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January 21, 2003 10:54 AM   Subscribe

"Buying an SUV is partly an act of fantasy." In the interest of throwing gasoline on the fire, I present David Brooks, SUV apologist, in the Wall Street Journal.
posted by serafinapekkala (50 comments total)

 
Brooks goes on to equate SUV-ownership with "having a little poetry in your life." Had I not read his sub-par book "Bobos In Paradise" I'd think he was kidding. Put me firmly on the geek team in his little scheme...
posted by serafinapekkala at 10:57 AM on January 21, 2003


strange that you would find an article like this in a principled rag like the wall street journal. perhaps they're trying to tap into the selfish simpleton market?
posted by mcsweetie at 10:59 AM on January 21, 2003


"...And so every few years days the geeks MeFites pick on some feature of jock life (McMansions, corporations, fraternities, country clubs) and get all worked up about it."
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:59 AM on January 21, 2003


GO BUCS.

Err, wait..
posted by xmutex at 11:02 AM on January 21, 2003


Not this agaaaaaaaain. [Hurriedly leaves thread to go find a nice civil obese-passengers-and-airplane-seats thread.]
posted by orange swan at 11:14 AM on January 21, 2003


from the article:

" On the one hand, there's the genteel elite, which lives in a world of literature, ideas, refinement and modesty. On the other, there's the aristocracy of commerce, people who thrive through self-assertion, competitiveness, daring and magnetism. To put it in modern terms, there are geeks and jocks."

What an idiot. This is the most ridiculous assertion I've ever read.

Further, the author takes great liberty at culling through History and rearranging events for a lackluster attempt at comedic hyperbole.

To put it in modern terms, the author is a journalistic hack.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 11:14 AM on January 21, 2003


Buying any brand name or otherwise advertised product is an act of fantasy. The fantasy is laid out to them via the commercial, and the consumer enters that fantasy as soon as s/he uses/displays/wears the corresponding item.
posted by pinto at 11:14 AM on January 21, 2003


To put it in modern terms, the author is a journalistic hack.

This goes for most of The Weekly Standard, as well.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 11:17 AM on January 21, 2003


So being smart, more socially-conscious and responsible is a bad thing? Gee, give me the geeks anyday. Of course, just cause he may be right about the whole geek vs jock thing doesn't mean that SUV's are anything but the chosen mode of transport for the narcissistic minions of satan.
posted by answergrape at 11:17 AM on January 21, 2003


Nobody seems to assault pickup-truck drivers, even though some of the newer pickups look like wheeled aircraft carriers and their beds are surprisingly unscuffed. Nobody picks on minivans, though the Dodge Grand Caravan ES gets only 6 miles more per gallon than the Dodge Durango SUV.

Who said we geeks agreed with people driving around empty minivans and ill used monster trucks? I didn't say it was any better than driving around an SUV. Any sense of logic in this article is a fantasy.

I'm changing the climate! Ask me how!
posted by BlueWolf at 11:25 AM on January 21, 2003


Heh. With an axe like that, Brooks oughta be on Metafilter.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:35 AM on January 21, 2003


pinto: excellent observation and right on the money.
answergrape: yours is an urban-centric viewpoint. amongst city-dwellers, perhaps SUV owners are minions of satan. amongst the rest of us, it's a different story.
posted by quonsar at 11:37 AM on January 21, 2003


He's probably just trying to encourage everyone to get their $75,000 tax writeoffs for purchasing an SUV. Looking out for the little guy, is what he's doing. How could anyone turn down a "practically free" Hummer?
posted by RKB at 11:37 AM on January 21, 2003


"Nobody picks on minivans, though the Dodge Grand Caravan ES gets only 6 miles more per gallon than the Dodge Durango SUV" - WSJ

"[Durango's engine] that achieves 12-mpg in the city and 16-mpg on the highway. " -http://autos.yahoo.com/newcars/details/dodge03durango/?refsrc=autos/ads/revshare/shopping

Average of say 14mpg. SIX mpg is FORTY TWO percent more efficient. good LORD! it's not a MERE 6 miles. it's a WHOPPING 42 percent.

