This upcoming week brings us the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association Show, commonly known as SEMA, held each autumn in Las Vegas. For years it's been a bit of a weird boondoggle, almost trying to appeal to everybody and yet nobody at once. This year, though, it might have finally aged into a nice vintage.
I'm actually going to SEMA this year, so I'll be able to tell you the answer for sure. At the moment, though, it seems like it's a bit of a dispute. I had some discussions with my lovely fellow Jalops over the past few weeks when I told them I was going. Their responses were less than favorable:
You know the prison in Dark Knight Rises? That's SEMA.
It's all just crap. Crap wheels, crap exhausts, gross Fast and Furious cars.
Who is SEMA supposed to appeal to?
This whole SEMA thing is terrible and fantastic at the same time. Very American.
Very American, indeed. SEMA has historically been everything amazing and awful about cars all wrapped up in one. It's all of the creative juices of expression, pure and holy, funneled into an acid-fueled kaleidoscope blender of poor taste. It's like taking a beautiful, dry-aged steak that you just got home from Bryant & Cooper, frying the already-cooked deliciousness in nothing but pure Crisco, and then throwing some Big Mac special sauce on it and calling it "aftermarket."
It's like taking an Audi R8 V10, making it stanced, and throwing on some stickers and orange wheels.
It's like throwing scissor doors and a weird Cylon-face onto a Toyota Prius.
It's this monstrosity, which, as much as I try, I can't seem to find a use for besides transportation for a Bond villain. Not a good Bond villain, though. One from the Pierce Brosnan years:
And then you've got the backdrop of Las Vegas, probably one of the worst cities in America. I'm not talking about Las Vegas, proper, which I'm sure is all very lovely and filled with the sort of people that would actually vote for Senator Harry Reid. I'm talking about the Strip, conveniently located in the unincorporated community of Paradise, Nevada.
Las Vegas is for the kind of person who not only enjoys gambling, but also hates the world. It's for the person who hears of a far-off city called "Paris," full of lights and romance and a big tower, and thinks, "no, that's alright, I'll just go to the stucco version in the middle of nowhere in the desert." Same goes for Venice and New York and Luxor and Treasure Island, which I'm sure is a real place somewhere.
It's the tinsel of authenticity draped over the soul of a ruthless business machine. And it's built for the people who enjoy that sort of thing.
And it's even worse if you're there by yourself, for business, like many of the attendees of SEMA are. You know that one guy in the nightclub who's there by himself, and you wonder what he's doing there, and he's sort of weirding everybody out, but he looks like he doesn't even want to be there, and nobody is enjoying this situation, so he gets a drink and stands in the corner awkwardly, and since no one's actually playing Coke and Pepsi because this is a Serious Nightclub, there's not much for him to do?
Yeah, that's what SEMA and Las Vegas are like.
But whatever, I get it. The automotive aftermarket's always been a bit of a weird oddball, fit for self-expression. The problem that occurs all too often with self-expression, though, as that it appeals only to the self. And nobody else.
This year, though, it looks to be a bit different.
Already we've got a rally Camry and an angry Lexus, and potentially the most awesome vans in the world this side of the A-team. Mazda usually brings a couple of Miatas, but this one is just brilliant:
What's changed, though? Well, in short, it's money. SEMA to be one of the few instances where more money has actually made things better, not worse. The global automakers have come to town, though not for the first time, but now they seem to be getting it. There's nothing wrong with tuner culture or donk culture or lowrider culture or whatever culture you call this thing, but the thing with cultures is that they tend to be very insular. They echo against themselves, until they morph into something that nobody understands.
But if you bring in some global perspective, you can take the best bits of each and make a wonderful whole. You get beautiful mashups all coming into a more complete whole. It's like Girl Talk's All Day album.
Is that not rocking and bumping and awesome, all at the same time? Sure, the purists might hate it, but we're still trying to capture the spirit of the remix.
And yeah, it's still set in Las Vegas. But instead of some little exhibitions here and there, we've got a full-on Stadium Super Trucks race, and Global Rallycross. Real, full-on racing, those are. And just like with everything else, when you mix fun with sport, you get a beautiful thing.
The earliest examples of sampling may have been crude and unappealing, but this year, SEMA might just be having a major breakout.
I'll be there on Monday, so I guess we'll find out.