It might seem counterintuitive to name a post about transport, technology, and the different ways we imagine ourselves hurtling into the future after a Mogwai song, but remember: I’m a life-long pedestrian, so like Mogwai I plod along at the side of your automated adventures, only occasionally encountering the violence of twisted metal or getting caught up in the wakes of your passing.

Ahem.  Anyway, where was I going with all of this…?

1. Mad Max Fury Road

Oh yes. Here. Always here. If you were lucky, perhaps you woke up one morning this summer after your second or third showing of Fury Road to find Brother Bobsy perched on the edge of your bed whispering his Mad Max monologues straight into your dreams:

The Fury Storm sequence is key to the film’s intent, mapping a space  unexplored by the previous Mad Max trilogy. Although climate change, nuclear summer, associated water/petrol resource crunches, and militarised neo-feudalism were all too predictable (or depressingly inescapable) from the perspective of the late 1970s,  the history of cyberculture and networked existence went unforeseen. The Fury Storm rushes in to fill this chasm in Mad Max‘s rebooted version of tomorrow.

Imperator Furiosa nevertheless deliberately turns into the storm: eager not just for the camouflage, but the active tactical benefits it affords over  her ill-protected pursuers: naked War Boys mistaking annihilation for apotheosis. It doesn’t matter how much they enjoy their lovely day, how they shout and confuse the heat of digital immolation for the light of false afterlife – the War Boys are getting torn into bits in there, while Furiosa and the Five Brides (plus Max himself) are only truly empowered to taste water and freedom after traveling through the storm’s event-horizon and its violent, chaotic multiplicities.

There are several contradictions built into the sort of immersive enjoyment of Fury Road that I’ve experienced – loving a movie that frames women as exquisite things while explicitly rejecting this worldview is complicated – but perhaps none are more fundamental than the sense of hope captured in the above paragraphs, this rapture of collaboration between bodies in a scenario where flesh and blood are just yet more commodities to be scavenged.

If you want to understand how director George Miller, Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron communicate such intense relationships through image and sound, Chris Ready’s your man.

If you need a more critical look at the film’s terminus point and treatment of the female passengers, the Kraken boys might make more suitable  tour guides.

2. New roots for public transport

If you’re interested in identifying Fury Storms in our present moment in the hope of mitigating or better preparing for the bigger storms yet to come, you could do worse than read this Novara media piece outlining six meaningful ways we can work together to fight climate change now.

For the sake of this travel themed 5 For Friday, it’s the fourth option that’s most attention worthy here, seeking as it does to re-imagine the urban environment as a zone connected by free transportation (“There’s little need to burn fossil fuels to get around cities – if the right transport and energy infrastructure is in place”) and suggesting new sites of mutual struggle, such as those between environmental activists and public transport employees:

Opening up mass struggles for public transport also offers opportunities for alliances with transport workers – such as fare strikes/free rides, as pulled off by a collaboration between Occupy Wall Street and rank-and-file transit workers in NYC in 2012.

Developing and sustaining these relationships will no doubt make the spectacular coordination of Fury Road look like child’s play, but while you’d be foolish not to take the difficulty of a journey into account before embarking on it, that doesn’t mean that you should treat all difficult journeys as though they are impossible.

3. Autobanô

But maybe all of this talk of choosing your journey is just terribly outdated, what with automatically driven cars assembling in a secluded car parknear you right now. While the possibility of robots taking the jobs of professional drivers provided a new front for the debate about the relationship between automation and the world of work, it was this article on the ethics of programming cars to kill is the one that’s taken me captive.

The key line, for me:

People are in favor of cars that sacrifice the occupant to save other lives—as long they don’t have to drive one themselves.

In contrast to the toxic, dust-filled landscapes and radiation scoured pageantry of Fury Road, this suggests a very clean, carefully managed sort of dystopia. Think Cosmopolis as invigorated by J.G. Ballard – a future in which an elite class is driven around from one anodyne, too-easily diagrammed space to another, protected from the lower classes who populate the space in between by the clever programming and sturdy construction.

Action sequences in which driverless cars are programmed or hijacked have been part of our fiction for a while now, but for all my apocalyptic pulp rhetoric it’s the solidification of common human reactions that’s most unsettling here. We can perhaps understand people who make split-second decisions to put themselves first, but to specifically program a car to plow into a crowd of strangers in order to protect one passenger, to reproduce these survival instinct as code, to make them marketable… all of this is far harder to feel at ease with, for this pedestrian at least!

4. Rumble Strip

That diagram of different crash scenarios burned itself onto my eyes the first time I saw it, overlaying its emotionless reductions of life and death scenarios onto my everyday experience.  It took until my vision had cleared for me to realise that I’d been here before:


As Bobsy (yeah him again!) said back at the time of Rumble Strip’s release:

…the visual language of roads, the set of consensual signifiers that give punctuation and meaning to the otherwise meaningless grey expanses, the easy-to-read fluency of the roadsigns and road-markings, the minimalist and directly unambiguous design principles they adhere to – are an almost too-perfect subject for interrogation via the comicbook medium.

The three previous entries in this post have dealt with where we might be going, charting alternate destinations for our journeys. Woodrow Phoenix’s Rumble Strip is something else entirely – a lucid expression of the journey as we experience it  now.

5. No DeLorean

As Marnie Stern fan #1, I’m duty bound to say that she gets a pass on Back to the Future nostalgia for life, but everyone else could do worse than read this post on fake geek guys, hoverboards and how the obsession with technological commodities in the Back to the Future drowns out any consideration for how its fetishised future would have been built and by whom.

This might seem to be beside the point – the people who made those movies knew their way around a product, after all – but since we’re not exactly lacking in signs pointing us towards that sort of future, we should stay mindful of other possibilities.

After all, they may just end up taking us beyond our current limitations, to somewhere we’ve yet to imagine.


8 Responses to “5 for Friday: Travel Is Dangerous”

  1. Duncan Says:

    DID YOU KNOW Woodrow Phoenix drew some Sonic the Comic off Mark Millar scripts, well now you do, it was incredibly bad I’m told.

  2. Illogical Volume Says:

    I believe it!

  3. Thrills Says:

    Cripes I am a friday drunk but hey! Marnie Stern is fucking ace. I absolutely adore the Woodrow Phoenix comic, also.

    Ooh ah ooh ooh ah ooh ah ah!

  4. Illogical Volume Says:

    Nothing wrong with being a Friday drunk, especially if it facilitates enjoyment of Marnie Stern.

    I love that this is what happens when she tries to write ‘Gimmie Shelter’ or ‘Thunder Road’ or ‘Baba O’Reilly’ or whatever, so much better than the standard man band results!

  5. Carl Says:

    Programming the self-driving car to give no preference to its passenger would make it all too easy for a couple pedestrians to intentionally or negligently kill the passenger, no?

    Perhaps we should only allow self-driving cars once we’ve installed automated pedestrian corrals, like the barriers in some subway stations.

  6. Illogical Volume Says:

    Depends on the efficiency of said self-driving car, no?

    One would hope the machine would be swift and careful enough to prevent malicious/negligent pedestrians like myself from easily killing drivers, or else I’ve wasted my entire life lusting after superior machines intellects that really weren’t worthy of my passion…

  7. Carl Says:

    Well, if the self-driving machine is swift and careful enough, none of the moral quandaries outlined above are actually quandaries.

    But say a couple drunk pedestrians lurch into the street in front of a self-driving car at the last possible moment; the car swerves and crashes, killing its single passenger. That doesn’t seem an impossible scenario, nor an easy one to program against. The greater number of lives would be spared, but would it be the most just outcome?

    None of which is to imply that superior machine intellects wouldn’t, on balance, provide a better and safer world than the one we inhabit, so lust away….

  8. Illogical Volume Says:

    Just because the moral quandaries discussed in the article would be uncommon – i.e. because cars wouldn’t be either swerving into crowds for lols or exploding when a pedestrian so much as looked at them, much as that might help me feel like an evil Superman – doesn’t mean they wouldn’t exist, right?

    Someone would have to code for those outcomes, I just don’t buy the idea that this would make it particularly easy for people to take out drivers – that’s got more in common with the Cosmopolis-style dystopia I briefly mentioned in my post than it does with the mundane reality I then went on to discuss.

    Your example brings up some of the more difficult factors discussed in the article though, eh? The factors that allow people to feel comfortable in believing there’s a “just outcome” here aren’t easily taken into account in advance.

    Swap out the “drunken pedestrians” of your example for “a pair of pensioners chasing after a baggage trolley” – how does this impact your feeling of the justice of the situation? How could the amount of preference the car gives to its passenger be adjusted to account for this? How much public outcry would there be with Situation A vs. Situation B? Who would take the blame for this in either scenario: the car manufacturer, the people who bought it, or the pedestrians? What if our hypothetical old folk had had a wee tipple too?

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