stories tell us that cars are everywhere and essential and will continue to be everywhere. Cars are glamorous, we are told, but if we started telling each other how wild and romantic it is for some unconventional celebrity to ride the buses, our whole attitude to public transport would shift. If we made films in which future buses were gorgeous spaces full of successful people, we’d start wanting those buses. If we started associating walking purposefully onto the train platform with images of power and status, we might make the car less of a symbol for personal importance.
The industrialised world exists because humans collectively imagined it into being. We could imagine something different. The symbols of power we identify with are a matter of choice. They could be changed. Why isn’t the fit body of a cyclist more widely accepted as sexy than the curves of a metallic car? The answer is largely because one has a well paid marketing department, and the other doesn’t.
I’d like to live in a world where the hum of traffic noise isn’t a constant. I’d like to be able to stand on the hills and not hear the motorway. I’d like it not to be considered merely an unavoidable and unfortunate side effect that people die and are seriously injured every day on the roads. I’d like us to questions that normality. Above all else, I want us to start questioning the role of the car as an icon, a symbol, a fetish within our cultures, and to dare to imagine something different. Something that smells better. Something that doesn’t smear tarmac across our countryside.