April 30, 2005

We're on the Road to Nowhere


Could you find another image that better expresses that we’re living in two Americas?

This photo was on the front page of Wednesday’s NYT.  It accompanied an article describing how federal and state governments are converting highways to “pay-as-you-go,” and allowing private companies to build and operate toll roads.  The caption read:

At least one motorist, each way, was willing to pay the toll to drive the express lanes of a California freeway.”

As we speak, free market radicals are not just widening, but institutionalizing the class gap by turning over vital public assets to the private sector.  The maneuver couldn’t be more ironic, since drivers have underwritten the cost of these roads through the payment of gasoline levies.  At the same time, many localities are considering abandoning the carpool concept to convert these stretches into “pay lanes.”

What I like about this image is the way it quantifies privilege.  It’s plain to see how much room each class has to maneuver. 

I think color also has an effect here.  I’m sure the photographer was looking for almost any shot with at least one car in the “pay” lane.  It’s interesting, though, that he caught a red one.  In comparison, the cars on the “free side” form a monochrome field. In a subtle way, could it emphasize the intent of the ruling class that everyone of lesser means remain anonymous? 

In California, where the acting governor advocated closing the border the other day, the attitude is even meaner than that.  According to the article, in announcing a plan to allow private groups to construct toll roads, Schwarzenegger was quoted as saying:

“Californians can’t get from place to place on little fairy wings.”

Having branded California legislators as “girlie men,” could the “fairies” refer to anyone bunched on the traffic side of those yellow barricades?

(image: J. Emilio Flores, April 28, 2005 for The New York Times)

Post By

Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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