Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What is Critical Mass? (Not a Scientific Inquiry)

Oh, what a joy the Internet is. I can watch music videos with profound messages in them linked to a cultural phenomenon, then learn more about it by googling it and wikipedia-ing it and all sorts of things. Such as the case just now, when I watched the 30 Seconds to Mars' music video for Kings and Queens. It was nominated for a VMA so I decided to check it out. Basically the whole time you see a large crowd of eccentric bicyclists doing their thing through the streets of downtown Chicago, randomly interrupted briefly by this white horse, all while the band is shown playing their song on a rooftop at the crack of dawn with nothing else going on around them. It was a cool premise, but I didn't know what the video was trying to say so I scanned some comments down below and found out it had to do with this thing called Critical Mass.

Based on the small amount of research I've just completed, Critical Mass is the huge bike ride that many citizens take part in every Friday of the month in large metropolitan cities like San Francisco (where it started in 1992), Chicago, New York City, etc (and 100s of smaller towns across the world). They typically block off the roads and disobey traffic signals, demonstrating their power in numbers and do-what-we-want attitude. Many people think the purpose is to protest legally against the cities' unfair treatment to cyclists. This point is evident in the music video when one cyclist gets hit by a car and the whole crowd stops, but their spirit is so strong that the man quickly awakens and just gets right back on his feet to continue on with the ride. 

According to the official website, at least for Chicago, there is no intended political agenda involved and you don't have to belong to any social group to participate. The lack of organization is appealing, since no one person is ever in charge, and usually the group will just end up riding wherever they feel like, which leads to a sense of thrill and spontaneity. Since Critical Mass has caused controversy in many places because of city disruptions and rudeness, other groups have been formed such as Critical Manners and Courteous Mass that essentially do the same thing, but are polite about following the traffic rules to ensure that bicyclists maintain a good reputation. 

While watching the music video, one of the main thoughts running through my head was "what a bunch of hipsters." I guess this is their way of showing that all types of people are welcome to join in, no matter what their motive is, which is pretty cool. If I ever get the opportunity to witness or participate in a Critical Mass, I will not hesitate in seizing it. The mass organization of events like this by the general public is one of the things that reminds me how awesome America is. I'd love to know if anyone has experienced this before and what their observations were. Otherwise I encourage you to watch the cool music video by one of the most epic bands of this decade! and read more to learn about this exciting phenomenon. So far the other source I used for info was the wikipedia page, but I'm sure you can find many more sites on it if you want. 


Carmen Elizabeth said...

That is awesome! And very hipster-ish. I would definitely participate with you.

Shannon said...

Thanks, Carmen! You're quite hip yourself. I bet you can find one that happens in Colorado.

Carmen Elizabeth said...

I bet, pretty close by too. Probably not I greality, but Fort Collins or Denver I'm sure.