Bono, Get a Grip — Stop Fetishizing Cars

We heard from a few people over the holiday break who were disgusted by the Jan. 2 New York Times op-ed from U2 front man — and celebrity environmentalist — Bono. In it, the pop star called for the "return of the automobile as a sexual object."

In a blog post today, Streetsblog Network member RIDE Solutions wrote a refutation of Bono’s little fantasy — and nailed the argument:

302118834_8faa6ae251.jpgThis picture wouldn’t turn us on even if all the cars were electric Aston Martins. Photo: sbisson/Flickr

Bono’s creepy fetishization of the automobile is part of the core
psychological problem that has led to the country’s transportation,
energy, and urban design mess. Despite the problems we’re currently
suffering from too many people being in love with their automobiles —
air pollution, suburban sprawl, skyrocketing gas prices  and the
outsourcing of our energy development to hostile foreign powers — Bono
suggests that, in the coming decade, we need to love our cars more, we need to make them prettier, we need to want to spend more time in them and invest more

money in them…. 

Even qualifying, as he does, that "the
greener, the cleaner, the meaner on fossil fuels," the more he’s
aroused, he misses the point that gas mileage is only one small
component of a vehicle’s energy and environmental impact. Even a fleet
of zero-emission electric Aston Martins need someplace to park and
roads to drive on. They still get into car accidents, and require
expensive maintenance and production.…

Bono would have been better off, if he insists on his bizarre
fetishization, to emphasize beautiful and “sexy” urban spaces. If the
idea is to sexualize something so that people want to spend more time
with it, why not emphasize our cities and downtowns? Why not take the
artists and designers he wants to work with automakers and instead put
them on city planning commissions and in city engineering departments? In essence, concentrate design and beauty on where and how we live, not
on the tools we use to go to the grocery store.

Excellent points. If "sexy" is linked to "speed" — which it clearly is, in Bono’s Aston Martin–loving formulation — the last thing we need is more automotive sexiness, even if it is electrically powered.

In case we needed a reminder of how deadly even moderate increases in speed can be, New Haven Safe Streets yesterday posted about an important new study from the British Journal of Medicine that demonstrates yet again how 20 mph speed zones can dramatically reduce casualties and collisions — by around 40 percent — with the number of children killed or injured reduced by 50 percent.

Requiring cars to drive more slowly so that fewer kids die? That’s the kind of idea that gets us excited.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Well, a fuel efficient car with a person in every seat is almost as fuel efficient as a bus on a per passenger basis. What makes a car sexy when you are the only person in it?

  • JL

    Mr. Bono should have talked about making buses sexy instead of cars. After all, buses have been relegated as a second class form of transportation. If America is to ever get itself out of this infrastructure/traffic mess we will have to do it with every piece of our transportation arsenal. Buses need to be part of this equation and so far suburbanites and upper class city dwellers would rather drive then take a bus. So Mr. Bono are you ready to be a true environmentalist? If so get on board a bus and stop talking about cars. Otherwise get out of the way of progress.

  • garyg

    Good luck trying to make buses sexy.

    Bono’s op-ed is rather silly, but the point is that cars in America have long been about far more than mere transportation. They’re about style and personality and freedom. Americans love their cars. Automakers are fully aware of this emotional attachment drivers have to their vehicles. Just look at car ads and commercials. Given that cars are becoming safer and greenr, you’re probably not going to be very successful at putting a dent in this relationship by going on about emissions and collisions.

  • Mark W

    Bono travels on a private jet. His carbon footprint is worthy of Sasquatch. Nothing he has to say about energy efficiency is credible.

  • VickiW

    Well – he DID qualify at the opening of the piece that some of his suggestions are serious and some are plain silly. Perhaps the automobile suggestion is one of the silly ones. Bono can be thought-provoking in one paragraph and wry and self-deprecating in the next.
    But his articles are almost always insightful and he has a unique way of looking at things and presenting those thoughts.
    Color me a U2 fan.
    On the other hand he does have a $200,000 Lamborghini and how “rock star” is that??

  • I think Bono may have been a little misunderstood here. In his defense, he’s not a transportation engineer or involved in advocacy like everyone here. But I have a quote from him at a 2004 Apple event. He was talking about chasing ugliness away, and he said he “would start with the roads and the cars.” I heartily agree with that. It’s not just the cars that are the problem, but the roads as well. I believe he just brought up the cars here because he doesn’t know what to do with the roads. But given a little education, I think Bono would see that the solution to the ugliness is not just to design better cars, but to design a better transportation system and better urban places.

