Monday, April 6, 2015

Home - or Stay Home. Hollywood Hates Bicycles

I took my kids to see a movie today -- Home, from DreamWorks Animation. The film is about an invasion of Earth by colorful, vaguely cuddly-looking aliens called the Boov -- one of which, named Oh, is something of a misfit among his kind. Being pursued by his fellow Boov because of his ineptitude, Oh befriends a human girl named Tip, who is searching for her mother, who was taken away with most of the other humans by the Boov early in the invasion. As a movie for kids under 10, it was fine -- my girls enjoyed it, though unlike your average Pixar film, which can work on multiple levels for all kinds of viewers, there wasn't a lot there to keep adults entertained. Nevermind that, though. This isn't really a movie review.
In Home, cars are apparently okay - but bicycles are "useless."

No - this is just another example of how Hollywood hates bicycles.

What's the deal?

When the film opens, we learn that the Boov are fleeing another alien race called the Gorg, who have been pursuing the Boov across the galaxy for reasons I won't reveal here (though it involves a plot twist that my 9-yr. old daughter saw through in the first 5 minutes). The Boov have chosen Earth as their next safe haven, so they invade the planet -- first by sucking up all the humans and relocating them to a colony in Australia -- then by moving into the newly vacated cities. After the humans are relocated, the Boov set about making "improvements" to the cities by getting rid of all the "useless" junk.

And what is the first "useless" thing we see the Boov disposing of? Bicycles, of course. The film shows the aliens sucking up all the bicycles off the streets, including whole racks of them, rack and all.

Now, to be fair, other "useless" items we later see the aliens disposing of are things like sculptures, garbage cans (the Boov must not generate much trash) and human toilets. I'm sure the filmmakers would defend their choice by arguing that the Boov can't use bicycles due to their peculiar anatomy, much the way that their unique biology makes human toilets unnecessary to them. But they also don't need cars, since we see them by the thousands traveling around in little flying "bubble" vehicles (which I suppose are like cars of a different sort). They don't get rid of the cars, though. It's the bicycles that are "useless." In fact, Oh and Tip spend most of the movie traveling in Tip's mother's car, which has been "improved" by Oh so it can fly (fueled by frozen slushie drinks, apparently).

Think about the message kids get from that early scene. Bicycles are useless, but everyone (even aliens, apparently) drive cars. It's just another example of the way that Hollywood reinforces the notion that bicycles are inferior to cars. In this case, they're explicitly "useless." And given that this is basically a film for kids, I have a hard time seeing the message as anything other than blatant propaganda. Teach 'em young, I guess. Most kids don't ride bikes anymore, and I'm not sure they even want to.

Go by the average American elementary school on a typical morning and see the long line of minivans and SUVs dropping kids off for school -- a freakish every-man-(or child)-for-himself clusterf*$k where anyone would be taking their life into their own hands by trying to arrive on foot or bicycle -- assuming they were daring (or stupid) enough to try. Kids don't ride to school, and I'm guessing their hovering parents wouldn't dream of letting them do it because it's been drilled into them that bicycling is unsafe. (Ironically, though, the same parents will sign their little boys up for football). Even toddlers want cars -- in the form of little battery-powered drivable SUVs, just like the ones their parents drive. Kids learn early on that cars equal status.

When bicycles aren't "useless," they are
dork chariots -- the butt of a car-centric joke.
Why is it that Hollywood so often portrays bicycles (and the people who ride them) as a joke? Remember 40-Year-Old-Virgin? The film is about a guy who's such an unbelievable dork that he makes it all the way to middle age without ever having sex. And how does the dorky 40-yr.-old-virgin get around? On a bicycle of course -- the ultimate dork-chariot, apparently. There are lots of other examples too. Bicycles are not to be taken seriously. People who ride them are a joke. They are middle-aged virgins. Or overgrown children (like Pee-Wee Herman). Or sometimes they're pompous, environmentally-conscious douches who need to be taken down notch. Is it only the status thing? Or is it because people in L.A. have built themselves a city in which cars and air-conditioning are king? Either way, a lot of people -- especially young people -- take their cues of what's hot and what's not from Hollywood. And its rare to see anyone in TV or movies these days choose to ride a bike and not be the butt of some kind of joke.

My kids seemed to enjoy Home well enough, and I always enjoy watching movies with them. But I think the best times we have together are the times we spend riding our bikes -- to the library, or around the park, or to have a picnic along the nearby bike trail. I hope that's the message that sticks with them, not the message they get from mediocre movies like Home.

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