In which I take to task not only a book but a review of the book as well.
Let's start with the obvious disclaimer. I own an SUV.
Have you ever wondered why sport utility vehicle drivers seem like such assholes? Surely it's no coincidence that Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, tours Washington in one of the biggest SUVs on the market, the Cadillac Escalade, or that Jesse Ventura loves the Lincoln Navigator. Well, according to New York Times reporter Keith Bradsher's new book, High and Mighty, the connection between the two isn't a coincidence. Unlike any other vehicle before it, the SUV is the car of choice for the nation's most self-centered people; and the bigger the SUV, the more of a jerk its driver is likely to be.
That's just the start of the review.
First of all, if I seem like an asshole it's because I am an asshole and it has nothing to do with my choice of vehicles. But I guess it's a good thing I only drive a measley 92 Ford Explorer and not one of those Expeditions, because I rank only sort-of-a-jerk on the SUV food chain.
I never did think of myself as a self-centered person, but I guess I need to go over that again. Hmmm...who is more self-centered: me in my SUV or that guy driving in front of me with the Greenpeace sticker on his bumper whose car obviously hasn't been serviced in ten years and is farting all kind of fumes and exhaust into my window?
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."
If I didn't know better, I would think they were talking about Lexus or Mercedes drivers.
Let's do a checklist:
Nervous about my marraige: I wasn't married when I bought the Explorer
Uncomfortable about parenthood: Isn't everyone?
Lack confidence in my driving skills: No, I lack confidence in the driving skills of everyone else.
Self-absorbed: Only when I'm driving and trying to stay alive by avoiding assholes in sports cars. That is, if you consider trying to stay alive during your commute self-absorbed.
Sybaritic: If I was sybaritic I wouldn't be driving a ten year old vehicle.
Fine restuarants: Is Taco Bell considered a fine restaurant?
He says, too, that SUV drivers generally don't care about anyone else's kids but their own, are very concerned with how other people see them rather than with what's practical, and they tend to want to control or have control over the people around them. David Bostwick, Chrysler's market research director, tells Bradsher, "If you have a sport utility, you can have the smoked windows, put the children in the back and pretend you're still single."
Well yes, I am a control freak. But so are a million other people who don't drive SUVs.
Oh, and I can have the smoked windows, put the children in the back and pretend like I'm the warden taking them away to the orphanage because they wouldn't stop throwing things at each other. I'll let you in on a little secret; those smoked windows are to keep you from seeing that our kids are mooning you and giving you the finger as you weave in and out of traffic, in your little convertible, putting our lives in danger. Also, you wouldn't want to see my son throwing up on his sister. Again.
Armed with such research, automakers have, over the past decade, ramped up their SUV designs to appeal even more to the "reptilian" instincts of the many Americans who are attracted to SUVs not because of their perceived safety, but for their obvious aggressiveness. Automakers have intentionally designed the latest models to resemble ferocious animals. The Dodge Durango, for instance, was built to resemble a savage jungle cat, with vertical bars across the grille to represent teeth and big jaw-like fenders. Bradsher quotes a former Ford market researcher who says the SUV craze is "about not letting anything get in your way, and at the extreme, about intimidating others to get out of your way."
Aggressiveness? It's hard to feel aggressive when you have three kids screaming about Yu-Gi-Oh! cards in the back seat and the Radio Disney blaring from the speakers.
My friend owns a Durango. She bought it because she liked the extra seat in the back; she can carpool and be able to buckle all the kids in safely (oops, I forgot, she's not supposed to care about anyones kids but her own!). I'm sure my she never did get the "looks like a ferocious beast" thing when she picked the car out. Jaws, teeth, jungle cat - now you're just getting silly.
Not surprisingly, most SUV customers over the past decade hail from a group that is the embodiment of American narcissism: baby boomers. Affluent, and often socially liberal, baby boomers have embraced the four-wheel-drive SUV as a symbol of their ability to defy the conventions of old age, of their independence and "outdoorsiness," making the off-road vehicle a force to be reckoned with on the American blacktop.
Actually, I bought an SUV because I have a serious case of penis-envy. But that's just me.
Ironically, SUVs are particularly dangerous for children, whose safety is often the rationale for buying them in the first place. Because these beasts are so big and hard to see around (and often equipped with dark-tinted glass that's illegal in cars), SUV drivers have a troubling tendency to run over their own kids. Just recently, in October, a wealthy Long Island doctor made headlines after he ran over and killed his two-year-old in the driveway with his BMW X5. He told police he thought he'd hit the curb.
Oh, come on now. That's stretching it a bit. I can recall at least two similar incidents right here on Long Island where people with regular cars ran their kids over. I'd like to see the statistics on people with compact cars who run down their own kids v. people with SUVs who do the same, and break it down by income level while you're at it. Because it had so much bearing on the story that the guy was a "wealthy doctor."
But if soccer moms and office-park dads really need to ferry a lot of people around, they could simply get a large car or a minivan, which Bradsher hails as a great innovation for its fuel efficiency, safety, and lower pollution. (And minivans don't have a disproportionately high kill rate for motorists or pedestrians when they get into accidents.) According to industry market research, minivan drivers also tend to be very nice people. Minivans are favored by senior citizens and others (male and female, equally) who volunteer for their churches and carpool with other people's kids. But that's the problem. SUV owners buy them precisely because they don't want the "soccer mom" stigma associated with minivans.
Hey, I used to have a minivan! A 94 Plymouth Voyager. The ex took off with it when he left. Does this mean I used to be a nice person but now I'm not? My ex is nice? Hold on there, buddy. Now you're talking complete nonsense.
As for the "soccer mom" stigma, everyone knows that soccer moms don't drive mini-vans anymore. They drive those ferocious Durangos.
While Bradsher does a magnificent job of shattering the myths about SUVs, he has a difficult time proposing a solution. Sport utility vehicles have become like guns: Everyone knows they're dangerous, but you can't exactly force millions of Americans to give them up overnight.
Nah. Not even gonna touch that one.
...activists have begun to leave nasty flyers on SUV windshields berating drivers for fouling the environment and other offenses.
Yes, and to prove what great storage space my SUV has, you should see how many dead activists can fit in the back of my Explorer.
Relax, I'm kidding.
Anyhow, I have to head out to work now. Can't wait to run down a few old ladies while I'm driving like a maniac and talking on my cell phone to a friend about which expensive restaurant we will meet at for lunch. Then I'll pretend I'm single and flirt with egotistical, self-centered men driving similar SUVs as I shout "Fuck America and fuck your safety!"
But that penis-envy thing - that's all true.
(And before you all start leaving comments about the oooiiiiiiillll, I get better mileage on the Explorer than I got on the car I drove before it).
*update* Improved Clinch had a bit to say previously on the subject - and it's a slow day as I have spotty internet connection at work today.