[NOTE: This document originally appeared at
but has since been taken down. I made this unauthorized private copy because I think it's an important cultural document which deserves more than just a broken link. -- your humble editor]
"They paved paradise and put up a parking lot." -Joni Mitchell
June 20, 2001 -- I was absolutely determined to launch this preamble with an anecdote calculated to allegorize the vigor of our American car culture in unaffected, yet poignant, terms. Then I changed my mind. Why be coy?
The automobile and the lifestyle it inspires have risen to prominence through the power of relentless suggestion. There's nothing delicate about car commercials and car toys and the hundreds of songs and movies that venerate the irrefutable gratification of owning an internal combustion engine of your very own. Like cigarettes, television, and the meat-based diet, cars are profoundly engrained within modern human existence. It doesn't even register when a movie character hops into a car and screeches away from the curb. We no longer consciously acknowledge the presence of cars on the street, the highway, and in driveways from coast-to-coast.
On a much deeper level, it's simply expected that singers will sing about cars, writers will write about cars, actors will act in cars, and practically everyone will become a motorist. Even radicals and dissidents regularly drive to their protests and rallies (even environmental activists do so). Owning a car is now considered a virtual birthright, an actuality not open for debate on a philosophical level. As a result, although cars have been around a relatively short time, the culture that facilitates their subconscious acceptance
Why wouldn't we? Well, to follow are fifty answers to that query. Some light-hearted, some satirical, many are well-documented realities. It doesn't (and it shouldn't) take a 400-page tome, replete with footnotes, index, and bibliography, to arouse inquiry. The efficacy of the car culture is based upon a fašade, on billions of dollars of advertising, on the insecurity and gullibility of humans living in a society that feeds on and cashes in on insecurity and gullibility. It was in a child's tale that a simple observation exposed a ruler as perpetrating a fraud on an all-too-willing populace. Now, another artifice faces child-like inspection and perhaps we too will ascertain that not only does the emperor have no clothes, the emperor also doesn't need a Chevrolet to see the U.S.A.
- 1. There are way too many of 'em
- From 1950 to 1970, the U.S. automobile population grew four times faster than the human population. Today, there are around 200 million cars in America. Which brings us to reason #2.
- 2. Traffic
- Contrary to all those car commercials in which you see the automobile being marketed as it cruises along all alone on an open road, we Americans spend 8 billion hours per year stuck in traffic.
- 3. Cars kill people
- During the twentieth century, 250 million Americans were maimed or injured in automobile accidents.
- 4. Cars kill kids
- The leading cause of death for children aged 5 to 14 in New York City is pedestrian automobile accidents.
- 5. Cars kill celebrities
- While some may (understandably) regard this as an admirable reason to expand automobile production, it may have been interesting to discover what else people like Jackson Pollock, Albert Camus, or James Dean had to offer. Just a thought.
- 6. Cars kill every day
- Every single day in the U.S., an average of 121 people are killed in car accidents.
- 7. Cars kill animals
- The carnage is even worse for furry, feathered, and multi-legged earthlings. Automobiles, SUVs, trucks, and other fossil field-burning vehicles kill a million wild animals per week in the U.S.
- 8. Cars exploit dead animals
- Substances like anti-freeze, bio-diesel fuel, hydraulic brake fluid, and asphalt binder are all made with ingredients culled from the carcasses of departed animals.
- 9. Those Christmas tree-shaped air fresheners
- Enough to turn anyone's lungs into a potential Superfund site.
- 10. Car bombs
- An uncomplicated equation: no cars = no car bombs.
- 11. Drive-by shootings
- A touch more of the old math for ya: cars + automatic weapons = drive-by shootings
- 12. Sprawl
- During the last century, an area equal to all the arable land in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania was paved in the U.S.
- 13. Expensive sprawl
- The area equal to all the arable land in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania requires maintenance costing over $200 million a day.
- 14. Very expensive sprawl
- The surreptitious cost of the car culture totals nearly $464 billion a year in the U.S. alone, much of that going to the sustentation of a military presence in the Persian Gulf.
- 15. Bumper stickers
- Another truism: Without bumpers, there wouldn't be any bothersome bumper stickers.
- 16. Malls
- Need I say more?
- 17. Horns
- Especially when they are used in lieu of a door bell. Especially at 3 a.m.
- 18. Alarms
- Especially at 3 a.m.
