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December 17, 2002

SUVs and SOBs

As most of us get set to head into a holiday week and try to forget that there's a war looming (didn't the marketing people say January or February would be a good time to roll out the new "attack" product line?), Alternet serves up a tasty little morsel on the connection between war and SUVs (especially Hummers, which seem to be selling briskly this season). Combine that with this review of High and Mighty: SUVs by Keith Bradsher, and you've got a pretty complete picture of a society run amok:

According to market research conducted by the country's leading automakers, Bradsher reports, SUV buyers tend to be "insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors and communities. They are more restless, more sybaritic, and less social than most Americans are. They tend to like fine restaurants a lot more than off-road driving, seldom go to church and have limited interest in doing volunteer work to help others."

So let's see if I've got this right: We buy SUVs because we're rich, insecure and antisocial, and also because they're status symbols that tell the world how affluent we are. Yet, these very vehicles pollute our environment more than other vehicles we might drive, thereby making us less safe. SUVs are also prone to rollovers, so there again they make us less safe. And all the gas they consume makes the U.S. more reliant than ever on foreign oil, which again makes all of us less safe because it makes us think we need to fight wars for oil. But then, in a nice little feedback loop, our wars for oil make us feel macho (or insecureóreally the same thing), so we want big, tough vehicles to show how powerful we are. Plus, the wars are big advertisements for SUVs (again, mainly Hummers), so we buy more of them, and the cycle continues. Middle-class, SUV-driving America is less safe than ever and all its efforts in this arena to address that problem are only making it worse. Nice.

Sort of reminds me of Michael Moore's thesis about American fear in "Bowling for Columbine." To simplify, Moore argues that white, middle-class fear has driven our nation's violent history from the beginning (from colonial times, through slavery, into our modern urban/suburban divides), and is now a major factor behind gun violence in the U.S. If he's right, then white, middle-class people are buying lots of guns and lots of SUVs because they're deathly afraid of.... something. Perhaps one thing they're afraid of is losing all the material wealth and "security" they've "earned" because somewhere in the back of their minds they know that their privileges come at the expense of other people's suffering. Perhaps they're reminded of this when they drive by the dozen or so homeless people huddled against the buildings as they cruise downtown in their SUVs to buy another gun. You think? Nah...

Posted December 17, 2002 07:20 PM | general politics

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