Every single morning, when the clouds still hide the sky and the mist still permeates the air, the cars enter. There is the faint rumble of 110-Watt Flat Bandpass Subwoofers, heralding the motorcade, then the cars themselves enter awash in glory. Bourgeois conceptions of privilege and affluence engraved into every glossy black rim. The doors slam as the bleary-eyed scholars part from their metal shells.
OK, don’t take me too seriously here. In essence, having a car is no more important a facet of the American high school experience than the Friday night football game or talent show – that is, it’s an exciting development, but the romanticization quickly subsides to the mundane (e.g. waking up early to find parking, accidentally dropping snacks under your seat, spending an arm and leg on gas). For some students, a car is necessary to get to class/work/sports, for others it’s completely unnecessary! Nonetheless, cars are italicized and capitalized as a BIG DEAL for many high schoolers, a rite of passage and an emblem of societal standing. Right?
Well, my background would seem to agree with that. Since the advent of DMV visits and ‘sweet 16’ windfalls, an unprecedented culture has arisen around the automobile at my school. Lunch and break are spent:
- Sitting in cars
- Sitting next to cars
- Sitting on cars
- Talking about cars
Several kids I know race and drift in an ill-conceived attempt to emulate Paul Walker; several kids I know have been involved in accidents (the overlap between the two groups is unsurprising). Over the last few months, my classmates have even locked each other out of their cars with bungee cords! So, for better or for worse, cars are just a new focus for the same old sophomoric antics.
However, this might not be the case forever. NPR is currently running a series on “Millennials and the Changing Car Culture”, while the New York Times recently published an article on “The End of Car Culture”. A spring 2013 report from the US Public Interest Research Group even went as far as to proclaim that “the driving boom is over”, citing a gradual decrease in licenses granted and cars bought over the last decade.
It’s not entirely clear just why these 90s kids are leaving car culture behind. Some articles have chalked it up to the ongoing economic recession (which has coincided with greater dependence on carpooling and public transportation). However, many critics have argued that it’s a new aspect of millennial/digital native socialization: that is, it doesn’t make much sense to spend time and money driving somewhere when you can contact your friends online 24/7.
Only time will tell if the age of car culture has truly come to a close– but after thinking deeply about the social and environmental consequences of car culture, I’ve decided that the brodozers of today won’t be missed when we’re all flying around on jetpacks. So it goes!