Congestion is a driving force

You're stuck in traffic for 30 minutes, an unexplained bumper-to-bumper backup on the freeway in the middle of nowwhere. You don't know what's wrong. You are late. You are pissed off. You stare out the window at the red brake lights in front of you, gripping your steering wheel, playing with the radio, calling your family on the phone and talking about nothing.

You inch forward, slowly, for what seems like eternity... Then, suddenly, allatonce, cars free up in front of you and you floor the gas pedal, speeding along to your destination. Is there a better feeling than that?

This ad at the corner of Central and Hennepin in NE Minneapolis got me thinking about how traffic jams become almost an existential crisis for car-culture. If freedom is linked to movement (as most car commercials vividly demonstrate), then congestion is the #1 problem with the American way of life. Despite its unavoidability, it routinely ranks up at the top of the problem surveys, and has become a dominant metaphor for how to conceive of social problems. Things are "logjams", "backlogs," "bureaucratic gridlock". Movement is freedom. Progress is progress is moving forward. Being liberated from people, being given license to finally be yourself, moving where the way you want to.*

Traffic and freedom are such a motivating force in our society. Whole political careers are made from it. Engineering professions multiply like rabbits, grazing on tax money. All this pent-up anger and frustration gets channeled and sublimated into certain kinds of consumption. Cars, talk radio, votes, highway projects, fancy toll lanes, promises of freedom...

But, I never thought I'd see an ad agency try to tie traffic jams together with wedding rings. Is this a match made in heaven? Like gridlock, diamonds are forever?

[A Ramadan traffic jam Coca-Cola commercial from Egypt.]

* Provided you want to move straight ahead in one of the three designated lanes.


Reuben said...

Great Post! (aside from the swipe at my chosen profession...)

Bill Lindeke said...

I meant to add, "not that there's anything wrong with that."

Stephen Gross said...

Quick note: In case you're interested in researching more about metaphors and language: