National Public Radio, better known as NPR, better known as the arbiters of everything in the universe that is cool to yuppies, is the latest news outlet to chime in and say that the American love affair with the automobile is over. Their reasoning? Because of declining NASCAR ratings, of course.
You may read that and say, "Patrick, that's insane. What a foolish and deeply flawed argument." But you're wrong. Who are we mere mortals to question NPR?
Perhaps I shouldn't say NPR as a whole. Rather, it's one of their commentators, longtime sportswriter Frank Deford, who makes this claim in a rambling diatribe not unlike the kind you hear when your mom guilt trips you into calling that one lonely old relative she stuck in a nursing home. (I didn't know NPR covered sports either. Isn't that nice?)
Weighing in on Wednesday's Morning Edition, Deford links the decline of NASCAR's ratings to the supposed greater American loss of interest in cars, as well as the very concept of speed itself.
As Deford condescendingly relegates the sport back to an audience of "older white Dixie working class" fans, he claims that both ESPN and TNT "took a look at the down-graphs and downscale demographics and didn't even bother to bid on the new TV contracts."
Ignore, please, the fact that he's only half right — yes, NASCAR ratings are down, but while ESPN and TNT won't broadcast the races past the 2015 season, FOX and NBC will take over after that.
Ignore also the logic center in your brain that asks if NASCAR is in such trouble, why would two huge networks bother to sign billion-dollar deals to air it? Shhh, hush your tiny, potentially Dixie class brain; NPR is talking.
The greater issue here is that Deford says NASCAR's downward spiral is linked to the loss of interest in cars.
To so many younger Americans, the car is just another appliance, like a refrigerator or a popcorn machine.
He's absolutely right. As you all now, at no other point in history did a majority of drivers look at their cars as appliances. Everyone in the 1960s did smoky burnouts in their GTOs because GTOs were all anyone drove. There were no boring cars until the Millennials came along.
Speaking of the Millennials, Deford has some tiresome, I mean, time-tested wisdom to share on that front as well:
The famous expression — "the American love affair with the car." If there's any apparatus Americans have a love affair with now, it's the cell phone, and its new, improved variations thereof. Hey, that's why we have people texting and driving! Just driving is so passé.
Ah, yes. Cell phones. Of course. It's always those.
But Deford then argues that it's not just racing, but speed we've fallen out of love with. He blames the video games, as people often do, for taking the excitement out of horse racing and even track events and Olympic swimming.
In the complex world Americans have grown up where everything is fast, where speed is blithely accepted and devalued. Speed records used to be stylish, in cars, planes boats — and now that's ho-hum. The Amazing Race on television is probably our most popular race now.
[...] A car? A car is a comfortable container full of FM and DVD and AC and GPS. Do we really want to watch cars anymore? Cars are for taking you somewhere, like to a game.
You hear that, America? The dream is over. You can all go home now. Frank Deford has called it — the death of speed. Time of death, October 30, in the Year of Our Lord 2013. There's no glory in speed records or the SCCA race Matt and Travis and I went to this weekend where ordinary folks drove their hearts out because they love racing at its most honest, grassroots level.
There's no sense in modifying your car, going for a spirited drive now and again, talking about cars with your buddies, or even reading websites like this one. There's no point in dreaming about that fast and gorgeous machine you've always wanted.
Turn in your car keys for your smartphone and your PlayStation controller. It's all over now. We did our best. How do we know it's true? For Frank Deford has said it to be so.
Thanks, NPR, for clearing that up for us.