    Right now he just fits in line with the average person who only sees bicycles as recreational toys and cars as the proper way to get around. But, like many others, he sees a problem and doesn’t know what to do about it.

  • Bono is known for his work against hunger in Africa, but apparently he hasn’t heard that:

    – cars are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

    – global warming will cause hundreds of millions of deaths from famine in Africa and parts of Asia if we don’t act vigorously to reduce ghg emissions.

  • J:Lai

    David Byrne gets it.
    Bono doesn’t.

  • Peter from Stuy Town

    Except for garyg, you’re all acting like stereotypical spokeheads preaching to the converted here. To some extent Bono was being whimsical, and the humorless response seems to be “eat your broccoli.”

    Attempting to convert someone to your viewpoint (“buses are sexy!”) while admonishing their extravagance is pointless, especially to a humanitarian with a real track record. I don’t care if Bono has a plane or drives 1,000 miles a year in his 12 mpg Lamborghini, and it’s none of your business either.

  • Don Williams

    More communist propaganda from the local Roanoke car-hater. I love my car. I want to boink it in the backdoor. Yes, let us sexualize cars and have more sexy cars on the road. Some are already quite sexy, but I want to constantly be aroused by sexy automobiles. Let us remove all ugly Prius models and replace them with sexy, sexy Dodge Vipers. Big trucks and Hummers are sexy, too. I mean the word ‘Hummer’ alone is already quite sexy. God, how aroused I am just thinking of these sexy cars.

  • clever-title

    Careful there, Don. Those tailpipes can be scorchingly hot. You wouldn’t want to be admitted to the hospital with “Bono syndrome.”

  • Theresa Rustin

    Don, I thought I read an article about you today. Did you wind up in a sticky situation quite recently? I sure hope your nether-regions are okay.

    http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/4838562.Trapped_manhood_cut_free_by_grinder/

  • MPG

    No, I think this must be the real Don.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/2000899/Man-admits-having-sex-with-1000-cars.html

    I’ll take a sexy electric car any day, to get away from downtowns. Or maybe I’ll fly like a monkey if Holmes has his way.

  • LF

    what a stupid thing for this blogger to take issue with–gadfly.

  • Angelino

    While you’re educating Bono about the impacts of sexy cars on our environment, can you spare a minute to explain to his guitarist, the Edge, that building 5 homes on a pristine natural ridge can never be green?

    Rock stars like to talk the talk, but then you can look at their personal choices.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-lopez23-2009dec23,0,6520136.column

  • Mr Bad Example

    Larry Littlefield
    On what basis could a fuel-economic car be as efficient as a bus? There are peak and off-peak bus routes and obviously running a bus at 3 AM is probably not fuel-efficient–but over a 24 hour span, the bus winds hands down. And if you factor in the fuel use of the manufacture of the automobile (a minimum of 70 barrels of oil, and probably much more for a hybrid or some other exotic machine using multiple power plants) and divide that out by users, the bus still come out a great deal ahead. Plus I get to see into cars on my bicycle commute into NY and I can tell you that it’s unusual for most commuters to have more than one person in the car. Most people are working hours that make it difficult or impossible to ride-share in the manner you describe.

    One of my local routes in Brooklyn is Standing Room Only at 1 PM. If half the people on the bus were taking a car instead, traffic would gridlock.

  • Theresa Rustin

    What I find most amusing about this RideSolutions blog is that the very livelihood of the author depends on cars. Should the general population downsize their vehicles, utilizing smaller, more green cars, bicycles, or mopeds, Mr. Holmes will very likely be out of a job. His entire existence at his government-funded job is based on matching would-be carpoolers. If all the comfortable cars should be traded in for less “sexy” models, there won’t be any room to share one’s ride, now will there? Which is better, fewer large cars dominating the roads or a multitude of small, zippy mopeds and SMART cars that hold no more than two people? Perhaps Mr. Holmes is merely eager to retire, or maybe he’s just not thinking clearly. Or maybe, just maybe, he’s dimwitted enough to really believe that the good of the whole is more important than feeding his family. I wonder what his wife would think of that.

  • And the police would be out of jobs without crime. So is it dimwitted to want to eliminate crime?

  • Theresa Rustin

    No, it is not dimwitted to try to eradicate crime. However, this gentleman is attempting to bring attention to his organization by posting controversial topics so that he can gain more influence in the Roanoke Valley, regardless of whether those topics are truly related to the stated purpose of RideSolutions or not. He is attempting to gain the support of the artistic community, even though his service is more suited for the average car-owning citizen.

  • Brian

    That’s really funny, because in Dublin, Ireland, everyone walks.

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