Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Car Culture Is A Futurological Catastrophe

An exchange with "Nick Randhawa" updated, adapted, and expanded from the Moot:
While I agree that we need to do away with our dependence on car culture in the US, don't you feel that it played some necessary part in us actually being able to transition to a car free culture? I say this while thinking of Marx and his view that capitalism was a necessary stage for the era of communism. I mean if we just walked everywhere we probably would never have had that video "Google Google Maps Maps" lol. Cheers, Nick
The demolition of extensive existing, useful, and used urban and transcontinental passenger rail infrastructure preceded the emergence of Car Culture. Commutes in many American cities via public transportation were quicker and more convenient over a century ago than they are today. The destruction of this working system was sponsored by big oil and burgeoning car manufacturers that had gained extraordinary ascendency and vast industrial plant in the effort to supply tanks and planes and munitions first to Britain and then to Russia via FDR's Lean-Lease and then our own improved technologies after we entered World War II.

Like the redemptive post-Hiroshima promise (another disastrous deception) of nuclear energy too cheap to meter, the proposals were futurological in my sense of the term -- a marketing initiative to amplify the profits and authority of incumbent elites through the mobilization of techno-transcendental wish-fulfillment fantasies in which the deceptive, hyperbolic norms and forms of advertizing and promotional that already suffuse our public life take on the coloration and intensity of outright organized religiosity -- full of promises of sleek hyper-individualizing air conditioned muscle/missile cars coursing through empty lanes slashing through Emerald Cityscapes and Green Monoculture like caped sooperhero avatars through cyberspace.

The postwar creation of Eisenhower's vast interstate highway system (modeled on the Nazis' autobahns), slashed through thriving neighborhoods of color in many cities, enabling the white surburban flight that destroyed the urban tax base through the mid-century postwar boom and incubated the famous late 20C crisis of the inner cities (a crisis that became the pretext for the first neoliberal looting proposals mislabeled "development"), while establishing the environmental catastrophe and racial divide and sociopathologizing anomie of surburban sprawl.

Car ownership was on the rise in any case between the wars, and rural transportation was importantly inadequate prior to the 1920s, and it is likely that cars would have become an everyday part of life in any case and, hence, it would be the responsibility of accountable government to generate infrastructural affordances for that reality as a public good. But the prioritization of freeway construction over passenger rail, the zoning of cities for parking rather than walkability, the support of costly suburban sprawl over affordable mixed use urban housing development were the deliberate and disastrous choices that created not car use but Car Culture in the United States. These choices were driven by parochial profit taking on the part of incumbent elites and both expressed and facilitated white racism every step of the way. Futurological discourse was their enabling rhetoric.

By way of conclusion, I will say that of all the things to take from Marx, his technological determinism and historical determinism more generally are probably the worst possible theses to take seriously. The corporate-militarists of international capitalism weren't the only ones with a weakness for futurological nonsense, you know. I will agree, however, that the world would be a poorer place without "Google Google Apps Apps," so here it is again:


jimf said...

> Car Culture Was A Futurological Catastrophe
> full of promises of sleek hyper-individualizing air conditioned
> muscle/missile cars coursing through empty lanes slashing through
> Emerald Cityscapes and Green Monoculture like caped sooperhero
> avatars through cyberspace.
> Futurological discourse was their enabling rhetoric.

Yes, but, but, but. . .

It was all so **cool**! (at least to this 12-year-old)

General Motors' "City of the Future" from the Futurama II
ride at the '64-'65 New York World's Fair:

Observation Towers and New York State Pavilion from
the last New York World's Fair (in Flushing Meadow Park, Queens;
as of 2011):
(in 1965):

Star Base Eleven (Star Trek TOS):

"I believe in lasers in the jungle, lasers in the jungle
somewhere. . ."

General Motors pavilion:

jimf said...

So, so, cool.

Party on, transhumans!

Dale Carrico said...

The transhumanoids cannot have amazing artist Syd Mead, sorry. The artistic stylings of Natasha Vita More and Suzanne Somers are more their speed.

jimf said...

Since you've posted the promo film for the original GM Futurama
at the 1939 New York World's Fair, here's a link to the sequel
from the 1964-65 New York World's Fair:

'64-65 NY World's Fair FUTURAMA Ride Video
(General Motors promotional film follows a young boy
as he rides the Futurama II ride at the
1964-65 New York World's Fair.)

Narrated by Alexander Scourby, who also narrated a Bell Telephone
Christmas special I used to watch every year when I was a kid:

The Spirit of Christmas - Mabel Beaton Marionettes and Bell Telephone AT&T

I was just the right age to appreciate the Futurama II (like the kid
in the movie). You were busy being born, and another friend of mine
(about 15 years older than me) was too grown-up and cynical for
all that. The thing he remembers about the Fair is the
"Bel-Gem" Belgian waffles that were sold all over by a restaurant
concession at the Fair. I have no memory of those (I wouldn't
have like them, anyway. ;-> ).

jimf said...

BTW, am I the only one who finds the shot of the Trylon and Perisphere
at the end of the '39 promo film almost embarrassingly, er, **suggestive**?


Dale Carrico said...

The Futurological/Advertizing mindset has never been exactly subtle about its suggestiveness in that department I find.

Dale Carrico said...

The Futurama clip defaulted to autoplay and it was kinda sorta driving me crazy hearing that cheesy tinny soundtrack bursting out of my headphones every time I pulled up my blog. Not sure if it was the same for other readers -- if it was, do forgive the annoyance!