- 19. They take up too much space
- A car demands 300 square feet when parked or standing still and 3000 square feet when moving at 30 miles per hour. A pedestrian requires only 5 square feet when standing and 10 square feet when walking.
- 20. There's less room for bicycles
- With the possible exception of written language, the bicycle just may be the neatest idea we humans have ever come up with.
- 21. Global warming
- Automobiles emit one-quarter of U.S. greenhouse gases.
- 22. Car toys
- An entire industry designed to lay the foundation. Imagine that.
- 23. Drivers who ignore what traffic lights mean
- Green means you drive through the intersection above the speed limit. Yellow means you drive through the intersection while making a mockery of the speed limit. Red means you drive through the intersection at a rate approaching the speed of sound.
- 24. Traffic lights
- The next time you're feeling "free," see how far you can walk without being legally compelled to stop . . . so cars can pass.
- 25. Oil addiction
- The U.S. spends $60 billion per year on foreign oil.
- 26. Serious oil addiction
- Eight million barrels of oil per day is combusted in U.S. cars.
- 27. Very serious oil addiction
- That's 450 gallons per person per year.
- 28. Walking in right angles
- Thanks to our car-centric civilization, most cities are designed in grids forcing pedestrians to forever walk in right angles.
- 29. Poor posture
- That's what we get from sitting hunched over a steering wheel 8 billion hours a year.
- 30. Car songs
- With all due respect to Bruce Springsteen, I'd suggest we've heard all we need to hear about the joys of souped-up hemis, drag-strip romance, and the mythical '57 Chevy.
- 31. The drive-thru life
- From drive-thru eating to drive-thru funerals, isn't it safe to insinuate we've forfeited a little bit of perspective here?
- 32. Waste
- Cars create 7 billion pounds of un-recycled scrap and waste annually.
- 33. Car commercials
- They say: "Cars make you sexy, smart, cool, and successful." I say: "Go back to reason #3 to see what cars really make you."
- 34. Parking lots
- These structures, sitting atop once-thriving eco-systems, are rivaled only by cemeteries in the post-modern space-wasting competition.
- 35. Parking tickets
- The inescapable consummation of the dreaded "alternate side of the street" abstraction.
- 36. Parking
- How much time have you wasted looking for a spot, squeezing into that spot, and then trying to recall where the hell the damn spot was in the first place?
- 37. Tires
- With approximately one billion discarded tires littering our increasingly paved landscape, meditate upon this: Every tire loses one pound of rubber per year, spewing minute grains of rubber into the stratosphere and then back down to find a new home in our water and/or our lungs.
- 38. Road rage
- These equations just keep getting easier. Road rage cannot exist without the automobile. Hey, when was the last time you saw a cyclist brandishing an Uzi?
- 39. Mechanics
- Your car dies, you walk into the repair shop, and you just know what the mechanic is thinking: "I know something you don't and, man, am I'm gonna make you pay for it."
- 40. The internal combustion engine
- Or, as Ralph Nader calls it, the "infernal combustion engine." Possibly humanity's foremost folly.
- 41. Humans did not evolve to ride in cars
- Or in boats and planes, for that matter. A transparent case of stone age biology in a space age society.
- 42. Carchitecture
- How many structures exist exclusively to nourish the car culture? We can start with the highway, on-ramp, off-ramp, gas station, strip mall, car wash, auto repair shop, car rental establishment, bridges, tunnels, and, of course, the suburbs.
- 43. The suburbs
- Phase one of a cunning master plan to facilitate automobile dependency.
- 44. De-funded public transportation
- Phase two.
- 45. Campaign contributions
- Phase three.
- 46. Corporate welfare
- Phase four.
- 47. Cars are hell
- During the 40 days of the Gulf War, 146 Americans died keeping the world safe for petroleum while at home, 4900 Americans died in motor vehicle accidents.
- 48. Personalized license plates
- To foster one's singularity . . . while keeping the homogenizing car culture alive and well.
- 49. Speed kills
- If the national speed limit is no higher than 65 MPH, why are cars capable of going twice that fast?
- 50. Humans drive 'em
- After you've cynically dismissed all of the other 49 reasons why cars suck, take a good hard look at the person sitting behind the wheel of the next car you see.
Mickey Z. (Michael Zezima) is the author of Saving Private Power: The Hidden History of "The Good War" and a contributor to You Are Being Lied To. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.