"Quit stalling…!": Destiny and destination on L.A.s inner city roads

Martin Zeilinger*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

If driving has today really become a Western “metaphor for being” (Hutchinson), then common roadside signs proclaiming “Right lane must exit” or “Through traffic merge left”, inventions such as the automatic transmission, and the agreeable straightness of freeways can all be understood as symptoms of an ongoing socio-political struggle between the driver as democratic agent, and the state as institu-tionalized regulatory force. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the context of urban traffic, where private motorized transportation represents both the supreme (if illusory) expression of personal freedom, and official efforts to channel individualism by obliterating its sense of direction and ideological divergence. On the concrete proving grounds of the clogged inner-city freeway, “nomad science” and “state science” (Deleuze & Guattari) thus oscillate between the pseudo-liberatory expressivity of mainstream car culture and the self-effacing dromoscopic “amnesia of driving” (Baudrillard). Are a city’s multitudes of cars resistant “projectiles” (Virilio) or, rather, hegemonic “sites of containment” (Jane Jacobs)? This essay approaches the complex tensions between “untamable” democratic mobility and state-regulated transit by way of two Hollywood-produced films that focus on traffic in Los Angeles: in Collateral (2004), a cab driver comes to recognize and transcend the hopelessly directionless circularity dictated by his job; in Falling Down (1993), a frustrated civil service employee abandons his car on a rush-hour freeway and decides to walk home, forced to traverse the supposedly unwalkable city without the “masking screen of the windshield” (Virilio). As they “quit stalling”, both protagonists become dangerous variants of the defiant nomad – one a driver who remains on the road but goes “under the radar”, the other a transient pedestrian whose movement becomes viral and unpredictable. My analysis of the films’ metropolitan setting and of the incessant movement that marks both narratives links political and philosophical economies of motion, speed, and transit to a discussion of the various bandes vagabondage (Deleuze & Guattari) that are formed between city and driver, driver and car, and car and pedestrian. In this discussion, the inner-city road emerges as a primary site of conflict between civic rule and individual subject, and the flow of urban traffic comes to represent the tensions generated in spaces where movement is understood as both liberating and as a form of control.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)367-384
Number of pages18
JournalCulture Unbound
Volume1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 21 Dec 2009
Externally publishedYes

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