Apparently there’s a feature about cycling to be published in the The Weekend Australian Magazine tomorrow. It reminds us that there’s a long way to go before cyclists are treated with the respect every person deserves. Never mind the content of the associated story, the question posed on the cover is offensive. “Are cyclists fair game?” There is only one answer: no!
Rob Arnold offers his reaction…
Healthy, balanced debate is good for society. And tomorrow we can “read Greg Bearup’s investigation into the increasingly acrimonious relationship between cyclists and drivers in The Weekend Australian Magazine…” We can learn that the “consequences for the cyclists are often dire”. And how “the consequences for drivers who kill and maim them are often no worse than a minor traffic violation”. And so we can safely assume that Bearup is going to offer his take on the dangers of riding on our roads. It’s even likely that he is going to state how bikes outsold cars in recent years, and how there are more cyclists than ever before, and how councils around Australia are endeavouring to facilitate schemes that offer safer conditions for all road users. There are many directions that the article can take but this commentary isn’t about the feature itself, rather the disgusting nature of the headline.
Who knows, the story might just be another reminder that… yes, some cyclists can break the rules. Or that some motorists respect the space of cyclists on the road. Or how there should be the basic premise of respect for – and by – all road users.
But never mind the content of the actual story. In this instance, a day before the magazine goes on sale, all we can get is a promo blurb on the website for The Australian and the cover line: “Are cyclists fair game?” Simply posing that query is wrong!
After posting the cover on RIDE‘s Facebook page, the reaction was rapid. There was disgust. There was frustration. And there was balance.
“A headline to get a reaction and eyes on the page,” wrote Tom Curtis. “Did you read the article? Any comments on the content? Posting just the cover and a reactionary comment without context is worthless.”
No. I haven’t read the article. I will but my ire was raised by the headline for it’s the headline that is offensive. No one is “fair game” in a rational society. In essence, the question is simply a sad reflection on how cyclists are perceived in Australia.
This is not an uncommon topic. The media loves to get a reaction and few things raise the pulse of letter writers and commentators on social media quite like a good old us-vs-them prompter… and cyclists, fools that we apparently are, always get suckered in. We share things we loathe. We rant and complain. We get irate. And we wonder how this sort of thing can keep happening. And the publisher/broadcaster gets what they’re after sales and/or ratings. People tune in. And then they start talking. But nothing seems to change. It’s still the old us-vs-them mentality. Why? We use the road – everyone, and we’re entitled to.
Here’s what is key: the road is a public space. It is there for us all to use. And that may yet be what Bearup writes about. So we can’t get too worked up quite yet. Still, the reason for my reaction is quite simple: the sentiment is flawed.
Sure, News Ltd want to sell papers. The Australian is said to be a newspaper with high editorial standards and the reporting is often very good. But a cover line should be considered carefully, especially one as provocative as this one.
In our society we know it’s wrong to be racist or sexist. We respect people of all creed, all socio-economic backgrounds. We encourage tolerance in almost every aspect of life but, for some bizarre reason, when it comes to cyclists, it seems that it’s okay to categorise and classify. And it brings in eyeballs. It’s annoying that this cover line has prompted RIDE to offer some publicity for The Weekend Australian Magazine but to ignore it would be to say that it’s okay to ask such a question. It’s not. This sort of thing opens the forum up to people who believe it’s okay to incite hate. ‘They’ run red lights… ‘They’ ride on footpaths… ‘They’ get in my way… ‘They’ (apparently) may even be fair game. Stop it!
Report on cycling by all means. Explain how someone won a race, someone took EPO, someone rode their way out of depression, someone got knocked off their bike, someone got to work faster than they did when they drove, someone found solace in the act of pedalling, someone lost weight… there are myriad reasons to write about the act of riding a bike.
Alas, in newspaper land – for all the support that exists in the editorial offices around this country – there’s a propensity to eke out the negative. Often there is a mocking tone relating to attire. ‘Ha! Those fools who wear lycra… and their clip-cloppy shoes…’ etc. That’s not new and it’s not even offensive. It’s dumb and ignorant but it doesn’t hurt anyone. When I swim at the beach, I wear boardies and a rashy. Swimming in jeans isn’t practical. People seem to understand that. But apparently cycling in cycling clothing is something that upsets some people. So what? That doesn’t matter. It’s a trivial debate, as is the boring one about car registration and taxes… but let’s not go there. Not this time.
Generally my reaction to stories such as this is to ignore them or just smirk at the repetitive nature of it all. But this time the question from the cover leaves me gobsmacked. Let me reiterate my answer from the opening: NO! Cyclists are not fair game. To even conjure the question is weird, but to publish it on a cover is foolish, highly offensive and irresponsible.
– By Rob Arnold