From Modernity until Yesterday

The modernisation and democratisation of means of transport after the first half of the 20th century led to enormous benefits for many individuals, enhancing their mobility, social permeability and comfort to a great extent.

European cities were mostly built before motorisation, which meant that as auto mobility spread, taking up space and increasing speed, not only did sidewalks have to be clearly separated from driveways, but cars had to be given much more room. Cities give the car exclusive space, whether for work, shopping or leisure. However, the privileges of the car are manmade – and come at the expense of the many (Klaas, 2021).

Practices, landscapes, institutions, knowledge and cultural representations centred on the privately owned car, collectively making up automobility (Sheller and Urry, 2000), came to dominate surface transport.

Mass media channels were evolving into huge engines of cultural production. They made the entertainment that helped define who the individuals were as large and small groups of people.

People exercise cultural preferences when it comes to consuming media, but mass media corporations often decide which stories to tell and which to promote, particularly when it comes to forms of mass media that are costly to produce such as major motion pictures, major video game releases and global news products. More than any other, the field of mass communication transmits culture (McQuail, 2010).

On the economic side, 1950s Europe saw process of social levelling upward, with both greater social mobility and fewer blatant class differences. A ‘mass society’ began to share mass pleasures, like cheap mass travel and tourism.

Paid (salaried) holidays for many European workers, a new use of excess aeroplanes after the war and a spread of television, bringing images of the rest of the world to almost every household, were some of the developments that favoured the European mass tourism market growth, which grew relatively from richer and more developed European countries’ tourism demand for holidays to rather less developed southern (in other words Mediterranean) countries. The necessity for travelling international inside (short-haul) the continent brought new actors as organizers in tourism, namely tour operators. Tour operators, charter flights, and inclusive tours –especially holiday packages- were the identifiers of European mass tourism in the golden age of mass tourism (Sezgin and Yolal, 2012).

Homogeneity, both vertically within societies and horizontally between them, was accelerated by the cinema, radio, and television, offering attractive role models from the other side of the Atlantic to Western European citizens.
“On the Road” by Jack Kerouac was published in 1957 (figure). It is arguably the most well-known road trip book ever written, which has inspired countless generations and imitations. The book details his travels with his friends across America. The book heavily influenced the counterculture movement of the 1960s and helped spread the idea of traveling as a way assert one’s independence.

The freedom of the road defines a primary identity that replaces the rigid ladder of success established by society. Though the American roads and landscapes have nothing to do with the European scenery, the novel was highly influential in our continent.

There is broad consensus that a profound change in values has been observed in European societies since the mid-1960s. In recent decades, the dominant trend goes from values of docility and obedience to values of self-determination and equality.

Many studies on value change stress the growing importance of freedom of choice and equality. They consistently state a so-called ‘emancipatory’ change in values – only differing in their interpretation as ‘post-materialistic’, ‘libertarian’ or as directed towards ‘self-development’. The post-materialism thesis (Inglehart, 1977) states that materialistic values precede post-materialistic values, but the former will be replaced by the latter when economic conditions improve (and vice versa). Under this view, there is a clear relationship between economic development and an ‘emancipatory’ change of values.

According to the analysis of historical materialism (Marx and Engels, 1845), ideas and fashions don’t just change by pure chance over time; they respond to other changes in a society’s political and economic circumstances. Following this premise, cultural production is a historical phenomenon.

In the 1980s, neoliberalism took the stage by the hand of Thatcher and Reagan, who helped shape society as a kind of universal market and human beings as profit-and-loss calculators. The goal was to weaken the welfare state and to cut taxes and deregulate. This produced a way of reordering social reality, and of rethinking our status as individuals.

We are now urged to think of ourselves as proprietors of our own talents and initiative, we are told to compete and adapt. A whole language formerly confined to describing commodity markets (competition, perfect information, rational behaviour) had been applied to all of society. The attitude of the salesman had become entangled in all modes of self-expression. In many areas of life, users became consumers.

In media, as in other large industries, corporate takeovers and mergers were very common. Many new specialty magazines emerged that reflected the trends of the times that escalated into the 1990s: computers and technology; sports; cars; health; men’s and women’s magazines.

The end of the Cold War produces the crystallization of a new global paradigm, whose maximum social, political and economic exponent is globalization. In contrast to modernity, postmodernity is the time of disenchantment. Utopias and elaborate ideas of progress are renounced in favour of a bet on individual progress. There is a change in the capitalist economic order, going from a production economy to a consumer economy. The great charismatic figures disappear and countless small idols emerge that last until something newer and more attractive emerges.

The individualistic turn at the end of the past century and the values associated with it (freedom, exciting life, pleasure, ambition, social power, wealth, authority) were well accompanied by the media. Sadly, goals like solidarity, that has an altruistic dimension and it is mostly related to sustainable behaviour, were not taken into account.

It is almost certain that no one is going to write an epic novel or sing a romantic ballad about transport networks, but it is heart breaking to see how, to a great extent, the press of each member state has been pushing their readers towards nationalist agendas in a fight for attracting funding instead of acknowledging the benefits of territorial cohesion and sustainability.

Europe is the continent where multiple forms of transportation have been invented or brought to technological maturity. The free movement of persons has made Europe grow together and led to a strong sense of cohesion. Cross-border mobility is a prerequisite for a united EU and the experience of inter-connectedness on all levels (Keim and Cerny, 2021). Indeed, freedom is a particularly central term in mobility studies, as it foregrounds sovereignty as a vital force shaping humanity (Salazar and Jayaram, 2016).


A ‘mass society’ began to share mass pleasures, like cheap mass travel and tourism. (Image: Greece’s National Tourist Organization poster. 1955)

The iconic Vespa ride in the film “Roman Holidays”. 1953

“On the Road” by Jack Kerouac was published in 1957. It is arguably the most well-known road trip book ever written, which has inspired countless generations and imitations.

“Need for Speed”, 1996 (left) and “Grand Theft Auto”, 1997 (right) started two of the most popular videogame series of all time

TGV action scene from “Mission Impossible”. 1996

The car, always the car…

Cinema and cars are a perfect match, an eternal love story. Besides their primary function as modes of transport and their recognized feature as status symbols; thanks to the unlimited possibilities offered by the big screen, cars can become anything: sophisticated weapons, time machines, crime stoppers, carnival rides, sexy attractions, living beings…