Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Social Meanings of Transit in "Crash"

Click this link to watch the first clip I'm talking about.

If you haven't seen Crash I really recommend it. It's a drama/comedy about race set in LA that won the Best Picture Oscar in 2006. There are a few scenes in the film that deal with the social meanings of transit.

In the clip above the character named Anthony, played by Ludacris, chews out his friend for trying to hail a bus after their car breaks down.

"You have no idea why they put them great big windows on the sides of buses do you? . . . One reason only, to humiliate the people of color who are reduced to riding on 'em"

That's a hard thing to hear for people who care about transit. However, it is an important mentality to understand. For some, riding on the bus is embarrassing. It is a sign that one lacks the wherewithal to own a car. There is also a sense that the buses are segregated, with white people, by and large, steering clear. The key thing is not whether this mentality is "right" or "wrong", but the fact that for some it is real. How does transit become not embarrassing? I'd say we have to make transit better and we have to change our cultural outlook on transit.

At the end of the movie, the same character discovers a different potential meaning for transit in Los Angeles. There is a scene where we realize that the bus is one of the few places in the city where people of different colors interact with each other. Anthony steps into the flourescent glow from the exterior darkeness after a traumatic event. In a plot dominated by racial tension at every turn, this is a powerful statement of what transit could be for our society: a place where people of different backgrounds can interact and discover their common humanity.

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