So.. if it ruins the environment, but adds poetry to our lives. it's ok? Man, i'm gonna get one of those nifty COAL BURNING furnaces for my backyard. Hey, it's dirty/gross/increases Greenhouse gases, but it's POETRY.

grrr..
posted by eurasian at 11:40 AM on January 21, 2003


the author takes great liberty at culling through History and rearranging events for a lackluster attempt at comedic hyperbole.

Of course, this is David Brooks, and he's probably got that quote across the top of his resume.
posted by Ty Webb at 11:59 AM on January 21, 2003


I'll grant that he's honest about why he wants the SUV. He admits that he doesn't need it at all, but that he wants it because it fuels his fantasy, his jock-y desire for a muscle car, something bigger and badder than anyone else.
But everything else he says is silly.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:00 PM on January 21, 2003


I've always sniffed some beta-male posturing in all the complaining about SUVs -- Brooks, as always, finds a funny way to keep his finger (sort of) on the pulse of upper-middle-class people with college degrees! SUVs are big cars for people who live big -- with lots of kids, pets, golf clubs, groceries, and other things to fill up their big cars.

Don't get me wrong, I still think that H2s are almost sublimely ridiculous, mega-SUVs generally excessives, and mini-SUVs impractical and unsafe ... but also note that my wife, our one child, and a full load of groceries don't leave room for a Home Depot run in a full-size station wagon, so a reasonable SUV will probably be inevitable once there are three kids each with hockey gear.
posted by MattD at 12:01 PM on January 21, 2003


*shrug* The sad fact is that he's right about geeks vs. jocks, but it might be more of a "people who think" vs. "people who don't think" dichotomy.

Let me put it this way: I ride motorcycles. My 500lbs bike puts out 96 horsies to the rear wheel, as tested on the dyno at the local speed shop.
When I'm riding, the wind sings past my helmet. The road speaks through the suspension and I feel every bit of texture. THAT is poetry. All these idiots in their luxo barges are missing out.
posted by SpecialK at 12:03 PM on January 21, 2003


err, make that a "people who think" versus "people who don't think, they just do" dichotomy.

Some people think about their actions and the impact they'll have. It's in their makeup and part of their personality. Other people don't think about impact or consequences, they just reach out and grab and go and do and damn the torpedos.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that the "red-headed stepchild", my bike, gets almost 50mpg...
posted by SpecialK at 12:07 PM on January 21, 2003




The H2 is a Canyonero without the folksy jingle. Life following the Simps...errr... Art.
posted by rowell at 12:16 PM on January 21, 2003


Isn't an allusion to a 1986 Peter Gabriel song more or less exactly a beta male response? (Just kidding, octobersuprise, I'm sure you're an alpha male to beat all -- assuming you're male.)

Being serious, though, I think that so long as SUV criticism seems animated by sniffing disdain at suburban lifestyles, it won't have much traction. When, on the other hand, there is real sympathy to the needs of someone who needs to pick three kids up from hockey practice with gear bags bigger than they are, after having loaded up a weeks worth of grocery for the kids and whichever of their friends stops by for dinner, then maybe people who don't actually have as many kids or buy as many groceries will think twice about buying themselves a Hummer.
posted by MattD at 12:17 PM on January 21, 2003


Geeks and Jocks, huh. Right. I think the Auto industry's own studies of SUV owners revealing the average SUV driver to be - as (how did it go now?) - it was something like "mean, self centered, worried about their marraige, less likely to be community oriented", blah blah blah, was on the money - not to mention dense. Hey - that's on the average. I've known some nice SUV drivers.

But this schlock of Brooks' (?!) - "It's a way to connect imaginatively with a more inspiring life than the one you actually lead. Like every muscle car before it, SUVs are big, dangerous and superfluous, but they're also poetry made of metal. They're symptoms of a latent spiritedness, even in a sedate suburban world. There's nothing wrong with having a little poetry in your life." Poetry made of metal? Would this guy know poetry if it ran over his foot? I guess his life must be really, really boring.

Quonsar - I think SUV's are pretty rare in the country. They are a suburban fetish, largely. People in the bondocks can't afford them, and buy more usefull vehicles - like ten to twenty year old toyota and datsun pick up trucks.

