I wish Ginny rode a bicycle

I accidentally started watching the series “Ginny and Georgia” after my three-year-old woke up in the middle of the night and I turned the TV on while I soothed him to sleep. I was too tired to search for anything, so I watched the first thing that popped up. I thought it was a movie and started watching between bouts of unsettled toddler screams.  I feel embarrassed that I didn’t realise it was a series until it finished. And then I got hooked and finished the whole series in a week. It felt uncomfortable that I wanted to watch something that was so popular and formulaic, and that I became invested in who a 16-year-old becomes romantically involved in. But there I was, remembering my teen years where I refused to watch Dawson’s Creek and was more of an outcast than Ginny at her first school.

(Warning – mild spoiler alert)

And as I watched the series, I became invested in a raft of issues that were explicitly brought up in the show, from child abuse and trauma, to teen pregnancy, racism, self-harm, bullying, grief, anorexia, divorce and the pressures of teen years and friendships, relationships and sexuality during these times.  Caring for the planet even got a mention. Then there was the diversity including: a family with a member who was deaf, another with a family member who was severely debilitated, there was single parenting and mixed-race families. Yeah, it was a real medley of issues and diverse families. After watching this show, all I could think about was, of course, transport. OK, well I also thought about the lack of a Marcus in my teen years, at a time where I didn’t have any friends and would have enjoyed a mind reading, artistic, quirky and caring guy in my life (although he came along 15 years later). But mainly I thought about transport.

So, there were a few references to transport, and now I will read way too much into them.  Marcus rode his skateboard and dreamed of motorbikes (which is a connection he has with Ginny). Both skateboards and motorbikes appear to be edgy in this rich white suburban New England town, but they are both liberating and fun. The ability to play with your city can help you escape from the social norms and be more real and honest. Which I think comes out as an important connection between Marcus and Ginny, with her first kiss coming after the energy and confidence she gains through her ride on Marcus’s motorbike. However, Ginny is also wrapped up in being integrated in the social world of her new school, because it is something she has never had before, and she gets excited by the idea of living a dream of hers. Meanwhile, Hunter drives a big Porsche, and this is seen as a good thing by Georgia who wants Ginny to have a stable and successful life.  Georgia has also inherited a convertible that she holds on to as a symbol of her success and sex appeal. 

Apart from Max waiting for an uber driver and some mention of electric scooters invading bicycle lanes, other transport is left in the background. So much so, that I’m not really sure how the teen characters got to school or to the main part of town. One would have to assume that they could walk, or they were taking the bus, with many of the characters not being able to drive and Ginny being embarrassed when Georgia does pick her up from her school one day. Of course, I hope that there are a bunch of bicycles just off camera that they all get around on, with the bike racks at school being pretty full. However, sadly I doubt this. But even if they walked or got the bus to school, Marcus and Ginny would have had lots of opportunities to talk then, instead of just meeting in school hallways and bedrooms. So, I’m going to assume that teleportation was definitely a thing at Wellsbury. 

But of course, I would have loved to see Ginny ride a bicycle. And I believe riding a bicycle can help free your mind from some of the explosive feelings that you have as a teenager. I loved that being on the motorbike gave Ginny so much joy and I can’t help feeling that if she had just got herself a set of two wheels with pedals, she would have been able to stay cooler under all the pressures she had to deal with (so maybe it would have led to less drama). It would have also been an amazing advertisement for cycling for teenagers. Perhaps it would have been one more glaringly obvious socially conscious inclusion, but who’s counting? When a show is this popular, and is gaining this much attention, why not use it to get across the messages we need?

So just a note for Season 2 for the creators of this show. Please include bicycles! I really want to see how the kids get to school and all the fun and shenanigans that can happen along the way. Although, I suspect that next season might be a bit different.

