Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The meaning of cars

OK, so I've been on a car kick lately.

On Monday I posted Elio (it's a car) has its fanatic fans and outraged detractors. Incidentally, I subsequently discovered that I have a higher Klout score than Elio Motors (59 at the time vs. 57 at the time). Then again, I also noted that Klout may not be an accurate indicator of...klout.

Then, on Tuesday, I posted Does a fatal crash mean the end of young adult driving?, which noted that the death of one young adult from driving could be sufficient reason to ban all young adults from driving. Made sense to me at the time.

Since I seem to be on this car kick, I initially thought that I'd spend Wednesday on a musical post in my Empoprise-MU blog, addressing the topic of Gary Numan...

...Guitar Hero. After all, "Are 'Friends' Electric?" is as much a guitar song as a synth song, and even "Cars" has some guitar elements, according to George Chesterton:

Cars has an electro riff that would not be out of place on Jimmy Page's Les Paul....[T]he force of the multi-layered Moog synthesiser parts is almost overwhelming. Using effects usually associated with heavy guitars – reverb, flanging and phasers – Numan drenched the gliding synth lines so they flow over you like wave after wave of ice water.

But before I started fleshing out my Empoprise-MU post, I was struck by something else that Chesterton said:

But Cars contains a bit of futurology that was rather sophisticated. Numan positions the car not as a mode of mechanical transport, but as a fetishised, abstract interface with the rest of the world. This is – in a pop form – what the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard had been writing about a few years earlier. To be fair to Numan, this notion of the car in relation to individuals and society has only deepened in the decades since.

What does that have to do with Bowie or Kraftwerk? So I looked up a summary of Baudrillard's early thought:

The early Baudrillard described the meanings invested in the objects of everyday life (e.g., the power accrued through identification with one's automobile when driving) and the structural system through which objects were organized into a new modern society (e.g., the prestige or sign-value of a new sports car).

Now I am used to the idea of infusing an automobile with deep meaning - after all, I have lived in the Los Angeles area for over 30 years. But to realize that this thought resonated a continent away was a revelation to me. It shouldn't have been - back when Numan had his greatest popularity, "Rolls Royce" had a particular meaning to the British, whether they were punkers or aristocrats.

Of course, if I may paraphrase the philosopher Virginia Slims, we've come a long way baby. Now we infuse inanimate objects with deep meaning.

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