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I have no idea what the original source is for this image of prolific Hollywood action star Vin Diesel (Mark Sinclair). Of course, the joke is that the perfectly named Diesel is most closely associated with the hyper-kinetic and spectacular Fast and Furious series of films that fetishise cars – in particular American muscle cars and expensively modded street racers. Diesel is in the news today due to the announcement that he is planning a series of spin-off films from the original seven films.

The juxtaposition of this star, who is the embodiment of transnational cinematic masculinity, with a girl’s bicycle is intrinsically comic, but this image also belongs to a tradition of publicity photographs of American film actors posing on bicycles. Often showing actors cycling around sets or studio backlots, these apparently casual, off-guard shots demonstrate a crucial component of the paradoxical ‘star system’ that emerged in the 1920s in the US and which insists on the one hand that stars are people ‘just like us’ – approachable and ready points of identification – while on the other reminding us continually that their lives of wealth, celebrity and self-indulgence couldn’t be more different from ours. In this respect, especially when ridden by an awkward and self-conscious star, the bicycle signifies ‘ordinariness’. It is a demotic vehicle.

Steven Rea’s 2012 book, Hollywood Rides a Bike: Cycling with the Stars is a fascinating and comprehensive visual history of photographs of actors, film-makers  and other media celebrities posing with bikes.

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