The Decline of Car Culture

March 23, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

(I was going to call this post SocioBlog Scoops the Times - By Five Years”)

Nearly five years ago, a post on this blog said
cars may have lost their symbolic value as markers of identity.
Today, a front-page story in the Times  says
many young consumers today just do not care that much about cars.
My comment came after I’d been watching “American Graffiti” on TV.  My teenage son was in the room, and it just seemed to me that while the cars in the movie carried so much meaning for me, the cars of his generation were at best transportation, at worst nuisances or eco-villains.  As I put it five years ago,
Occasionally, I would offer an astute cinematic comment like, “The fifty-eight Impala, what a car.”   But later as we were talking about it, my son wondered what sorts of things from today would trigger the same kinds of response forty or fifty years from now.  “Will we look at a movie and say, ‘Wow, a 2007 Accord!’?”
Or as the Times says today,
That is a major shift from the days when the car stood at the center of youth culture and wheels served as the ultimate gateway to freedom and independence. Young drivers proudly parked Impalas at a drive-in movie theater, lusted over cherry red Camaros as the ultimate sign of rebellion or saved up for a Volkswagen Beetle on which to splash bumper stickers and peace signs.
This loss of iconic status for the car is not universal.  It has happened primarily among the current counterparts of the kids in “American Graffiti” – white, middle-class, mostly suburban. Young, urban African Americans may still prize their ride.  In the 1960s, we had the Beach Boys, an unquestionably white group, singing about T-birds, 409s, and deuce coupes, while their imitators paid homage to Barracudas, super-stocked Dodges, and many others.  For today’s equivalent, you have to go to the rappers, who favor Beamers, Benzes, Bentleys, Escalades, and Lamborghinis.

1 comment:

PCM said...

Maybe once all the poor people got cars, the middle class stopped caring so much? Or maybe to be into cars you have to be really rich or willing to get your hands dirty and fix things. And who but rich can pay others to do so? And who but members of the working class are willing to do so themselves?

Or could it be that cars are no longer associated with the latest in advanced tech? And the hybrids that are, do seem to be loved more by those who like that kind of thing.

God knows there are still a lot people into their cars here in Queens. I see their custom Mazdas speed and make a lot of noise and think, "my, what stupid people drive those things."

Maybe one has to want to (but be unable to) acquire a car for a long time to be really into cars. If daddy buys a safe used car when you're 16, you take it for granted.

Personally, I've always associated subways with freedom. Not the open road, much less the traffic jammed one.