Evelyn Pentikis applauds OpDoc filmmaker Casey Neistat for his entertaining short films that attempt to make the world a little better.
It’s the middle of the afternoon and you’re walking down a street in Manhattan, doesn’t matter where, could be the Upper East or Soho, and you see a guy—could be black, could be white—trying to steal a bike. What would you do? Try to stop him? Call the police? Or ignore him? This is exactly what filmmaker Casey Neistat tried to determine in his New York Times OpDoc, “Bike Thief.”
The result wasn’t that surprising – no one stopped him or his black friend from stealing the bike. No guy, no girl, no one. In fact, only a handful of onlookers even bothered to look in his direction. Neistat found that several cops finally intervened when he brought out a very loud power tool in a crowded Union Square. The point being, he had to be obnoxious in his stealing technique to garner attention.
It’s no surprise that bike thefts are common in big cities, or that finding statistics on the actual number of thefts is difficult. (In a 2007 survey, NYC ranked third in stolen bikes, behind Philadelphia and Chicago). But really, who cares about that? What we really care about is what makes people ignore a crime in action.
It’s good to know that it’s not illegal to ignore a bike theft in progress—that there is no ‘law’ that creates a duty for someone to report a crime. New York does have a Good Samaritan Law, which protects a person from any liability that arises from helping someone in need, but it only applies to medical assistance (Pub. Health Law §3000-a). It doesn’t impose a morality clause on citizens—report/stop a crime or you could be fined. This kind of law would probably never be passed anyhow. What do you think? Can you legislate morality?
I do wonder why Neistat stopped short in this video from asking people who walked on by why they ignored the bike thefts. Is it because everyone knows that anyone crazy enough to steal a bike in broad daylight is just asking for a confrontation so he can prove his outlaw status and no one wants to take something that threatens their personal safety? Or is it because people just don’t want to ‘get involved’? That to me, would be spark an interesting debate.
Kudos to Neistat, however, for making these short Opdoc films that bring awareness to bike thefts and a string of other overlooked social issues like texting while walking, where he made a fun little film teaching text-etiquette.
Interestingly, the Neistat brothers gained international fame with their 2003 film Ipod’s Dirty Secret about ipod battery life, which resulted in a change in Apple’s battery policy three days after the film’s release. I’m not sure he’ll gain that same kind of notoriety taking on bicycle issues in NYC but he’s certainly making an effort to incite social change in daily life. And that is more than I can say for most citizens.
What do you think? Can a short film really make social change?
Watch iPod’s Dirty Secret:
Watch Bike Theif:
Watch Texting While Walking: