The world of celebrity has rarely interested me. Too much emphasis on superficiality, style over substance, and an endless obsession of fame and money. Gross. No thanks.
Yet one inarguably positive aspect of celebrity is the ability to steer media attention towards causes of social justice. If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely you already appreciate how cycling connects several important larger issues, for good or ill. If you don’t, please keep reading.
As I’ve written before, the burning of fossil fuels for energy and transportation is increasing the levels of carbon and methane in Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. This accumulation is causing the planet to heat, ice caps to melt, desertification of farmland, and ocean acidification, which in turn kills phytoplankton, the very basis of the entire food chain. Considering this crisis, riding a bike becomes truly a significant act indeed.
As Portland, OR’s Community Cycling Center‘s motto articulates so perfectly: ‘The bicycle is a tool of empowerment and a vehicle for social change‘. Remember that the next time you choose you choose to ride, and rejoice at the changes you’re generating socially and ecologically.
With a situation so dire, we need every tool in the shed to smother our automobile addiction while shifting towards active transit modes like bicycles for a vastly greater share of commuting. That’s where celebrities can play a key role. Cuz let’s be honest, nothing is a God-send for a cause like celebrity.
As Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder Paul Watson explained at a packed hall in Eugene, OR in 2001, “When I was running a campaign to protect wolves in British Columbia from aerial hunters, we held the media’s attention for over two weeks by recruiting Bo Derek as our spokesperson on that campaign. At our press conference, a reporter asked, ‘What’s Bo Derek know about wolves?’ and I replied, ‘Well, not much, really, but you guys make the rules an we play the game“. Continued Watson, “If I had the best wolf biologists here the room would be empty, nobody would be interested. But I see the room is full, and this story will be your front page tomorrow and there’s not a goddamned thing you can do about it.”
Celebs by and large spend a good deal of their time in cities – where riding is often the most efficient transit mode, regardless of income. You’ve probably noticed an uptick in actors being photographed by paparazzi riding around NYC. Some celebs have been doing this for a good, long time. Did you know Jennifer Aniston used to be a bike courier? It’s a true fact.
The word-smithing that’s endlessly debated within cycling social spheres meant to craft the Perfect Unifying Message can’t touch the raw, sensationalizing power of seeing a celebrity riding a bike. It’s just, BAM! There’s a person who commands attention, and they’re on a bike. Why the hell aren’t you riding?
Everyone loves the Muppets, right? RIGHT?
Even more than celebrities taking up cycling as a social cause, simply being portrayed as a rider of bikes seems to grab headlines far faster than say, somebody like David Byrne writing an entire book about urban cycling. The impact of Lebron James riding to home games in Miami was a congratulatory depth charge in the cycling community at best, and proof bike commuting is functionally practical by the mainstream press at the very least.
Now, obviously not every celebrity regularly rides a bike. Some only portrayed bikes prominently via motion picture, or were photographed in iconic images, even if staged. The photographs below display a variety from each category.
So, yeah. Thanks, Famous People! Keep riding. Your small act of two-wheeled rebellion manifests a wide-rippling envelope of advocacy that the self-serving Dot-Orgs gave up striving for long ago.
(If I’m lucky), see you in the streets!