newly discovered entries of In2-DeepFreeze       First Generation Animations

Belgaum, Karnataka, India
1 April 2004

The S. U. V. Fashion
The Quality of Ignorance in Modern Life

While in Gokarna (of all places!) a copy of an American magazine called The New Yorker for 12 January 2004 came into my hands. Way back in the year I was born it was already an "old" magazine, and so--like politicians, ugly buildings and whores, which become respectable if they just last long enough--in year 2004 The New Yorker is not merely a publication, it's an honored institution of great tradition. Yes, but what tradition? Well, I suppose it's the tradition of that heady blend of big-city affectations one finds in most of the world's largest metropolises: one part pseudo-intellectualism mixed with one part pretense to culture (in a word: sophistication), plus snobbery and bohemianism thrown in to taste.

Anyway, starting on page 28 there's an article called "Big and Bad" by Malcolm Gladwell that I found interesting. The subtitle is How the S. U. V. ran over automotive safety.

So what's an S. U. V. ? Stupid question if you're from the United States; for everyone else, S. U. V. stands for Sport Utility Vehicle. In simple language, it's a car. Well, sort of a truck, really. But a truck that people use as a car.

What kind of truck could people use as a car? Start with a pickup truck--a light truck that's supposed to rattle along dirt roads in a cloud of dust carrying two yokels in the cab and whatever they are hauling in the unroofed load space behind: watermelons, or cabbages, or sacks of potatos, or two or three power lawnmowers, or a dozen bags of cement, six shovels, and a wheelbarrow. OK, now take that pickup truck, get rid of the yokels and their haulage, and stretch the cab, adding a comfy back seat with two doors. Then extend the roof back to the load space gate. Swap the gate for a fifth door. Enclose the load space sides with windows. Underneath it all, shove in a big engine with a 4-wheel drive train.

Sounds like an old-fashioned Land Rover. Hang on, that's only the U. V. (utility vehicle) part of the contraption. The S is what makes all the difference. S for sport, S for styling, S for speed, S for sexy, S for. . . stupid.

That's what writer Gladwell is saying, more or less, in "Big and Bad. " S. U. V. s are driven by pretty stupid people. So many stupid people in America have so much money that S. U. V. s are the hottest thing going today in the auto market. I see quite a few S. U. V. s in India too. Maybe Indians have good reason to drive big heavy-duty 4-wheel-drive passenger "cars," since Indian roads are rough going. But as to what use Americans put S. U. V. s, let's hear from Mr. Gladwell:

Toyota's top marketing executive in the United States. . . loves to tell the story of how at a focus group in Los Angeles "an elegant woman in the group said that she needed her full-sized Lexus LX 470 to drive up over the curb and onto lawns to park at large parties in Beverly Hills. " One of Ford's senior marketing executives was even blunter: "The only time those S. U. V. s are going to be off-road is when they miss the driveway at 3 A. M. "

Who are these stupid people who pay big money for a truck they use only as a car?

Fred J. Schaafsma, a top engineer for General Motors, says, "Sport-utility owners tend to be more like, 'I wonder how people view me,' and are more willing to trade off flexibility or functionality to get that. " . . . internal industry market research concluded that S. U. V. s tend to be bought by people who are insecure, vain, self-centered, and self-absorbed, who are frequently nervous about their marriages, and who lack confidence in their driving skills. Ford's S. U. V. designers took their cues from seeing "fashionably dressed women wearing hiking boots or even work boots while walking through expensive malls. "

Such people buy S. U. V. s because they think--or rather, they feel--that this type of automobile is safer to drive than an ordinary passenger car. That's because it is bigger, heavier and puts the driver in a seat that's higher from the ground. Gladwell spends much of his article informing his readers about scientific studies that prove S. U. V. s are in reality many times more unsafe than vehicles that are designed to carry passengers. Remember, the pickup truck upon which the S. U. V. is based is not designed to transport Mom, Pop, the kids and Barko the dog over city streets. It's designed to carry two yokels plus whatever junk they tossed into the back over country roads. But a stupid person presumes "bigger and badder" means "better. " Sort of like, "Hey, my neighbors? They all have dogs to guard their houses. But me? I'm gonna get a bear to guard my house. " Dumb as a bag of hammers.

All that was by way of introduction to the passage in "Big and Bad" that I personally found most interesting. I'll just quote it.

Over the past decade, a number of major automakers in America have relied on the services of a French-born cultural anthropologist, G. Clotaire Rapaille, whose specialty is getting beyond the rational--what he calls "cortex"--impressions of consumers and tapping into their deeper "reptilian" responses. And what Rapaille concluded. . . was that when S. U. V. buyers thought about safety they were thinking about something that reached into their deepest unconscious. "The No. 1 feeling is that everything surrounding you should be round and soft, and should give," Rapaille told me. "There should be air bags everywhere. Then there's this notion that you should be up high. That's a contradiction, because the people who buy these S. U. V. s know at the cortex level that if you are high there is more chance of a rollover. But at the reptilian level they think that if I am bigger and taller I'm safer. You feel secure because you are higher and dominate and look down. That you can look down is psychologically a very powerful notion. And what was the key element of safety when you were a child? It was that your mother fed you. . . there was warm liquid. That's why cupholders are absolutely crucial for safety. If there is a car that has no cupholder, it is not safe. If I can put my coffee there, if I can have my food, if everything is round, if it's soft, and if I'm high, then I feel safe. It's amazing that intelligent, educated women will look at a car and the first thing they will look at is how many cupholders it has. " . . . one of the things Rapaille learned was that car buyers felt unsafe when they thought that an outsider could easily see inside their vehicles. [Thus on his advice a major car company made the back window of a "hot" model smaller. ] Of course, making windows smaller--and thereby reducing visibility--makes driving more dangerous, not less so.

The above paragraph is reminiscent of Ayurveda's psychological profile of the kapha personality type. The kapha mind takes shelter of bodily bulk, roundness, softness, the ready availability of nourishment. This prakrti (nature) evolves from the tamo-guna.

Rapaille's notion of a "reptilian" level of response most likely comes out of Darwinism, but from the Vedic perspective we can agree there is a specialized level of consciousness at which reptiles function. Most souls now inhabiting human forms passed through that level as they ascended out of the lower species toward human incarnation; moreover the desire-seeds that sprout at that level remain buried in the human subconscious. When in spite of achieving a human birth a soul remains enthralled by stupidity--as much of today's population is--then such "reptilian" desires will take shape in the human mind: the shape of an S. U. V, which is a tortoise-body on wheels. Round, hard on the outside, soft on the inside, a head held up high above the ground (that's why a tortoise has such a long neck). . .

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