Magical symbolism and a normal world

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.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

10 responses to “Magical symbolism and a normal world

  • Sue Vincent

    Sadly the infrastructure needs as much reform as the image before that seems a viable proposition.

  • Éilis Niamh

    Hi Nimue, I really agree with this post. That said, two things bother me. First, “Why isn’t the fit body of a cyclist more widely accepted as sexy than the curves of a metallic car?” I can’t answer this question, I find cyclists and runners extremely sexy… as opposed to cars. 🙂 I don’t do sexy based on what I’m told to believe. What a waste of my autonomy and self expression that would be, to rely on someone else for my thoughts and desires. I have no clue why others do this to themselves.

    Secondly: “Imagine what it would be like if every day you saw the same amount of footage of people arriving on foot and by bicycle.” The surface response is, I can’t see, I’m totally blind, and I still have to sort out my values and live by them, get along in this world, and authentically be who I am. Imagine the kinds of decisions that could be made in the absence of visual and other propaganda? Imagine what you would do if like me you were color blind, and never knew someone’s weight or race or ethnicity and even sometimes did not know their gender or abilities. Imagine what you’d do and how you’d feel if, despite the images, you lived like one who answered to yourself rather than followed others? What images are or are not being displayed is irrelevant to this. The deeper answer is this: you obviously are not speaking to me specifically and there are a lot of sighted people in the world. But I hope my perspective sheds light on a question that seems to lie underneath the symptoms of a culture that you’re describing in this post. Why do we let images distort our values, pull us away from our authentic selves, cause us to doubt our intrinsic worth as persons, and then buy into the seductive visage of zero accountability when it is pointed out that venerating the images is causing us to hurt ourselves and one another? It is too easy to blame our actions on the images. I would have done the right thing/been real/loved him for who he was rather than what he had/loved myself, etc, etc, if only those tabloids and images and celeb magazines and … external content and… more external content hadn’t drawn me away from my inner compass and my own inner truth. To me that’s the real problem, and the excuses don’t fly. I’m sorry, but despite the images, we are free people, we can make correct choices, our shortcomings and mistakes and hurtful decisions ultimately don’t rest elsewhere so we can complain incessantly about others, but lie squarely on us each. Changing the images is important, I do agree with you, it’s just that this will only be effective for change if the underlying fear of ourselves and real connection is resolved, if we take responsibility for ourselves, and realize the power to change is within us. If you are a diabetic, you avoid sugar, and you don’t complain that all the adds on TV promote sugar products and this is why you and other diabetics can’t properly value your health. Our thinking in this culture around industrial environmentally hazardous products and messages of never enough and scarcity are as irrational and full of it as my theoretical diabetic. So let’s get radically honest with ourselves and each other and see where that leads and leaves us.

    • Nimue Brown

      Flawed writing on my part – definitely. The first point you raise was a throwaway sort of illustration that could stand more exploring – the tension between writing something small enough to punchy, and doing it in enough detail to make proper sense…

      The visual issue – yes, this is all beyond my experience, but in many ways what you say confirms what I’ve been thinking – we are bombarded, visually, with images about what we and our spaces and lives are supposed to look like, to make us buy things. Our minds are to a degree shaped by our environments – the downside of being adaptive I guess. If we aren’t thinking critically, then we absorb what we see and it informs our norms – for those of us who can see. As the majority of us are visual, the majority of social conditioning revolves around images, and I suspect is is easier to get ideas from images into the minds of the sighted without triggering critical responses. Having deliberately reduced my exposure to visual advertising, I find I see the mechanics of it more readily, but for the person who has been normalised to certain images from childhood, questioning them is harder, I think. We’ve built a culture that encourages us to be afraid, and not to rely on our own authentic responses… and that culture is a visual one. As someone truly outside of that you are in a powerful position to offer alternatives – many thanks for sharing.

  • verdant1

    Thank you for another thought-provoking piece ❤

  • Cheryl

    Aaa so that’s why people look at me like I’m an alien when I tell them I don’t drive and rock up on a push bike… 😉 perception is everything – just have the proverbial balls to do it 😀

  • lornasmithers

    Horse! Unfortunately way more expensive to keep than the humble bicycle, or a car…

    • Nimue Brown

      It would be interesting to see more horse as means of getting around in contemporary and futuristic settings. We may also need more canoes and coracles, especially for the futuristic…

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