Poetic? - an SUV is far less poetic and appealing than a wallowing water buffalo.
posted by troutfishing at 12:21 PM on January 21, 2003


SUVs are big cars for people who live big -- with lots of kids, pets, golf clubs, groceries, and other things to fill up their big cars.

Let me guess... You work in advertising?

What, no? You should. If you can pick bullshit like that out of thin air, you'll have a long, soul-killing career.
posted by SweetJesus at 12:27 PM on January 21, 2003


MattD - I doubt the world is full of sympathy for that American suburban dilemna.....have you ever owned a VW bus? They were BIG boxes with little engines (pretty efficient, too, for the time). Such vehicles - efficient, spartan cargo vehicle with small motors - are no longer built. The closest things, though, are the Dodge caravans, Ford Windstars, etc. - "luxury"cargo vans, really. And guess what - they are safer than SUV's and use much less gas. The payload is comparable too.
posted by troutfishing at 12:29 PM on January 21, 2003


I thought it was rather funny, in a confrontational way, up until the part where he asserts that SUVs are "poetry." I'm sorry, SUVs are not poetry, they're WalMarts on wheels. They have about as much poetry as a Big Mac.
posted by fungible at 12:33 PM on January 21, 2003


I'm sure you're an alpha male to beat all

No, I'm a Beta. And I'm awfully glad I'm a Beta, too, because I don't work so hard.

(I wasn't mocking you, Matt. But 3 "bigs" in the same sentence make it easy to poke fun at the whole philosophy of More Is Better of which SUV's are frequently a part.)
posted by octobersurprise at 12:46 PM on January 21, 2003


Wow, it's been, like... days since we brought this topic up.

Anyhoo...

MattD- When, on the other hand, there is real sympathy to the needs of someone who needs to pick three kids up from hockey practice with gear bags bigger than they are, after having loaded up a weeks worth of grocery for the kids and whichever of their friends stops by for dinner, then maybe people who don't actually have as many kids or buy as many groceries will think twice about buying themselves a Hummer.

See, I think this is a viewpoint that comes from a "need" that's completely manufactured from the auto industry. "Back when I was a kid," people seemed to manage hauling stuff around just fine without SUV's. Granted, there were only two of us kids in my family, but we got by with only a sedan growing up (there was a brief appearance of a station wagon).

Families aren't getting bigger, and the amount of gear people carry around hasn't increased by any order of magnitude (has it?), so where is the perceived "need" for a bigger vehicle coming from? The auto industry.

RKB- that link is unbearably depressing.
posted by mkultra at 12:49 PM on January 21, 2003


I think that being a college perfesser qualifies me as a geek, but:

I don't think I have beta-male syndrome. One of my dream cars is a 1970 or thereabouts Dodge Challenger convertible with a 440, which would also get horrific mileage.

But SUV's, at least the recent ones that never see dirt, are still lame and stupid and reek of something close to riceboy mentality. At least I'd bet that most of the old muscle cars out there have been past 120 from time to time and leave a little patch at the intersection pretty frequently, unlike the vast majority of SUV's whose only experience with dirt is a long driveway.

They're just station wagons trying to pretend not to be so that their owners can tell themselves that they're still cool. This is lame in the same way that a really bad toupee is lame. It would be far less lame to just admit that you're Mommy or Daddy now even though you swore you'd never turn into That and get the #@$% wagon or minivan like your parents had, just as it is less lame to just go gracefully bald than to wear a bad rug. Getting a sport ute doesn't make you cooler than your dad. You're just as uncool as he was and trying to cover it up with a bad rug, which makes you even lamer.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:52 PM on January 21, 2003


mkultra - "Back when I was a kid," people seemed to manage hauling stuff around just fine without SUV's." -

For that matter, I've seen pictures -from the 1930's- of resorts built on high moutains, with parking lots filled with 1930's cars - balloon tires, shitty brakes, and all! Flash forward to the year 2000, and what is the parking lot filled with? You guessed it. Yet somehow, those 1930's cars got up and down the moutain road just the same. People probably just drove a lot slower.
posted by troutfishing at 12:54 PM on January 21, 2003


Following up on eurasian's comment....

