November 9, 2006

Mass Criticism

Filed under: culture — ted @ 10:51 am

An article in this week’s New Yorker, “Holy Rollers,” concerns the plight of the New York city bicycler. The article focuses mainly on the Critical Mass meetings which occur on the last Friday of every month.

The article was rather condescending, but true to reality in its depiction of the “typical” Critical Mass rider. Anarchists are not typically treated with impartiality in the mainstream press, and I’m sure they like it that way. The author, Ben McGrath, seemed to relish the conflicts between policeman and cyclers that Critical Mass creates. Here’s a fun snippet:

I introduced myself to the masked man and asked his name. “NYMAAN,” he said, pointing to his cape, which was adorned with the words “New York Metro Anarchist Alliance.” He added, “I am an idea, not a person.” (His outfit advertised a Web site that features the heading “Notes from the global intifada.”) He rang the bell on his handlebar a couple of times, and began rolling his front tire back and forth. “You know what this means, right? I’m starting to get itchy.”

A tall, middle-aged man with a striking blond mane approached on foot. “Hallelujah, the Devil!” he said, pointing at the caped biker. “I knew I’d meet the Devil eventually.”

“No, I’m NYMAAN,” the biker said.

The blond man was Bill Talen, a performance artist who goes by the name Reverend Billy and calls his congregation the Church of Stop Shopping. “One time, I was arrested at a Buy Nothing Day Parade,” he said, recalling a distant Friday evening. “We went in and exorcised a Starbucks cash register, and, sure enough, I got thrown in the holding tank at Fifty-fourth Street. And the cops that arrested me were really upset that they were missing this.” He opened his arms and turned, as though surveying his parish. “And I felt their erotic love of harassing the bicyclists. It was like they couldn’t date their favorite girl.”

The piece veers at the end, chronicling the efforts of a (very grumpy) man, Tom Bernardin, who is concerned with pedestrian safety and keeping bikes on the road rather than the sidewalk. I am in complete agreement with Mr. Bernardin, but I’m not sure why McGrath shifted his focus at the end of an otherwise fairly informative — if rather tepid — piece of reporting.


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