And another thought, which is just a bit related to transport, is that somewhere somehow Ginny has to bring up the fact that there really was a band called Wednesday that had that one song, which was a cover of Last Kiss https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRiAMe1zsQ0. With Wednesday being a Canadian band and the show being filmed in Canada, I don’t think it was a slip up. I was waiting for this to be subtly inserted into the series… but sadly I didn’t hear it. Although it’s such a sad song, perhaps they are waiting for the second season and (my prediction) a teen dying/being severely injured in a car crash…

And to think that I saw it in 2021

I own a copy of “And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street” and I don’t plan on throwing it away after the recent discussion about it being racist. While it does show a stereotype of a Chinese man, stereotypes of different nationalities are in so many cartoons from the Asterix and Obelisk to the Simpson, but we aren’t deleting them all – I hope! While I appreciate that there is other work of Dr Seuss’s that was quite racist, I don’t think Mulberry Street should fit in this basket, but please correct me if I’m wrong.

Of all Dr Seuss’s books, I’m really sad that this was has been blacklisted. And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street is a fun little story that promotes active travel to school better than anything else I’ve come across. My poor husband has to cope with me putting an urban transport twist on everything, but I think this one is pretty clear. To start with, the little boy Marco walks to school. Hurray for a sweet protagonist that normalises one of the most normal things in the world! And there are two special features of walking that are highlighted in this book: that it’s an opportunity to look around and notice things, and that, in the case of Marco, while you walk your imagination can go wild. I know I’ve had some of my most creative thoughts while walking or riding, so it’s nice to see that Marco also experiences this during his walk home from school. I love that his Dad wants him to look up at the world and to hear the stories of the things Marco’s seen.

I spent years of my life trying to understand how elements of our culture influence how we choose to travel. When it came to making recommendation about the car soaked culture that we live in today, I struggled to put forth ideas around banning published works, particularly from different periods of time when we didn’t appreciate all the problems of car use. Instead, I tried to be constructive and creative in how we could avoid perpetuating car promotion in our media. I considered how we could educate and collaborate with future producers of various media, to reduce the potential for excessive car use to be promoted through future media productions. Of course, my phD never went much further than my marker’s desk and I’m not sure anyone in the media has every taken any notice of anything I have ever said.

Having said that, I had a small win today or perhaps I participated in banning culture too…. you tell me. I have been trying to get Catie’s Amazing Machines off ABC Kids for the last year, and managed to get one episode removed. Catie’s amazing machines is basically Top Gear for toddlers, if you replace Jeremy with an excessively smiley girl in her 20s. My attempts to get it removed were based on ideas from my thesis around it promoting car use. I looked at the language used, the imagery and the structure of the program which includes three year olds talking about their favourite part of Catie’s driving experiences and how these elements could be influencing relevant determinants of behaviour. None of this mattered to the ABC, but they were interested when I brought up the fact her quad bike didn’t have rollover bars. Sadly, safety features seem more important than genuinely promoting a safe culture for our future.

So, getting back to the book, I would argue that this book’s positive promotion of active transport should be factored in when decisions are made to stop publishing it. Does this book cause people to behave inappropriately, and does it threaten the future of the world? If someone can give me an example of how this book has contributed to hurtful thoughts or behaviour, I would love to know. However, if this book stops being read, we will lose one little potential spark that might stir the imagination of a child or a parent who starts their journey towards reaping the rewards of walking or riding to school.

And as this book gets pulled off shelves, I sit their contemplating a series of books that I have been working on. And while I can’t claim to have Dr Seuss’s wit, imagination or characteristic drawings, I can assure you I share his passion for active travel and for empowering children. Look out for “Jill’s Joyful ride” in the coming months and if all goes well, I have a beautiful one about a bus ride, another about a train trip and there will have to be a walking one now that a gap has opened in the market…

Ride to school day is on 19th March this year in Australia, and I urge you to get out and ride, scoot, skate or walk to school with your children, or wherever you need to go. But don’t stop there, also remember to look up and let your imagination flow.