Using those numbers, and assuming an average driving span of, for simplicity's sake, 100,000 miles...

Dodge Caravan for 100,000 miles = 5,000 gallons of gas.
Dodge Durango for 100,000 miles = 6,250 gallons of gas.

and for comparison's sake, my Saturn...
100,000 miles at avg. 34 mpg = 2941 gallaons of gas.

Not even looking at emissions, this should speak volumes.
posted by Ufez Jones at 1:21 PM on January 21, 2003


MattD: "so a reasonable SUV will probably be inevitable once there are three kids each with hockey gear."

Wow, just like the Brady Bunch! Er, oh, I see now. ;-)

Trout: your comment made me curious about the current Eurovan -- it has really bulked up! Interestingly enough, the mileage specs are the same as my '78 Camper with an automatic (ine with an air-cooled flat 4 and the Eurovan with a V-6.)

I reckon the America market was tired of that underpowered bus, although mine can still make it up those mountain tops you mention. Just v e r y slowly. I imagine though, that if they put one of this era's efficient four cylinder engine in one, they would do better than 20 mpg, even though the engine is trying to push a giant Saltine's tin through the air.
posted by Dick Paris at 1:35 PM on January 21, 2003


ROU_Xenophobe--love it! The SUV/toupee analogy will now become a part of my vocabulary. Thanks!
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:50 PM on January 21, 2003


VW GOLF 1.9 TDI for 100,000 miles = 2040 gallons of diesel
posted by bureaustyle at 2:05 PM on January 21, 2003


Dick Paris - you know you can get a conversion kit to put in many different types of engines in to replace that pitifull excuse for a motor which plagued the 80's vanagons and westphalias? Such as.....a six cylinder, 160 horse Nissan Maxima motor! Or......you could go a different route and install a recent diesel and run your bus on....cooking oil.

ROU_Xenophobe - I forgive you for our recent bickering.....

"why is an SUV like a bad toupee?" - because....(fill in blank)
posted by troutfishing at 2:17 PM on January 21, 2003


Why not motorhomes? Why not Jeep Wranglers? (My dad's Wrangler/Rubicon gets worse gas mileage than his old Tahoe!)Why not the empty city busses of Phoenix?

I just find it hard to understand why people get all worked up about SUV's when they are NOT the only gas guzzling thing on the road. They are just the most prevalant, and easiest to "pooh-pooh."
posted by Tunnel Hair at 2:21 PM on January 21, 2003


I'm a bit unclear as to how an average sized family needs something more than say, a Subaru Outback to get around comfortably. You want prestige? Go upmarket and get a Passat 4Motion wagon (estate) or an Audi A4.

When I was growing up my mom had a VW Rabbit (Mk1 Golf for our non-american friends) and my dad had a Toyota Corolla. I don't remember us having to leave bags in the driveway or anything. I'm not particularly annoyed by SUVs, I just don't... understand them.
posted by jalexei at 2:29 PM on January 21, 2003


I just switched from an Xterra to a Protege5 sport wagon. Same amount of room, savin lots of gas. I did not realize how obnoxious I was in that big beast of a vehicle until I get stuck behind them now. Buh!
posted by bmxGirl at 2:40 PM on January 21, 2003


I just find it hard to understand why people get all worked up about SUV's when they are NOT the only gas guzzling thing on the road.

I don't have anything against guzzling gas. I just think gas guzzlers ought to deserve it by being mackin' rides, and most sport-utes of the Navigator ilk just don't mack as far as I can see.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:52 PM on January 21, 2003


I'm starting to wonder if people just bash SUV drivers in order to feel better about their own bad environmental habits. It is yet another way to take the moral high road while ignoring ones own gas consumption, lack of recycling, lack of global outlook etc. etc. whatever. Yes, SUVs are mostly unnecessary, but no, SUV drivers are not morally corrupt 'minions of satan'. They are just people who fulfilled their need/desire for a vehicle without consulting you. If you drive a car, you are doing as much damage as anybody, just accept it. If owning a car proves to be a moral problem in your life, please find another option other than attacking other car owners.
posted by elwoodwiles at 2:56 PM on January 21, 2003


Why not motorhomes? Why not Jeep Wranglers?...Why not the empty city busses of Phoenix?

