Convergence on the SUV

Convergence on the SUV

You've probably already noticed that, on a regular basis, a social convergence takes place that results in multiple versions of the same theme being delivered to the American public at the same time. My first recollection of this phenomenon was in 1988, when over a six-month time period you had the release of three nearly identical movies: "Like Father Like Son," "Vice Versa" and "18 Again." While these chunks of celluloid offered the same innocuous theme (a relatively young guy switching bodies — or minds, depending on how you look at it — with a relatively old guy), the fact that three movies with such a blatantly similar story line could hit theaters, at almost the same time, was both amazing and frightening to my naïve 18-year-old mind.

Since then, of course, I've seen "Tombstone"/"Wyatt Earp," "Mission to Mars"/"Red Planet" and, the truly terrible twosome, "Christopher Columbus: The Discovery"/"1492: Conquest of Paradise." Ah, well, Hollywood has been branded with many o' traits, but originality isn't one of them.

Sometimes, however, this social convergence, and its resulting messaging, isn't the fallout of creative theft. Sometimes it's the simultaneous application of logic and common sense by multiple (dare I say great?) minds that think alike.

I'm pleased to announce that I have been a part of just such a convergence. If you read my Carmudgeon column last month, "Why Do You Hate the SUV?", you already know that I identified Keith Bradsher as a whining alarmist of epic proportions; an individual who seems far more concerned with selling his similarly alarmist-titled book (and making SUV drivers feel guilty) than with providing accurate information about the pros and cons surrounding SUV ownership.

The convergence part happened when I read David E. Davis' column in the December 2002 issue of Automobile (two days after my editorial posted here at The title of Mr. Davis' column was "Keith Bradsher Hates SUVs" and the messaging was eerily familiar. Quoting Mr. Davis, "The book charges the automobile industry with improper use of the black arts of advertising and promotion — forcing helpless consumers to march mindlessly off to their local dealer's showroom to buy an SUV that has been deliberately designed to maim, kill and pollute. But if the automobile industry is so smart and so Machiavellian, why is it always behind the curve of consumer behavior? Why was it so tardy in discovering and latching onto the SUV phenomenon in the first place? And if SUVs are so appallingly dangerous, why does the overall traffic death rate continue downward, even as SUVs set new sales records year after year?"

I read this editorial column with both delight and appreciation for David E. Davis' ability to debunk Bradsher's tome of disinformation. But as satisfying as Davis' words proved, it was Steve Thompson's editorial column in the November 11 issue of AutoWeek (which I read two days after reading David E. Davis' column, making it four days after my own editorial column posted on that elevated this theme from coincidence to convergence. Thompson's column also focused on SUV hatred, though it never specifically mentioned Bradsher's book. In his opinion, the basis for the ever-present anti-SUV railings comes not from concerns over the environment, Middle East oil dependency or even public safety, but from a group of people he calls "The Alliance Against Fun" (AAF). As Thompson says, "The SUV phenomenon has been a godsend for the Alliance's true believers. It has enabled them to continue their vitriolic assaults against the implicit freedom of choice and action in automobility, cloaked in the oft-cited reasons why so many dislike sport-utes (even as so many others buy them). But for the AAF types, those issues are just camouflage for what really powers their fury — a fury animated, it seems to me, by the fact millions of people are 'allowed' to make their own choices about what to own and drive, let alone to enjoy."

Needless to say, the concept of three automotive journalists making three nearly identical statements at almost the same time (and, unlike Hollywood screenwriters, not because they were stealing each other's idea) led me to several conclusions. First, we need to find a new term for "phenomenon." Second, Keith Bradsher's book did as much or more to help the SUV (Davis, Thompson and I all rushed to its defense) than to hurt it.

Finally, and this is the most important idea to take away, we need to remember that success in and of itself is not evil, and neither are the symbols of success. Whether you're talking SUV haters or the Alliance Against Fun, it seems obvious that certain types of people have made it their mission to attack success and freedom in any and all forms, and what better representation of success currently exists than the SUV?

For a long time, I've been convinced that the people who attack symbols of success are the same people who don't plan on ever being successful themselves. They figure they'll never be faced with having their income severely taxed or their SUV taken away, so they don't mind the idea of it happening to others. In fact, they sort of like the idea of "sticking it to those rotten rich people."

This is sad for two reasons. First, it's depressing to imagine people who never expect to succeed, despite the vast opportunities provided by this country. Second, beyond not planning to be successful themselves, they let the ugly power of envy lead them into attacking what are basic foundations of this country: wealth and freedom of choice.

Even more frightening is the idea that if Thompson is correct about a group that simply hates the idea of people making free choices, why end the analysis with choices about what people buy and drive? If these people can attack my choice of transportation, will they also go after my choice of religion or occupation (all in the name of saving the planet or protecting us from ourselves, of course)?

So once more I'm going to ask you: Why do you hate the SUV? If you truly feel they are wasteful and unsafe, at least that's a position I can respect. When a single person drives one only though metropolitan areas with little or no cargo, an SUV is more wasteful than a large sedan (though the increasing efficiency of the SUV is rapidly diluting that argument). But a person with people and cargo to carry has every reason to want an SUV. And, perhaps the most important point made here: Even people who don't need an SUV have every right to buy and drive one. If you're going to suggest that people who don't need SUVs can't own one, you might as well outlaw Starbucks coffee and cable. Nobody needs either of those things, and I could certainly make arguments about wasted resources and personal safety as it relates to both of them.

Who knows? Maybe next month David E. Davis, Steve Thompson and I will all tackle the topic of why we need five versions of HBO? Sure it's great to have that kind of viewer choice, but it also seems rather wasteful to me.

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