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Casey Neistat: ‘Nobody gives a s*** about concise political arguments’ (Interview)

by Ted Johnson

Casey Neistat’s latest video on bike lanes as gone viral, with more than three million views in the first week since it was added to YouTube.  If you haven’t seen it, go here, and while you’re there, check out the comments.

You’ll see in the comments that I pretty much became the standard bearer for the humorless schmucks who have taken issue with the video. I hate it when I do that.

Casey NeistatBefore I could step back for some perspective, I realized that I was not only defending my opinion of the video, but my opinions about Neistat, his motives, and his character were congealing.

Based on a three-minute video, I was starting to decide that I didn’t like the guy, and I noticed that my comments were getting slightly mean.

Now, you can’t really develop a relationship based on a three-minute video filmed for no one in particular. (You guys out there happily married to your Russian Internet brides, of course I don’t mean you.)

So I asked Neistat for an Interview. He said yes.

I said, Really?

He said, Call me.

I asked, But have you seen all the trash talk I’ve been dishing out over here?

He said, Yes I have.

That was all paraphrased, but the point is that he was already making it harder to not like him.

Take note: I censored the s-bomb in the title of this post, but that’s the only thing I’ve censored.

When Neistat and I spoke, I asked him about the motivation behind the video.

It was a culmination of things. I think it was that fact that New York City has been doing a pretty great job of promoting cycling here in the city. And I think it’s been paying off. I don’t know what the numbers are, but cycling is way up in the city.

[...]

But something they’re doing here in the city that I think is incredibly misguided is they’re selectively going after the cyclists for various traffic infractions. Some of which are I think are absolutely warranted, and some of them are far more frivolous, and are kind of the subject of the movie I made, and fall into the category of being frivolous.

Neistat had read all of the comments on the original post about his video here on Commute by Bike, and felt that the dialog was “esoteric” and that some of us were missing the big picture.

But what I think this [comment] thread is overlooking–somewhat naively overlooking–is the fact that, right or wrong, whether I was justified in getting that very specific ticket, or even more so, whether or not I should have [gone to court] and fight it.

YouTube views

YouTube views as of 6/15/11. Yes, I'm envious.

I think what this movie’s done, is it’s opened up a dialog. And it’s forced people to start talking about bicycling in the city… And to dig in a little deeper, Ted, whether or not New York City, and the New York City are helping this town to become better, more welcoming place for cyclists, a safer place for cyclists or not.

[...]

To discount the reach of a movie like this, and a movie would not have a reach if it was just a very concise political argument, ’cause nobody gives a shit about concise political arguments.

There are far more important–and I say this with a little sardonicism–but there are far more important injustices in the world that nobody’s paying attention to right now. And my stupid bike video–because this video is whatever it is, funny or silly, or people like it for whatever reason–it’s forcing a dialog.

I think it’s disappointing that a lot of your thread is missing that; discounting the fact that this is creating a dialog, and creating an awareness.

[...]

My sole expressed [intent] was to make the most palatable funny video possible. And as a result of that, I’ve created a reach and an awareness I think that goes way beyond anything that a more political, concise, well-rounded argument would have done.

[...]

I think that’s kind of the triumph of the video. Again, it wasn’t my expressed goal, so it’s tough to really take credit for it. But now that it’s happened, I’m excited about it.

A lot of the criticism I’ve been getting is people saying, “Why didn’t you just go fight it in court,” which is such a naive and fucking stupid argument, because, I don’t know how many times you’ve been to court to fight a ticket, but I’ve been to court to fight a ticket about 100 times in my life.

[…]

It’s ineffective. It doesn’t start a dialogue beyond yourself. Would three million people ever give a shit about me losing a ticket or paying a ticket in court? There’s no way.

Michael Bloomburg, the mayor of New York City, was questioned about this very subject. In fact, they referenced my movie in that interview. I just don’t see that happening if I had just bitched about getting a ticket. To overlook that is some of the shortsightedness of some of the criticism of the video.

The police officer and he have become “friends”–not the Facebook kind, the in-person kind. He said the officer left him a message via YouTube, and then they met again the day before this interview.

[Y]esterday morning… he hits me with his lights. I pulled over and it was him, and I was excited to see him. I jumped in the car, and gave him a handshake… He was a totally cool guy.

There’s so much real crime going on here, that [the police] don’t really give a shit about harassing people. I’ve never been harassed in a way that’s really upset me. I think the cops in New York are fairly cool, even though this guy pulled me over. I don’t really understand his motives there, but even when he pulled me over, he was cool about it. I mean, I’ve never had a cop let me film him before. So, he had me go on the record after running into him yesterday and say that he and I are friends. I have his e-mail, he has mine, and we’re in touch.

