Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Interesting Slate Article: How Not Having a Car Became Shorthand for Loser

Saw this article on Slate today:  How Not Having a Car Became Shorthand for Loser

I was very glad to see this in print, to see what I've felt for a long time so well articulated.  When making the change to get rid of our car last year, I definitely bumped into this whole cultural instinct.  Like most Americans, I equated having a car with a certain sensation of adulthood, of being fully a part of our society and culture.  Getting rid of the car felt somehow like a step back, socially.    Even though there were lots of rational arguments for getting rid of the car and using less oil (health, money, not wanting to support big oil companies or oppressive regimes or wars for oil, global warming, greater awareness of my surroundings, etc.), culture is a little harder to kick to the curb than I might have thought. 

And the normalcy of car culture is pushed all the time, by car companies spending millions and millions of dollars on ads equating driving their cars with all sorts of positive social values (manhood, family values, coolness, you name it) and is just as fully embraced by film (as pointed out in the article).  There's no equivalent power/push/leverage from the makers of bicycles or walking shoes.  This was brought home by GM being one of the sponsors of the recent PlanetHugger Expo, where I talked about worms and the 200 Foot Garden.  They had a 21 mpg hybrid SUV.  There were no bike companies, bike shops, or even any bike gear companies, or even bike advocacy groups represented. 

And walking?  Who thinks walking is sexy and profitable?  (Though I have a character in my first novel, Tornado Siren, who is pretty mysterious and attractive, who has walked everywhere for centuries, but he is, let's say, certainly an outsider, in the most extreme way possible.)

I don't know if I've completely gotten over the American longing to own a car, but I'm pretty close.  I accept that if we ever move to the country, it'll be necessary to own a car, because of infrastructure needs.  But until that happens, I don't find myself tempted very often.  I guess I don't care that much if Hollywood, or anyone else for that matters, thinks I'm a loser for not owning a car.


  1. Hey Pat, it's your old neighbor. Found you via Universal Hub.

    This is a great article and a really great point. I read an assessment of a family whose daughter I had in residential treatment -- high-achieving family in the Back Bay who wasn't neglecting their kids in any concrete way -- and the clinician said something condescending along the lines of "family is not able to own a car and tries to meet their needs with only public transportation."

  2. Great to hear from you!

    Yeah, it's weird how not having a car is sometimes regarded like a bad fungus or a weird smell. Though I'm sure my kids might feel like they're being deprived sometimes.

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