Status symbols are among the many vertebrae in the backbone of the American way
. Since cars have been around, they have always been a major vehicle (pardon the pun
) for our self images, especially since, from the beginning, cars were individual possessions and yet were mass produced to look alike. From each subset, make and model, there have been attachments to the broad range of vehicles manufactured, both in house and abroad from other countries. Now, I do not claim to have a wealth of knowledge
of cars as status symbols, so I won't pretend that I know all the ins and outs of what has made them what we look for them to be. But the title of this node describes a comparison, which is always the safest way to start.
Just like guns are meant for boys and dolls for girls, cars have had genders and personalities in mind, and there are a plethora of options. I see this taking place when I watch customers on our dealership lot, poring over their potential purchase. They are guided in their consumerism the same way we all are when buy toothpaste or clothes. The main difference is cost: people buying cars seldom consider the cost of what they get when they commit to a car.
Environment. Air conditioning, cruise control, power locks and windows, digital readouts, mini TV screens, Bose surround sound, convertible tops. Things that open and close with the press of a button, like doors and trunks, to make access that much easier, that much less requiring our contact.
Safety. This interest is shifting from protection from other cars in the visceral sense to one more basic: bigger is better, safer, and allows for more visibility. Air bags, ABS brakes, kill switch ignitions, alarm systems, structural reinforcement, and warning labels are losing their place in interest because they are becoming standard, what we expect from all cars. It is the equivalent of an over-indulgent parent to a spoiled child; to get attention, the child ups the ante on his bad behavior. As consumers, we seem to take for granted the things we should be most concerned about, the things we should want to learn fully, and move to what looks or feels safer or better. This comes in part with the false representation that every car is new, untainted, a virgin to the woes of fallacy. The cars on the lot are deliberately kept clean and vacuumed, no matter how long they've been sitting there. The issue of safety is slowly losing its grip in this industry as a point of interest, and the manufacturers respond in kind. They make cars to take the impact instead of the driver (which is a plus, don't mistake me), and so, they are cheaper to replace than to repair. This urgency to not salvage value in our purchases permeates the auto industry. You have been warned.
Image. We want to be unique, or at least look it enough to make our cars recognizable in the parking lot. Some of this is done by our own hand, but most of it was thought out way before you came over to buy. Multiple options and features play into it, as does marketing and advertising, but also it is dictated by the actions of the drivers on the road, how they project themselves. Even a crappy car can be cool if it makes a lot of noise when you rev the engine, when you zoom in and out of traffic with feigned agility, when you cruise the strip, looking to be seen. Speed and size are the main focuses, since at 60MPH, you can only pay attention to so much. Custom paint jobs, exotic roll bars or the look of the urban adventure seeker are all empty shells that are seldom filled with action. This is like keeping an elaborate collection of hiking gear in your garage. You want to have just in case you decide to change your mind about your passive existence, but you find that when you make the effort, the L.L. Bean gear has been infected with mildew, slowly dissolving its unbiodegradable innards, yet you're content to let it sit there, a symbol of what you could have done. They are the foundation for suburban irony and the failed American dream.
I don't want to dump on people who have the money to spend on such extravagancies like a brand new car. If you earned it, you deserve it. But it is a structure that doesn't allow those in lesser financial mobility to do much beyond two things: go into hock to be one of the Joneses or ignore the whole stinking system and accept your lot in life. I know where I stand, as I'm sure you already know. Where do you?