April 25, 2013

"But English people throw everything out their car window, and the roadsides are carpeted with rubbish.."

"... so that's what I do with my life now: I pick up rubbish on the side of the road. I do it on my bike. I do it on foot. The local council has given me an outfit and a grabber."

Says David Sedaris, who now lives in West Sussex, in a "Fresh Air" interview, promoting his new book "Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls."

From the book:
When I mentioned the trash to the neighbors, they agreed that it was a disgrace. “It wasn’t like this thirty years ago,” said the woman in the house to the right of ours. She couldn’t tell me why things had changed. It was just part of a general decline. In that regard it was like graffiti, something that had inexorably spread until people lost the will to fight against it. Then, to make themselves feel less powerless, they decided it was art. I tried looking at the trash that way: Oh, how the light plays off that vodka bottle! Look at the bright blue candy wrapper, so vivid against the fallen brown leaves. It didn’t work, though.

52 comments:

rhhardin said...

Roadside litter has declined in Ohio, thinking back to the 70s.

Also mailbox smashing.

Mark O said...

Social entropy?

Wouldn't it be easier just to cover your head when you go out than to make a fuss about it. You know how testy those minders can be.

Freeman Hunt said...

There's not much litter here. It went away with the imposition of big fines.

traditionalguy said...

The litter is actually the useless young "marking their territory" in a way that gets some revenge at the same time.

Enforcing laws about littering will actually profoundly improve the community's self image.

MayBee said...

You get used to the government doing things for you, and it gets harder and harder to do things for yourself. Like pick up your own trash.

Freeman Hunt said...

What's the W.C. Fields movie where he and his family go into a rich man's yard thinking that it is a park? That's one of the funniest scenes in film.

LarsPorsena said...

rhhardin said...

Roadside litter has declined in Ohio, thinking back to the 70s.

Also mailbox smashing.

4/25/13, 8:31 AM
___________________________________

Coincidental with my leaving the state? I think not.

Freeman Hunt said...

I remember the first time I was in a car with someone who threw a piece of trash out of the window. I was in high school, and it was another student. I couldn't believe it. I was appalled. It felt like the person had just spit in the face of Civilization.

Mitchell the Bat said...

I've always assumed that the roadside beer bottles were part of some obscure religious observance.

Calypso Facto said...

I wonder if Sedaris' move from France was partially income tax-related?

So the British litter, but do they pick up after their dogs (unlike the French)? That might be an upgrade too.

Shanna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shanna said...

My street is a big cut through and people throw trash in my yard on a weekly basis. Not a lot, but enough to piss me off. A beer bottle here, a fast food wrapper there, etc...

I'm assuming it's teenagers (since we're a cut between two high schools) but still. Irritating.

Jay Vogt said...

Lady Bird Johnson

CEO-MMP said...

Back when I lived in WI there was a man who actually did make "art" with crap from beside the road. It was kind of fascinating to see his sculpturings.

You can do a lot with a few beer cans, a Tide jug, 2 water bottles and one of those blue ice tea bottles. And duct tape, of course.

LarsPorsena said...

Sedaris is not there for the untrammeled vistas. He feels the magnetic pull of the NHS.

El Pollo Real said...

I used to take the train from Zurich, Switzerland to Milan, Italy. The Swiss country side and train stations were of course Disney-clean. Even Ticino--the Italian speaking canton which looked like Italy-was well groomed. It wasn't until crossing the Swiss/Italy border that things precipitously declined: litter, filth, squalor, outward signs of poverty or at least material well being.

I see the same riding the train in North County San Diego: a progression of poverty, a "gradation of grittiness" between La Jolla and Oceanside for lack of better terms.

Litter and disrespect strongly correlates with poverty. If this has changed in England over the years it is because of lessening in material and spiritual wealth, not to mention immigration. It's not that the rich pay people to clean up after themselves--they just don't litter as much in the first place.

EMD said...

I remember the first time I was in a car with someone who threw a piece of trash out of the window. I was in high school, and it was another student. I couldn't believe it. I was appalled. It felt like the person had just spit in the face of Civilization.

That's my usual reaction, too.

CWJ said...

Sedaris wrote:

"...graffiti, something that had inexorably spread until people lost the will to fight against it. Then, to make themselves feel less powerless, they decided it was art."

Hadn't considered that angle. There maybe more than a little truth there.

whoresoftheinternet said...

Lefty faggot in complete denial about the effects of mass immigration and economic and social decline brought about by left-wing policies of open borders and totalitarian states.

Ca't wait for his child rape charges and public exposure charges---which he will claim aren't really crimes, just a society oppressing him.

Enjoy the decline, pervert-lovers!

CEO-MMP said...

whoresoftheinternet said...


Enjoy the decline, pervert-lovers!



You mind if I steal that one?

Sorun said...

I think it's mostly an awareness issue. This commercial helped. American roadsides are much cleaner than they used to be, due to less littering and volunteers who clean it up.

There are exceptions. I once lived in Lorton, VA, which used to have DC's prison. You could get to the prison's visitor entrance from the freeway exit just by following the litter.

CWJ said...

El Pollo Real,

Interesting observation, but nearly the opposite of my limited experience with Zurich.

Just about my only memory of the two times I passed through Zurich was graffiti everywhere.

edutcher said...

We forget a lot of hillbillies are pure English descent.

AprilApple said...

after an annoying 10 second ad -
Party!

Fr Martin Fox said...

For Mr. Sedaris' sake, I hope he kept his U.S. passport.

T J Sawyer said...

Sounds like it might just be another consequence of their immigration policy. See this garbage post for instance.

pduggie said...

"“It wasn’t like this thirty years ago,” said the woman in the house to the right of ours. She couldn’t tell me why things had changed."

