A recent Washington Post article attempts to operate as a eulogy for car culture, featuring examples of aging wrench-turners, and sleepy cruise nights. The problem is, this is not a story about car culture. It is a story about octogenarians, and it completely misses all the amazing things going on in the world of cars right now.
The story claims that all young people have stopped caring about cars, in favor of smartphones and social media. Have you been on Instagram lately? Half of the Instagram posts out there are pictures of customized supercars commissioned by celebrities for their growing collections. Meanwhile, Apple is bringing that smartphone connectivity to your car in all new ways. It may shift the focus from what’s under the hood to what’s in the dash, but people still care about cars.
Another worn out argument made in the article is how Millennials are waiting until later in life to get their licenses. Yes, only half of Millennials have their license by 18, but what does that really mean? Many communities have improving mass transit systems and more young people are living (and staying) in cities than before. Do you really need a car if you live in Park Slope and have access to multiple subway and bus lines?
“I’d like to be back in the ’50s.” Says Chuch Mecca, who WaPo interviewed and seemingly hinged the entire fate of car culture on. Ugh. This is such a tired old cliche and one of the greatest examples of people not getting car culture. There was once a time when car enthusiast culture and driving culture were inextricably linked. As the highways stretched across the country in the ‘50s, a generation of young people found the growing availability of the automobile as a way to socialize. The car became a necessity if you wanted to have a social life.
We live in an age with smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, FaceTime, and more. You don’t have to drive to socialize with friends, and somehow that is demonized. Understandably, kids will get into trouble.
There’s a good chance they might be using that car to go to a friend’s house, raid the parents’ liquor cabinet and raise all sorts of hell. But, like Mecca said, those are the days he longs for. It doesn’t differentiate commuting culture from enthusiast culture, which is just lazy.
What is not considered is how the automotive enthusiast has evolved tremendously since the days of fiddling with carburetors. Now, a tuning shop will hook up a laptop to an engine to modify its engine mapping. You have customizers swapping out the center console of cars for a tablet so it looks more like a Tesla.
So less young people are driving. So what? There are the ones that have become incredibly knowledgable tuners and backers of car culture. The enthusiast community has become more distilled, more concentrated, and perhaps we’re better off for it.
You have kids who watch the show “Initial D” celebrating obscure cars like the Toyota AE86. I’m seeing more and more cars on the road with the “stance” setup. The 4×4/off-road community, with its Jeeps, Toyotas and Suzukis, is as strong as ever. That’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
These are all examples of enthusiasts going out and having fun in their cars. Oh, and they are in motion. Meanwhile, we’re treated to a parking lot full of AARP members in bowling shirts, leaning next to a car that has spent more time being waxed than driven. That is the experience the Old Guard want to glorify?
And what is too bad is us younger guys really, really love the old cars. We love ‘em. There would be no car culture now without the car culture of the ’50s and ’60s. There are even amazing combinations of old and new, like the resto-mod movement. Icon, for instance, builds brand new versions of Toyota FJs and Ford Broncos, not to mention their incredible Derelict line of vehicles. But when an article so egregiously dismisses modern car culture, it forces the younger generation to assert itself in its own defense.
If WaPo were really concerned about he demise of car culture, they would have done their research into where the enthusiasts that are still around are investing their time and money.
Unless, of course, this was just another lamentation of how things aren’t “the way they used to be…” If that were the case, why don’t we ask what happened to poodle skirts, Lucky Strikes and Buddy-freaking-Holly?
The Old Guard thinks car culture is dying, and you almost feel bad. Car culture has changed so much that they don’t even recognize what it looks like anymore.
The truth is, they no longer define car culture anymore. We do.
Note: These musings are strictly the opinion of George Kennedy, Managing Editor of Boldride