Fancy Cars, Privilege, Inequality, and the Proletariat (and This American Life)

Fancy cars, privilege, inequality, and the proletariat.

This American Life

I love This American Life — it’s what got me started down the road to consuming podcasts and turning my back on terrestial radio forever (I’m going to skip the discussion about the local NPR radio, which I like, but my tendency (really everyone’s now) to binge and wanting to catch up on years of This American Life episodes — I think I had to burn downloaded episodes onto a CD-R to listen in the car — yeah, this is when I had a Blackberry).

It really is a golden age of podcasts and I really should discuss ones that I love here too.  At this point, though I will focus on a relatively recent episode (presented below for your clicking pleasure):

“No Fair” Episode 672.

The episode is excellent overall, starting with preschoolers that pretty adorable.  And ends with a funny and intelligent look at the US Constitution and women.  Act One is where I want to focus on — the one where Michael Lewis narrates.  Yes, the great Michael Lewis.  The one who wrote, “The Big Short” and “Liar’s Pokers” among others.  He’s also written in my opinion, the greatest sports book of all time, The Blind Side.  I just took off the quotes off of book titles — I’m writing without editing here.  The movie was okay, but the book did a phenomenal job of explaining the sports mechanics of a relatively unscrutinized part of (American) football, the offensive line (with the exception of John Madden, who as a former offensive lineman and coach really gave great on air analyses of what was going on with the big dudes up front).

But back to the podcast episode, Act One, “Hoop Reams” — Michael Lewis examines the world of NBA refereeing and the act of anger exhibited by NBA star players (emphasis on star players) against them despite evidence indicating that refereeing has improved.  The larger point, which I agree with, is the increase in distrust of authority (judges, referees, perhaps even the established media).

embedded in the story to make his point, is an interesting study they did about how people in “nicer” higher status cars (a Mercedes Benz, for example) are more likely to blow through a 4 way stop because they feel the rules do not apply to them.

Again:  People who believe (I bolded this because this is to include the bourgeoise and their conspicuous consumption ways — emphasizing that we sometimes align ourselves with a certain class echelon that we are not a part of, because we want to belong there one day (working class Trump voters and the traditional upper class Republicans patricians) that they are better off than others will flaunt and ignore rules, because it does not apply to them.

This has been true for a long time.  It’s history.  It’s the truth.  It’s our very American mythology that we are struggling to rectify this.  Events constantly remind us of this — especially with the recent college admissions scandal (the not-so-smart wealthy and the insecure upper classes paying their way into the side door of the face of American meritocracy — our elite universities (not USC obviously, but the others)).

In full disclosure, I drive a mini-van, but at one point I did drive a fancy car.  It made me feel better.  It made me feel like I arrived.  Did I feel like the rules didn’t apply for me?  Probably not.  But the veneer of the car’s symbol on the hood (I conveniently ignored the WW2 implications of the manufacturer’s history — like everyone else.  I mean Mitsubishi who developed the Zero plans who bombed Pearl Harbor sells cars!!!) was a signifier that I was different.  And that’s the path to privilege and privilege leads to haughtiness and haughtiness leads to classism (hat tip to Yoda).

It’s all an illusion.  But illusions are dangerous.  I may still harbor these delusions of bourgeoise grandeur and rule flouting, but I’m working on it.  My beautiful functional minivan and kids help a lot.

In the meantime, get out of your fancy car and see if your flouting of authority is self-centered or a true rage against the machine type of pushback on totalitarianism.

This American Life rules.

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