She knew, but wouldn't tell him.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Reminds me of Theodore Dalrymple's observations.

El Pollo Real said...

@CWJ: The graffiti was just starting in the '90's and many were alarmed. I've heard things have gone downhill.

Jay Vogt said...

You could argue that Lady Bird's "Highway Beautification Act" was the last real consequential initiative by a First Lady. I can't think of another.

virgil xenophon said...

God....so many here have beat me to it--misplaced my pants, pduggie, Freeman, El Pollo Real--hell, just about everybody--all are on target. But of course, the prize goes to whoresoftheinternet--both for accuracy and creative invective!

robinintn said...

Poor, benighted Sedaris and Brits. They just can't fathom the why...

Sorun said...

"Poor, benighted Sedaris and Brits. They just can't fathom the why..."

Maybe England has speech codes like Canada. They know why, but can't say.

rehajm said...

Keep Britain Tidy!

St. George said...

Ban garbage. Make people keep it at home.

Ban pressure cookers. Confiscate them.

Pull the covers over your head.

EDH said...

"... so that's what I do with my life now: I pick up rubbish on the side of the road."

Call Barretta!

An example of someone doing "the time" even though he didn't didn't do "the crime".

Martin said...

Can you aestheticize litter? Definitely. Off the top of my head, there's the famous (?) "plastic bag" scene in American Beauty: http://youtu.be/8yfpPpu7bik
and, in a musical vein, Jonathan Richman's ode to a "pretty little chewing gum wrapper": http://youtu.be/SK7VGJCM69I
Interestingly, both of these cultural artifacts focus on one item of litter. Maybe that's the aesthetic limit?

CyndiF said...

People throwing cigarette butts out their car windows is one of my biggest pet peeves.

ndspinelli said...

David Sedaris and his sister, Amy, are two of the funniest people I've ever seen. They came from a very dysfunctional family.

For folks 60 or over please remember how it was back in the 50's or 60's. Jeff Goldblum recounted it perfectly in an interview I once saw. Goldblum grew up in an upper middle class family in Pittsburgh, his dad was an MD. He talked about how when he was a kid the family would get take out food, take a Sunday drive[remember those?], and when done eating, just throw everything out the car window @ 40mph! As someone stated, Lady Bird was key in changing that. It's still an eyesore, but not nearly as in my youth. Adopt a Highway helps some.

stengle said...

Not all of us in England do this. Not by a long way: most of us take our litter home with us.

I do accept though that the car has allowed people to get away quickly from their ill-considered and selfish actions; we also have the growth in the UK of the welfare-dependent classes who can afford cars (largely thanks to unthinking socialist policies that pay them to indulge themselves) but have never been taught to think about the world around them.

The 'chav' view is someone else will tidy up after them.

Sam L. said...

"CWJ said...

Sedaris wrote:

"...graffiti, something that had inexorably spread until people lost the will to fight against it. Then, to make themselves feel less powerless, they decided it was art."

Hadn't considered that angle. There maybe more than a little truth there.

4/25/13, 8:55 AM"

Intersection of 'the tragedy of the commons' and the 'broken-windows effect'.

ken in sc said...

I used to live on a road that led to a growing new subdivision. Construction workers were coming and going daily. Some of them would throw their household garbage in our yard, including dirty diapers.

furious_a said...

"It wasn’t like this thirty years ago,”

...same here in the U.S., but in the opposite direction. Chart litter trends vs. confidence/right track-wrong track, etc, as an indicator of societal trajectory.

Lady Bird's Beautification Act also required junkyards to be fenced.

Fernandinande said...

Sorun said... "This commercial helped."

Heh.
- The "crying Indian" wasn't an Indian (Lebanese guy, IIRC).
- I live right next to a Navajo reservation, and near a Ute reservation - they both litter a LOT.

El Pollo Real said...

Don't forget the Woodstock Nation's contribution to litter and litterature.

ricpic said...

There is no more accurate marker of the vitality of a society than its commitment to maintenance. Not building great structures or starting great projects; maintaining what is already in place. Which of course includes picking up the litter. It's a continuous effort with seemingly little in the way of reward. Which is why only a high morale society is up to it.

ed said...

A good hard caning or a cat-o-nine-tails will cure those societal ills.

Kensington said...

I moved to New York City in 2001, and it took at least a year, maybe even two, before I stopped being freaked out by all the garbage everywhere.

And I'd grown up in Chicago, which isn't exactly...tidy.

One day in Chicago I saw two teenage girls walking to the high school on the block. One of them had a big bag of chips.

She finished her chips and just dropped the big empty bag on the ground and kept walking without any thought or hesitation.

I knew we were fundamentally boned as a society right then and there.

Sharc said...

This Mad Men clip at 1:30 captures my memory of 1970's littering, which is apparently how things are still in Britain.

Robert Cook said...

"What's the W.C. Fields movie where he and his family go into a rich man's yard thinking that it is a park? That's one of the funniest scenes in film."

It's A Gift

Great movie!

Robert Cook said...

"I moved to New York City in 2001, and it took at least a year, maybe even two, before I stopped being freaked out by all the garbage everywhere."

Hmmm...I beat you by 20 years, got here in 1981. To my recall, by 2001 the city had become considerably cleaned up and fairly tidy, certainly as compared with its condition in 1981. And the subways! You should have seen them in the 80s!

I walk around the city today and I am always surprised that a city of this size and population density is as clean and neat as it is!

Biff said...

A story that mentions owls and bemoans roadside rubbish, but fails to invoke those 1970s "Give a Hoot! Don't Pollute!" commercials featuring Woodsy, the Owl? No wonder they have a trash problem!