20 January 2011

Bicycle Activism or Lack Thereof

F... bicycle helmets
This shot was taken by Sandra, who writes the wonderful Classic Copenhagen blog, just the other day. Among the other stickers and street art is a rather prominent middle finger whereupon there is written, in Danish, Fuck Bike Helmets. Is that a dagger waved in the face of the safety nannies I see before me? Reminds me of Helmetgate when a previous Prime Minister was, indirectly, ousted because he wore a bike helmet at a demonstration against the French nuclear testing in the Pacific.

Aside: We have a rather relaxed relationship with the word fuck. It bounced back to us from English, after it was sent abroad to infiltrate English from its meaning in dialectal Norwegian fukka (to copulate), and dialectal Swedish fokka (to strike, to copulate) and fock (penis).

Aaaanyway, I have often been heard to lament the fact that there is little or no bicycle activism left in Copenhagen or Denmark. Even though so much has been done, there is much left to do. Not least because the car is enjoying a revival over the past ten years or so, due to the massive economic growth in this country prior to the global financial crisis.

Cyclist Demonstration on City Hall Square 1970s - Copenhagen
Gone are the days where this many people - regular citizens - could gather on City Hall Square to demand the re-implementation of bicycle lanes, as they did in Copenhagen in the 1970's. These people won their battle - and thanks to every one of them back then. Now, the 'war' has changed character, as has society. Activism - in its previous incarnation - long-haired and aggressive - doesn't really fly anymore. Not in a wealthy, highly-educated and egalitarian society like the Danish. Activism needs a new angle. I don't know exactly what that is just yet.

Street art is popular here in Copenhagen. It is rich in creativity and social commentary. Little of it is, however,I activistic.
Flere Fucking Cykler Køb en cykel bonderøv
I've spotted these stickers, though, around Copenhagen. At left; More Fucking Bicycles and at right; Buy a Bicycle, Redneck. Beneath both of the texts it reads, translated, "Loving regards, Vigilius Haufniensis". This is interesting.

Vigilius Haufniensis, I've discovered, is the non-de-plume of, and narrator for, the philosopher and Father of Existentialism, Søren Kierkegaard in his book The Concept of Anxiety, written in 1844. The name is Latin for 'The Vigilant Copenhagener'. A bit of googling brought me to a Facebook page, where there are a collection of photos and stickers and suchlike and a little used Twitter account, where the person - ironically - retweets Sandra's tweets, as well as Copenhagenize's on occasion. I checked with Sandra - it isn't her. Nothing like a bit of mystery.

These are photos found on Vigilius Haufniensis' Facebook page. The text can be translated as 'Ego Cars'! Whether it is Vigilius' own work or not is unclear.

Bike Lane Art
The extent of bicycle-related 'disobedience' I've seen is this lovely reworking of a Copenhagen bicycle pictogram on a bike lane on Nørrebrogade. A simple pictogram goes Cycle Chic.

Where are the Copenhageners who want congestion charges? A majority does - in polls - by where is the street art and/or grafitti? Where are the calls for lower speed limits? Safer routes to school? Where are the classic stencils reading "Fat Lane" in the car lane and "Fast Lane" in the bicycle lane? Where's the burning desire to make this city better

It's all gone to the Facebook dogs, perhaps. Click on 'Like' and you've supported a cause. Deed done. Open a bottle of Chablis.

The fuck finger from MISA and the stickers of the vigilant Copenhagener, however, are an interesting (re)start.

Politically Speaking
I'm sure many of you remember the Mohammed cartoons, published in a provincial Danish newspaper in 2005. Today a man was in court for smashing his way into the house of one of the cartoonists, Kurt Westergaard, threatening to kill him with an axe.

There is speculation that he will be charged, if found guilty, according to the Terror Laws. The paragraph, I discovered, is worded rather interestingly.

Paragraph 114 (”Terror Law”)

"§ 114. Life in prison for one who deliberatly tries to seriously scare the population [...] where the action can seriously harm a country or organisation... :

4) Disturbance of traffic safety..."

Maybe a group of citizens could try to bring the Danish Road Safety Council and the Danish Cyclists Federation - and various politcians and lackeys - to court for their promotion of bicycle helmets in this country, to stand accused of scaring the population and disturbing traffic safety.

