From the outset, the corporate capitalist automotive-industrial complex has both generated and benefited from one the greatest floods of propaganda in human history. Buried under countless PR operations and relentless incantations about how “Americans are having a love affair with the car,” the actual history of the making of cars-first transportation in the United States has long since been ignored and forgotten, even by the would-be critics. Fortunately, fragments of this real history still exist, if you know where to look.
Today’s example is a reminder of the actual history of car capitalists’ efforts in the area of “safety,” or, more accurately, danger management.
By its nature, cars-first transportation is massively, needlessly dangerous. The death toll from car collisions alone (i.e., not counting those resulting from pollution, bodily deconditioning, and oil wars) has been somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 million in the United States alone over the past century. Many times that number have been injured in crashes.
Q: Until the popular uprisings of the 1960s, what was the auto-industrial complex’s main response to the fact that their product is a severe public health menace?
A: To harangue drivers about the importance of “courtesy” on the road.
Click on this image to see what DbC means:
This is the lead article from the November 1947 edition of Highway Highlights, the magazine of the National Highway Users Conference, a front group designed to cloak the automotive-industrial complex’s lobbying efforts in the mantle of ordinary automobile users, as DbC explained recently here.
At about this same time, the NHUC was forming its “Motor Manners Project,” through which it aimed to ensure that the thesis “driver and pedestrian behavior is a key factor in [automotive] accidents” would be the leading point of concern in safety debates. Part of this Project was retention of none other than Emily Post to write and promote Motor Manners, a booklet devoted to the MMP’s theme that “impolite driving” was the root cause of the nation’s automotive death toll. Motor Manners was, of course, “distributed free to individual motorists.”
As you can see in the linked piece above, such was the NHUC’s chutzpah that it not only made the effort to transfer blame for the inherent danger of their product to drivers, but also to passengers. “The right kind of backseat driver,” it preached, “may be able to cut the nation’s traffic toll….Perhaps in many of these cases [of careless or speeding drivers] the passengers could have saved their lives if they had been willing to speak up and remonstrate with the driver.”
The following month, Highway Highlights published a follow-up piece, in which it endorsed the precedent set by Maryland Circuit Court judge Stephen R. Collins, who had ruled — perhaps after having read something distributed by the NHUC itself — that “the degree of care and vigilance which the guest is required to exercise for his own protection is not different from that required of the driver.”
That, my friends, is my stack of photocopies from a week of digging into the Library of Congress’s archives on the history of capitalist propagandizing and lobbying on behalf of cars-first transportation. Believe me when I say it would be cars-only, if these people had gotten 100, rather than 95, percent of their way. Stay tuned for reportage and analysis, both here and in the Courting Carmageddon book.
This, ladies and gents, is what’s “new” from the Chrysler Group LLC.
The ad? A ham-handed raft of stale jingoism, flattery, and deceptions, made by the always atrocious Wieden and Kennedy propaganda mill.
This much is screamingly obvious: “Our” overclass (and it includes the new Italian bosses) is simply and completely incapable of doing anything new, in even the slightest degree.
From the beginning, corporations and allied planners and politicians have promoted the automobile with large doses of syrupy propaganda about its overwhelming wonders and benignity. This wave of dogma routinely includes paeans to the automobile’s allegedly democratic and egalitarian nature. According to Rutgers University transportation engineer James A. Dunn, for example, not only does “the auto provide a kind of individualist equality that is particularly well suited to American values,” but owning and driving cars “unites [Americans] across class, racial, ethnic, and religious lines as few other aspects of our society can.”
Alas, Dunn seems not to have examined the most basic data on the distribution of automobiles in the United States, to say nothing of the world. If he had bothered to do so, he might have discovered that, contrary to long-running industry intimations and intellectual pre-suppositions, cars are, in fact, one of the most unequally distributed product categories in the United States.
Here is a table I just assembled from the most recent Consumer Expenditure Survey:
As you can see, the rich are savers/investors, but they also dominate spending. New vehicle spending in particular.
That sucking sound you hear? A century’s worth of cars = freedom + democracy incantation going into the flushbowl, where it belongs.
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!