Sunday, 29 August 2004
A good work ethic from the back of a pedicab
By Joseph Planta
VANCOUVER - Not so long ago, I was in line at the pharmacy clutching a copy of the New Yorker. Someone asked why I was buying the said periodical, of all the periodicals out there. Well, I never really feel like reading about Colin Farrell in In Touch, or Reese Witherspoon in US Weekly, however interesting they seem to be.
The articles in the New Yorker are comprehensive, frequently pretentious, and often interesting as hell. It has its moments where the pretension is gag worthy, but you can't deny that it's awfully smart. It's snobbish sure; but then again, it's the New Yorker. The magazine is good for its depth, and for the fact, it's not full of stylised, nearly pornographic ads that seem to weigh down Vanity Fair each month. How snobbish can it be when its editor David Remnick often appears on Imus in the Morning? Could anyone ever imagine William Shawn or Tina Brown talking with Imus?
If any proof is needed as to the New Yorker's brilliance in providing thought-provoking writing, witness the article that ran in the Talk of the Town section of the magazine a couple weeks ago. Adam Gopnik, who is one of the finest scribes anywhere, had a piece on the phenomenon currently had on Manhattan streets, which have popped up in this city's centre as of late too - pedicabs, or bicycle taxis, or more appropriately, tricycle taxis.
For three and a half paragraphs, Gopnik composes a précis about pedicabs, their operators, and the fees a Manhattanite can expect to pay for transport. Then in apt Gopnik brilliance, he notes the social irony in the proliferation of pedicabs on the streets of New York: "The more emancipated we seem to become from physical labour, the more physical labour is left for someone else to do." Across the world, writers who seemingly struggle with coming up with brilliant bon mots in roughly 750-800 words, raise hand to brow, and overcome with astonishment wonder aloud, 'Now why didn't I think of that?'
Gopnik notes that in the occurrences of pedicabs proliferating the streets, we see first hand what John Edwards has been harping on about in his campaigning - that there are definitely 'two Americas,' and that the gap between the two, the wealthy few and everybody else has widened ever so much. The symbolism is stretched further with his assessment of George W. Bush. That Bush isn't as Ann Richards and others have put it, as being born on third because he thinks he hit a triple, but that he has been in a pedicab all his life, yet hasn't noticed that someone else is pedalling.
Gopnik goes on to note that American working people are docile and conservative. That compared to the French, who have five-week paid vacations, and Canadians, who in our recent election rescued the socialist NDP into a position of influence because we "cling stubbornly to [the] right of free national health care," Americans seem to pedal through and take everything on the chin. Perhaps, Gopnik notes, the average American, like the pedicab operator, thinks that the harder and further they pedal; perhaps a better life is ahead.
Believing that American society has become more feudal, Gopnik states that because Americans are willing to provide subservient labour, all they get in return is hope. He hopes that in the midst of this week's Republican National Convention, that some delegate will catch a pedicab and think about how the economy is set-up, that there are those who are always riding in the back, while there are more and more who are doing the pulling.
Whether you agree with Gopnik's assessment or not, it's nonetheless food for thought. I mean, would I really be thinking about capitalism this way, were I reading up about Paris Hilton's missing dog?
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