Well I think what mose people are upset about are that 99% of SUVs are not used for their design purposes. I can't think of very many people who tool around in a motor homes to pick up groceries or drop their kids off at school.

Isn't a wrangler the original SUV? I'm not really sure what your point is with this but I'd consider them to be in the same SUV group.

I can't speak to empty buses in Phoenix but in most places it only takes 2-3 riders per trip to make a bus more cost effective and fuel efficient than an SUV....
posted by aaronscool at 3:04 PM on January 21, 2003


i see the only way to increase gas milage is to tax gasoline,
i propose 6-7 dollars per gallon

if an European family can get around in a 5-door Honda Civic with a 1.5L engine, Americans can do it as well

1. Tax gasoline, tax cigarettes and alcohol to the highest possible amount and use to money to build "free" high standard educational system, where we have state schools with state of the art equipment

2.Continue to pressure really hard car manufacturers to develop alternative fuel technologies

3. Use tax money to have a free health system, educate people about healthy lifestyles, push for organic farming

I have a dream....
posted by bureaustyle at 3:22 PM on January 21, 2003


I'm just going to get my tank, roll down I-5, and all of you are going to keep your mouths shut.
posted by xmutex at 4:13 PM on January 21, 2003


"Why not the empty city busses of Phoenix?"

I think nobody bothers the city bus system of Phoenix because public transportation lessens the pollution produced by urban commuters.

"[SUVs] are just the most prevalent..."

It is specifically the number of SUVs on the road that makes their poor gas mileage such a problem.
posted by BlueWolf at 5:22 PM on January 21, 2003


Bureaustyle - you take your dream....and run with it~!

ElwoodWiles - not exactly: there is a difference between the fuel consumption of cars and that of SUV's. Nonetheless, vehicles represent only a part of American material consumption. There are many other aspects to excessive American consumption patterns than just SUV's. But SUV's are the most egregious example (next to 40,000 square foot houses).
posted by troutfishing at 7:21 PM on January 21, 2003


Bureaustyle said: if an European family can get around in a 5-door Honda Civic with a 1.5L engine, Americans can do it as well

I don't think most European families pack into upgraded rickshaws like 1.5l Honda Civics because they like to but because they have to. For one, gas prices in Europe are much higher--3 to 4 dollars on average. This is especially high considering the high ratio of the average American's income to the average European's income. Two, streets and parking spaces are much narrower in Europe. An SUV isn't useful if you have to park it in the countryside before returning home in the city. Three, some governments tax emissions providing another financial disincentive.

Sorry, but as much as European's like to think they're so much more evolved in their thinking than we are, I think we all know that they would love to be able to stretch their knees out from under their chins while driving to work.
posted by joebob at 9:23 PM on January 21, 2003


In the interest of equal time.
posted by moonbiter at 9:28 PM on January 21, 2003


lets combine the two things we love talking about the most: SUVs and the new tax plan!
posted by mcsweetie at 10:13 PM on January 21, 2003


The Passat 1.9TDi station wagon gets similar milage to that VW Golf and is a class larger. You can also get a A6 2.5TDi, which is actually a luxury car that gets *excellent* milage.

Then of course there's the Lupo... 1500 galons of diesel/100.000 miles.
posted by jedrek at 9:04 AM on January 22, 2003


I agree that SUVs are over-consuming, thats not the problem I have with the debate. The problem I have concerns the way morality gets scaled around in the argument. Would I be more moral then a SUV owner if I drove a smaller car with better gas mileage? Would I be even more moral if I drove a hybrid? Would I rock the house of uber-moral existence if I actually just walked? SUVs aren't just a problem, they are a symptom of a larger problem. Debating the moral qualities of SUV owners detracts from a wider conversation about consumerism. As it is, the SUV debate just seems to be people trying to feel better about their own inconsistencies. 'My car gets X mpg, yours gets X+15, therefore I'm a better person then you'. Consumerism, in those terms, remains safely unaddressed and nothing will change.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:27 PM on January 22, 2003


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