Wouldn't THAT be a hoot. Although stickers and street art would be prettier.


Zane Selvans said...

"§ 114. Life in prison for one who deliberatly tries to seriously scare the population [...] where the action can seriously harm a country or organisation...:"

Shit man, you're not even eligible to get elected in the US unless you're willing to seriously scare the population.

Alex said...

Are you saying the English word fuck came from Scandinavian languages? I haven't heard that before. Can you link to a source?

I'm surprised because I always heard fuck came into the English language in the 16th century, a time of relatively little interaction between England and the Scandinavians, I think (although obviously a fertile time for English).

ian... said...


Fascinating lol (and fuck bike helmets too!)

David Hembrow said...

It's not just Scandinavian languages. Dutch has the verb fokken which refers to breeding of animals. Someone who breeds animals for a living is a fokker.

We've had newspaper headlines locally about "paardenfokkers", "varkenfokkers" (i.e. horse breeders, pig breeders - you can substitute any animal you like). It still makes me laugh a little inside when I see it.

The family name Fokker is for someone whose family breeds animals. Those comedy films which played on the name as sounding rude were actually very close to the true meaning of the name.

As it happens, the Dutch seem remarkably lax about using English language swear words which make British people cringe a little. I guess they're a bit meaningless because they are foreign words. Dutch swear words have real power and are used less often.

tsalyards said...

At some point one of the Fokkers got into the habit of making airplanes for the Germans. Guess he should have stuck to animal husbandry :)

I have to show this kind of stuff to my friends in the States to prove that I'm not the only anti-helmet advocate in the entire United States. It gets lonely.

kfg said...

"Fuck" is one of the most ancient of the Germanic words and exists in all Germanic languages; thus it came into Anglish with the Angles; and Saxons, and Danes, and Swedes and . . .

It's actually rather amazing how much "Keltic" genetic material remains in the Blessed Realm, given how many Germans have moved in and set up housekeeping over the years.

Sandra said...

Ah, Sir, this is a great post! I miss the activism too, and I do agree that street art is the new way of getting yourself heard. Especially effective when bounced off the internet. I am a big fan of the secretive mr. Haufniensiss too, we do seem to agree on most things.

And there is a point to the scare tactics/terror being so popular today that half the time we don't even see them for what they really are. Outrageous! Go street art!

Anonymous said...

This topic reminds me of an advertising campaign in Germany which was very visible in the mid-00s, and which is probably still ongoing.

The billboard shows a staged gore scene, and the main caption approximately reads like "a helmet (can) help, until we have to intervene".

My photo is a bit too dark (I do have close-ups if you really need them), but I think it suffices for me to point out that the kid lies in the street covered in ketchup with his bicycle at his feet. The fender of a Mercedes can be recognised towering over its victim, proud of its accomplishment.

These were put up by a foundation for the wounded with central nervous system damages named after the (late) wife of chancellor Helmut Kohl.

The helmet thing is a running theme of this organisation, but if you click on one of the links on the home page you will find the story of a 27 year old car-crash victim where there is no suggestion concerning helmets... If you look for pages mentioning cycling, you may find Gavin's story, who had a frontal collision with an automobile while riding his bike... (In the few minutes I looked at this site I was unable to locate a story where a car was not involved). The introductory parapraph recites some statistics about head injuries in Germany: 270.000 victims, a year (exact year not specified), among which 77.000 children. The author omits to indicate that the vast majority of the wounded are the occupants of the vehicles, and responsible for most of the wounds of the cyclists or pedestrians.

In its material on prevention, the foundation sticks to its helmet propaganda for cyclists, but the page destined for car drivers actually begins with the statement "The automobile is the Germans' favourite child". That explains why it is the kid who was targeted in the ad, but not the car or its driver. The page only recites platitudes on "safe" driving such as "put on your seat belt", "don't drink and drive"... How about "scrap your dumpster and start walking"?

I would liken this approach to an hypothetical campaign against rape which would tell women to wear longer skirts...

This reminds me that the government of the foundation's namesake's husband's [wow, three possessives in a row] lifted overnight the speed limits in the former East Germany, with dire consequences.