I suspect that there’s a little narcissism in anyone who puts himself in front of a video camera when not absolutely necessary. In the end, my impression was that Neistat is someone who doesn’t want to self-aggrandize, or polish his persona. He was likeable, and not any different in his opinions about cycling from many people who frequent cycling blogs and forums.

His “stupid bike video” has unexpectedly given him a bigger soap box than a blog or a forum. He seems to be wanting to seize the moment that his video has handed him, and try to make a difference. If he’d known that this video would exceed three million views in its first week, he may have made a different, less funny, less effective video.

The full interview is nearly 20 minutes long, and was recorded off of Skype, so Neistat’s voice get’s a little weird at times. Sometimes it sounds like anesthesia is kicking in as he’s speaking, but that’s the network latency. But when he uses language that is not safe for work, that’s not the network, that’s New York.

 
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4 Responses to “Casey Neistat: ‘Nobody gives a s*** about concise political arguments’ (Interview)”

  1. Paul in Vancouver (the Original) WA, USA says:

    Hi Ted,

    Thanks for doing this piece. I enjoyed hearing from Casey directly. I didn’t originally follow the comments on your other post, but I just went back and skimmed them.

    I’m don’t live in NYC but I go back there every summer and spend a lot of time biking – because it is absolutely the best (only decent) way to get around!

    For me as someone who rides mostly in the Vancouver / Portland area and experiences a relatively friendly cycling environment, riding in NYC is a bit of a shock. The first year I rode there I spent a lot of time planning routes around streets with bike lanes. I quickly learned not to bother. It has improved slightly (just slightly) in the past few years, but in the densest traffic areas where the bike lanes are most needed they are absolutely useless.

    My point is that as ridiculous as Casey’s video appears, you really need to ride in NYC to understand that the level of ridiculousness actually matches the stupidity of ticketing cyclists for not being in the bike lane. Honestly, in Midtown and Lower Manhattan it is RARE to find ONE block of bike lane that is unobstructed. Seriously rare. Taxi’s, pedestrians, beer delivery hand trucks, traffic signs, police cars Etc. Block after block after block. This isn’t once or twice every mile or so, it is continuous.

    The one sometimes exception is the protected cycle track on 8th Ave which is also a problem on pleasant week-end days because the pedestrians take it over.

    My impression of the comments on the other post is that people just don’t get that in NYC this isn’t griping about an occasional or even common inconvenience. It is a continual barrage and a total pain the A**. Add to that the frequency which you see all kinds of illegal transportation behavior by Cyclists and everyone else and it is really STUPID to write a frivolous ticket for a non-violation.

    And I can’t even imagine what going to traffic court would be like. $50 is probably worth it to not have to spend a day going to court.

  2. The cool thing of the video is that it has gone viral *outside of the bike community.* You know many motorists are clueless on reasons a cyclist would leave a bike lane, but Casey effectively used physical humor to show the non-bicyclist that there’s all kinds of trash in the lane (or the shoulder or side of the road) and there just might be a good reason for us to move left into the lane.

    • Ted Johnson says:

      What I appreciated most about the conversation was the shift in focus from the specific cop, to the policy of the NYPD generally toward cyclists. That made all the difference in changing my perception of Neistat from seeing him as a whiner trying to ridicule a cop following a policy, to seeing him as an activist targeting the policy itself.

      Ironically, the fact that he’s an unrepentant rule breaker helped too. It took away any sense of “Why did this happen to innocent me?”

      I’ve made a video of my commute that I am going to post sooner or later, so that the Always Follow The Rules crowd can hate on me. (It’s not very exciting. I don’t expected it to get three million views in one week.)

  3. BluesCat says:

    Hey, Ted, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve stayed clear of this topic … until now. Some of the minor reasons are that I thoroughly enjoyed the video, and I agree with you on some issues, and I disagree with you on some others, and in some ways the video is good for promoting the rights of bicyclists, and in some ways the video is irrelevant to bicycle advocation, and in some ways it hurts the image of bicyclists … on and on and on. My lower-division reasons are all over the map, just as Casey’s motivation for doing the video are all over the map.

    Now that the furor, the passion on both sides, seems to have subsided somewhat I’ll make my comment and reveal my upper-division reason for keeping quiet. I believe that, rightly or wrongly, the police forces that I have come into contact with concerning bicycling issues are always automobile-centric, to the point that they have conflicting — often contradictory — approaches to the laws regarding bicycling.

    For my evidence, I present the exchange I had with the Phoenix PD last year. I first spoke about it in my blog in the post A Real Jaw Dropper. I related the resolution in a second post entitled Altercation With a Motorist.

    I say “resolution,” but there wasn’t really anything resolved. That precinct commander has since moved to a different precinct, and I was never able to follow through on the training issues we discussed; maybe this year.

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