Is a Snerl Human?
Here’s a parable called “Is a Snerl Human?” and some thoughts on how it applies to CicLAvia.
The story was published in DC’s Adventure Comics No.431 in February 1974. This 8-page one-shot, by comic greats writer Sheldon Mayer and artist Alex Toth, has been described by a few on-line pundits as one of the best ever comic book short stories.
Is a Snerl Human? takes place on an earth-like planet, called Teyton, where animals talk. Snerls are large pink furry creatures that walk upright and look a bit like sloth combined with a kangaroo. Humans have enslaved snerls; snerl families are held captive in prison-like “Snerl Dependent Pens.”
The story opens with a chariot race where snerls are towing chariots ridden by whip-wielding humans. The story’s protagonist, a snerl named Tarsus, wins the race and is rewarded with an extra visit to his female snerl partner, Winga, and their “little one.” Winga worries that Tarsus is becoming “a very valuable snerl” and will be sold. No sooner said than done.
Tarsus is sold, for 3000 Zems, to a human woman. He rebels and makes for “the barrier.” Humans mount their snerl steeds and pursue Tarsus, but he makes it to “the other side.” Initially vultures tell him to leave, saying “Halt, human! This is as far as you go! This is a beast sanctuary!” Tarsus responds “But I’m not a human! I’m a snerl!!”
The vultures take Tarsus to the council: a meeting of various animal leaders including lion, zebra, giraffe, elephant and dolphin. The lion and elephant sound sympathetic to the snerl, but the giraffe states “He walks upright! … like a human… I don’t trust him!”
The decision is deferred to the wise one: the dolphin. She tells the lion to give the snerl a stun gun – a “human weapon left from before the big turn about” and says “tell him to fight for freedom from the humans for himself and his kind! Then we’ll know if he’s human!” The lion reluctantly responds “if you say so, wise one!” The lion gives Tarsus the stun gun.
Tarsus returns to the human zone, and proceeds to zap lots of humans. He sets all the penned snerls free. One of the excited freed snerls shouts “Come! Let us leave here, and go live in peace and freedom beyond the barrier with the other good beasts.”
Another snerl responds “Wait!! I have a better idea!!”
Then come the final three panels, which take place “many months later.” A couple of birds in flight are speaking. One asks “Whatever happened to that snerl, Tarsus? Did he and his kind win their freedom?”
The second bird replies “Oh, yes! But didn’t you hear? – – He turned out to be human, after all!”
The first bird replies “Really? How do you know?”
The second bird replies “Look down there and see for yourself!” In the concluding panel, there is a stadium filled with snerls. Tarsus is waving a whip while commandeering a chariot in a race. The snerls’ chariots are being pulled by enslaved humans. The tables have turned. Snerls are just as oppressive as their human captors were.
So… what does all this snerl stuff have to do with CicLAvia?
It’s not 100% analogous, but it’s a similar dynamic involving drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Today, to a large extent, cyclists and pedestrians see themselves as both oppressed by cars… but, in turn, slower moving pedestrians can be oppressed by faster moving bicyclists. So, at the beginning of the story, humans correspond to cars or drivers, snerls correspond to cyclists and animals correspond to pedestrians.
During CicLAvia, cars are removed (ie: the humans have been overthrown by the snerls) and bicyclists are free… to oppress? or to take part in a new egalitarian sharing of street space?
At CicLAvia on April 10th 2011, though tens of thousands of folks – on foot, on bike, on skates, etc – had a wonderful time, there were some conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians… even between fast moving bicyclists and slow-moving bicyclists. Though CicLAvia urged all participants to share and enjoy together, quite a few riders clearly didn’t get the memo. Some cyclists shouted “get out of the way!” to folks on foot. Some pedestrians and families didn’t feel entirely welcome.
Some comments have suggested that bicyclists’ hubris has ruined CicLAvia. Other folks have suggested that a bunch of CicLAvia participants who drive all week, got out of their cars and onto their bikes… and bicycled in the same oppressive way that they drive all week.
On the other hand… a few bicyclists have suggested that CicLAvia should just be a bike event, and the pedestrians should just get out of the way. Don’t cyclists deserve our own day on the roads? Isn’t that why it’s called CicLAvia? If those pesky pedestrians want their own event, they can host their own PedLAvia!
So, querido reader, what do you think? Are cyclists more like snerls – prone to be just as oppressive as our oppressors? or are cyclists wise peaceful free beasts? Given the opportunity, will bicyclists be just as insensitive as drivers? or can we all get along and, together, enjoy our streets in an egalitarian, democratic way? Does bicycling lend itself to this sort of democracy? How should CicLAvia encourage a space that’s safe and welcoming for all? Should CicLAvia try to slow cyclists down?
Or should those pesky pedestrians just get out of the way, dammit?
Let us know what you think in the comments below.