Street sweeping provides vital services, keeping roads clean and managing storm water. While seemingly unglamorous, the street sweeping service industry has infiltrated several forms of fiction, enhancing true stories and lending familiarity to fantasy.
In this blog, we cover some of the best known appearances of street sweeping in fiction, including in advertising and comic book form.
The best advertisements demand attention, often through presenting a familiar object in a new light.
Sky Movies – Comic Book Heroes (2014)
British television firm Sky Movies HD shows a range of superhero films during their Comic Book Heroes Season. One of their many promotional commercials followed a street sweeper (the worker, not the truck) as he cleaned a city. Presumably, the city needed his services following a destructive battle between superheroes and super-villains.
The street sweeper offers observances on the characters of several heroes, including Batman, Wolverine, and Superman as he completes the superhuman cleanup. Watch the commercial here.
Perhaps Sky Movies found inspiration for the advert described above in the story of comic book cleanup crews. Most notably, Marvel’s Damage Control.
Damage Control Comics (1989 – 2008)
The concept of cleaning up after superheroes isn’t a new one. In both comics and film, heroes often leave shattered windows, crumbling walls, and smashed cars in their wake. Beginning in the 1980s, Marvel published several storylines revolving around Damage Control, a company dedicated to these herculean cleanups.
The comic featured familiar faces like Spiderman, Thor, and the Incredible Hulk, and was rife with references to other Marvel comics. Damage Control primarily dealt with reconstruction of roadways and buildings. However, they also dealt with the debris that street sweepers would handle if these battles were to occur in reality.
In 2014, Marvel released news that Drew Pearce, who worked on many Marvel movies, wanted to create a Damage Control film adaptation. As of Marvel’s 2015 film lineup announcement, the movie had yet to receive the green light.
While the previous pieces of fiction deal primarily with the duties of street sweepers, films on the subject delve deeper, exploring drivers’ lives and the future. “Solar Crisis” (1990)
Set in the future, “Solar Crisis” deals with public fear after scientists predict a coming solar flare that may incinerate the Earth. Astronauts fly toward the sun with the intent of dropping a bomb to redirect the blast. On Earth, however, citizens already struggle with the effects of a stronger sun.
In this film, street sweepers serve as mechanical police forces, enforcing a curfew intended to keep civilians out of the dangerous sunlight levels. These street sweepers have weapons systems, transport capacities, and even voices.
“The Streetsweeper” (2004)
This film festival piece follows the life of Enzo Morelli, a street sweeper by trade. In the film, Morelli gives up a promising career as an opera singer to provide for his son. Morelli drives one of San Diego’s Elgin Eagle sweepers and keeps a regular route.
The film offers perspective on the plight of some public workers, including, in the past, street sweeper drivers. In the film, Morelli struggles with his own purpose as well as with the daunting perspective of putting his son through college.
“The Streetsweeper” includes panoramic shots of the streets of San Diego and footage of the city’s historic sweepers in action. The film ushered in changes to how outsiders viewed the sweeping industry. The film garnered wider recognition of the feats drivers accomplish as well as the vital public service they provide.
Books often express all-encompassing emotions that do not find hold in film. We discuss one such book, which uses street sweeping as a storytelling vessel, below.
“The Street Sweeper” by Elliot Perlman (2012)
In 2012, Elliot Perlman, author of “Seven Types of Ambiguity,” released “The Street Sweeper.” Perlman’s epic-length novel winds together the stories of three very different men in New York City. Readers meet the main character, Lamont Williams, immediately after his release from prison where he served after an unjust conviction. Williams takes on the duties of a street sweeper.
In the course of his duties, Williams meets a World War II survivor living in an old folk’s home and a professor at Columbia University. Though living different lives, the three find they have perspective and life experience to offer each other. Perlman’s work delves into the issues of racism, heroism, historical representation, guilt, and love.
The Globe and Mail heralded “The Street Sweeper” as a poignant look at “how individual people matter in history.” The novel also received praise from The Wall Street Journal, Sunday Times, and The Guardian.
People often use fictionalized narratives to talk about the feelings, circumstances, and causes they find most important. Explore the fiction above to examine how authors and screenwriters integrate street sweeping into their stories.
Street sweepers provide essential services that keep cities functioning safely and smoothly. For more information on how street sweepers impact storm water management, local wildlife, and even crime rates, read our other blog posts.