Thursday, December 16, 2004

Theorizing Size

Hummers drive me mad* (bad pun intended). My most violent fantasies (involving a sledgehammer and busted glass) have occurred when being accosted on the road in my little car by a massive Hummer even though I typically don’t have a problem with road rage, and try to be a non-aggressive driver. My husband’s Hummer fantasy includes a magic wand and the massive Hummer turning into a Micro Machine. His is funnier and more relevant because it gets at the entire point of the Hummer; it’s enormous size.

It owns the road, disregards inconvenient yellow lines, sits above the average driver, and intimidates with its size and ability to literally run you over. The size, build, and need to drive one on the plains of Illinois are domineering and aggressive. It fulfills some peculiar masculine obsession with size. I’m going to keep this “clean,” as my grandma would say, but it doesn't take much for your mind to wander through the need some men have for adjectives regarding bigness to be associated with them - in a variety of ways, not just the most obvious.

So here’s my theory. A particular type of masculinity obsessed with power, control, and (in)security is pacified (however not satisfied) through extensions of enormous size - i.e. Hummer. Insecurities subside within the giant vestige that can crush the little cars and pedestrians around him. He owns the road. He can control the entire flow of traffic if he so chooses. He is a massive man in his giant Hummer. Fantasy fulfilled.

Didn’t Hanna Arendt have a theory about bigness in her Origins of Totalitarianism? I don’t think she had “big daddy” or "big papa" fantasies in mind, but maybe she should have.

*I don't really like SUVs in general, but I have a particular revulsion for Hummers.


At 7:57 PM, Blogger Carolyn said...

I couldn't agree with your post more. I often wonder if Hummer drivers have any social consciousness at all. Without even considering the political implications of guzzling gas, how about the fact that there are predictions that we will run out of oil shortly. What makes a Hummer driver think they should be able to use up so much more of a natural resource than everyone else? And now to get political, are all Hummer drivers pro-war? Because that's why we're over there, to secure the oil supply that fuels their tank. That they need more of than anyone else. And finally its a social status symbol. The only thing comparable would be to secure a great big flashing dollar sign to the top of their car. Hummers are even more in your face than other luxury automobiles. In addition to being extremely expensive, Hummer's cost more in upkeep than your average BMW, they get far worse gas mileage. But, its all part of the persona, the Hummer driver "can afford it".

At 10:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Car culture, what you gonna do? I'm not sure tooling about in a little Honda is much better that stomping about in Hummer, both add to the "evils" pointed out - Erin's "disregarding yellow lines" and "ability to literally run you over", onto Carolyn's "guzzling gas", being pro-war since war is about oil, "social status symbol", "what makes a [car user] think they should be able to use so much more of a natural resource than anyone else?"

I agree with Erin's dislike for the Hummer, and the mentality we seem to enjoy fixing to these ne'er-do-wells. Also like Erin, when I do drive (which I hate doing) I sometimes get a fix of road rage. I get these urges to "get back at" people who race in front of me or use the parking lane to pass - often enough I can let it go (realizing how yucky it is), but when it hits, ICK. The "size matters" read for the Hummers works just as well as for a patriarchial read of the automobile as a refuge for the indivudual, a consumer of limited resources, a despoiler of the environment, etc.

There is too little working for having a car, even a little one, and so much against it. It is a wonder that "good liberal" types embrace their cars as much as they do.


At 10:28 AM, Blogger Erin said...

Jonk, I do agree car culture is a big part of the problem. I don't like driving, and I don't particularly embrace my car. However, we do live in a car culture, as you said. The patterns of our lives are structured around this culture. My family lives in a rural area, which I cannot get to without my little car (morally or resourcefully good or bad - it is an immediate reality).

But, I disagree that there isn't a significant difference between a Hummer (a military vehicle used as a civilian status symbol) and a Honda Civic - that gets 30 something miles/per gallon and an oil change every 9,000 miles (rather than the typical 3,000); it's not hybrid, but it's definitely not a Hummer. And turning radius, Civic wins again.

While our public transportation system is rather good in Champaign/Urbana, and although they don't have good paths/lanes for bikers (as opposed to my old home up in Minneapolis/St. Paul), things are close enough around here to ride a bike. So there is a start - which I think a lot of us do. But I wouldn't assume that b/c I have a car and drive one, that I cling to it and the car culture uncritically. I just really hate Hummers.

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