Friday, July 07, 2006

The Ideal Commodity


My first car was a 1956 two toned, two door gray hardtop.

It was a Chevy, but not an Impala,

Impalas came out in 58, I think.

I was fifteen.

And this car was a beauty.

I had worked part of the summer disking in the hot dusty sun

on our dry land farm on the south side of the Canadian River,

and managed to save enough to go to Amarillo, and to NE 8th Street,

where all the used car dealers displayed their wares.

Six hundred and seventy five dollars was the price I paid.

Later that evening, I took some pals to the drive-in theatre in it.

But, I was looking forward to Saturday, and to my first date with

Marsha. (she was from the other Junior High School)

I picked her up and proudly showed her my new car.

After a half trip around the circular drag,

I hit one of the massive drainage dips in the red brick street.

The car stalled. We coasted to the curb.

I got out. Then I heard a funny "whoof".

I opened the hood.

And a huge flame arose.

I slammed the hood back down. (hoping for a miracle I think)

Then, I watched the paint on the hood quickly bubble

and then crack,

and then it ignited and the paint began to burn.

I suggested to Marsha she should probably get out of the car,

and sprinted across the street and ran into the movie theatre

where I grabbed their fire extinguisher.

By the time I got back to my Chevy, another merchant was already

applying the contents of his fire extinquisher to the cause.

Sort of a new twist to a hot date I guess.

I think I have owned somewhere close to twenty cars.

Even today, I own an Impala. (and it's a fine automobile)

But, in case you haven't noticed it or figured this out,

the American dream is clearly turning into a Global Nightmare.

Here is an excerpt from Monthly Review

"Our" Real Addiction: Capitalist Waste in Transportation
by Michael Dawson

(clip)

Kevin Phillips observes, in America, the non-automotive use of petroleum "is small stuff next to transportation." "Cars and trucks," Phillips notes, "burn an overwhelming two out of every three barrels of oil used in the United States." As Phillips says, this means that "the critical yardstick" for realistically thinking through our purported "oil" problems "must be automotive."

(clip)

Now, those already familiar with Baran and Sweezy's magnum opus (which I personally would rank as the most powerful work of social science in the twentieth century), Monopoly Capital, will know that the triumph of corporate capitalism in the late 1800s quickly produced a quantum leap in "the problem of products."

(clip)

Speculate all you want about ordinary Americans' "love affair with the car," but the institutional fact stands that the triumph and perpetuation of an automobile-intensive way of getting around town in the United States has long been, in the words of the National Association of Manufacturers, the "lifeblood" of capitalism in the United States and around the globe.

And the most important reason for this institutional fact resides in the automobile itself, which is as close as anybody could realistically imagine to the ideal capitalist commodity.

Consider the mundane reality: Cars are fantastically large and complicated machines. To manufacture, deliver, maintain, make roads for, insure, store, and fuel them in the United States alone requires a trillion-plus-dollar-a-year mega-industrial complex, almost all elements of which are provided by exploited/profitable business employees.

And this is all before mentioning the huge secondary economic spending on doctors and lawyers necessitated by another great capitalist virtue of cars: their tendency to collide with one another.

And the icing on this capitalist cake?

The peculiarly large fetishizability of cars: by altering the size, style, and features of cars, capitalists are able to churn out a wide array of methods for encouraging ordinary people to perceive their automobiles as important extensions of their personae."

(I think he is talking about my"see the USA in your Chevrolet" here)

The importance of all this to the perpetuation of corporate capitalism is hard to overstate.

If you doubt this, imagine what would happen if a magical genie snapped his or her fingers and tomorrow converted the United States from a society built to encourage car-driving to one centered on walking, biking, and train-riding.

Even with universal distribution of the most luxurious imaginable shoes, bicycles, and trains, the consequences of the genie's conversion would be extremely dire for capitalists.

Without the ability to sell tens of millions of fancy steel, plastic, and glass boxes, along with their supporting services and fuels, every year, the big business economy would implode.

In comparison, the instant and complete shut-down of the U.S. military would look like a hiccup.

Capitalism would simply be doomed. "

So if you wonder why are cities are not walkable,

why our streets are designed for cars, not people on bicycles,

why the main doors to our houses are through the garage,

why there are no bullet trains between Dallas and Austin,

why there is no "mach 3 tube system" that propels you

and your family safely to Disneyland in half an hour,

why the air is polluted and the climate is changing,

why there is war in the mideast for the remaining oil,

and why the news is full of terror, hate, and fear,

Look to the Capitalists who had to solve

the "problem of products"

with the Ideal Commodity.

Us.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is good one Oz. MS

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well thought out. Well done.
Our Great Society levitates itself up by its own bootstraps through the perpetuation of this unsustainable "perfect commodity", through our never ending love for our blazing Impalas.

10:54 AM  
Blogger caveman said...

Oz wrote, "the American dream is clearly turning into a Global Nightmare."

Agreed.

The other day I heard on the radio some financial 'guru' talk about how the American dream was financial stability etc, etc. It seems the materialist ideology that helped build America and it's dreams have developed perversly.

Instead of using our dreams to progress we seem to have utilized them in a manner that may very well involve us back to the stone age.

12:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only real Impalas are in the zoo and suffering from the bad air.

5:45 AM  

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