02 February 2013

The Big (Chitty) Bang of Automobile Culture

Just watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) with the offspring tonight. Still a brilliant film after all these years. Seen it many times, but never noticed the one quick scene when Professor Potts heads to the Scrumptious Sweets Co. to pitch his Toot Sweet concept. A fine upright tricycle with a comfy trailer for his kids.


Being an eccentric inventor, Prof. Potts also pulled a automatic, electric hair cutting machine by trike later on. Cargo bike goodness.

Of course, it all went wrong once he acquired a car. A beautiful car that he crafted himself. A magic car. Wonderful stuff, but there are some interesting, inadvertent cultural/historical points in the film. Shortly after aquiring the car, they break into song:

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang we love you.
And our pretty Chitty Bang Bang loves us, too.
High, low, anywhere we go
On Chitty Chitty we depend
Our fine four-fendered friend.

You're sleek as a thoroughbred
Your seats are a featherbed
You'll turn everybody's head today
We'll glide on our motor trip
With pride in our ownership
The envy of all we survey

The envy of all they survey, indeed. Driving through villages, everyone waves at them. Including an allegedly envious cyclist. Saluting a Man with a Car - one that is no longer considered a wacky, cycling inventor.
The car also outperforms the train to the coast. Selling the independent mobility dream.
And, appropriately, the car forces a cyclist off the road.

Sure, I'm reading too much into it. That's what's fun about it. Nevertheless, it pinpoints certain historical moments of clarity that highlight the rise of the automobile.

There have been a few times that I've experienced the end of a ciclovia on Sundays in various cities. Wide boulevards closed to cars for the day finally open up to car traffic again. I've seen in Mexico City, Vitoria, Brazil and in Rio de Janeiro. The latter was most poignant. I was at the far end of Le Blon when the boulevard along the beaches of Le Blon, Ipanema and Copacabana was being handed back to cars after a splendid day.

Police cars led the tide. Lights flashing, horns blaring, they led a veritable tsunami of automobiles down the boulevard. Crawling impatiently and aggressively behind the police cars. The last pedestrians, skateboarders and bicycle users scrambled to get out of the way. It was like witnessing the Big Bang of automobile culture. It was melancholy and yet it serves to inspire everything we do at our company.

1 comment:

tstreet said...

I am sure that the auto seemed like great fun in its early days, a curiosity, a form of entertainment. Trains and bikes and horses were still dominant and the auto was mainly a play thing of the rich.

The auto was, without a doubt, mankind's worst invention.

Thanks for doing your part to uninvent it or at least make it less ubiquitous.

If we could learn to enjoy the journey perhaps we wouldn't need to get places so quickly.