Do cars really suck?

by Michael Smith

Sounds pretty sweeping, doesn't it? Cars suck. Does that mean all cars suck? That nobody should ever build or drive a car? That all the roads should be ripped up and replaced with bike paths?

Of course not. What sucks is car dependence -- car worship -- car tyranny -- car violence. In short, the whole tangle of pathology (thanks, Professor Senator Moynihan) in which we North Americans find ourselves as a result of the one-sided way we've developed our car infrastructure and systematically gutted all the other possibilities. You might say that what sucks is the near-terminal case of car poisoning from which our society suffers.

Well, you ask, why not say that, instead of this inflammatory and categorical abuse of cars in general?

For most North Americans, there is (as yet) no Car Question. It's safe to say that the wisdom of more paving, more parking, more driving is not (yet) widely questioned; nor is there even any awareness that it might be questioned. Moreover, on the cultural plane, the car is still the fetish object par excellence, the utterly fraudulent emblem of personal liberation, as that concept is understood -- that is, systematically twisted and robbed of real meaning -- in our culture of consumption. The car is not an incubus by nature, to be sure; but it has become an incubus by virtue of its hegemony, both in our physical environment and in our emotional universe.

The idea, then, of this site's name is to call attention to the horns, the hooves, and the barbed tail of the incubus; to serve notice, even if we cannot (yet) make everybody see those appurtenances of diabolism, that there are those of us who do see them; to plant, if nothing else, the seed of a doubt that the car, as we know it, is a benevolent force.

We are up against strongly entrenched ideas and attitudes here, reinforced by the entire apparatus of the persuasion industry. Even to appear on the cultural radar screen, under these circumstances, requires us to do something startling.

More startling, one might think, than simply saying that cars suck. And yet, and yet... We recall, in hope, the story of the Emperor who had no clothes. The sage counselors, the noble lords and ladies, the solid citizens and, of course, the Emperor himself, were all convinced that the beautiful new clothes were real. Yet all it took was one honest voice calling attention, with transparent sincerity, to the Emperor's unlovely nakedness, and the whole machinery of collective delusion ground to a halt.

It is that note of plain, blunt, heartfelt sincerity that we are trying to strike here. Car poisoning has made the writer of these words, and the other contributors to these pages, sick -- sick of cars. We're sick of hearing them honk and rev their engines expressively; sick of dodging them; sick to death of what they have done to our countryside and our cities equally; sick of the horrifying slaughter they create in our society year in and year out, and sick of the casual equanimity with which this slaughter is accepted. We are sick of what they have done to our social institutions and our sense of place, and sick of the insensate worship that these Molochs, these Juggernauts, receive. In short, we feel, strongly, that cars... suck.

Maybe if there were a tenth as many, and they were a tenth as powerful, and nobody had to own one, we'd feel differently.

Let's find out.