I live in a bubble. It’s a wonderful oily bubble that’s noisy and smells like gasoline. It’s a bubble formed by my job and my interests, and it is overwhelmingly concerned with cars. It’s important to remember, though, that most of the world does not live in this bubble. Most people aren’t really all that focused on cars. But that doesn’t mean they don’t care at all. I maintain that everybody cares about cars to some degree, whether they admit it or not.
I’m not saying that deep down every one likes cars, because I know that that just isn’t true. What I’m saying is that if you meet someone who claims to be completely apathetic about cars, they’re lying to you, themselves, or both. I don’t think it’s possible to be completely apathetic about cars, even when confronted with the staggering number of Toyota Camrys sold every year.
I don’t have hard, statistical evidence or some kind of numerical data to support this claim – at least not yet – but I do have an experiment you can try. Find a friend or relative or cellmate who claims to not give a solitary shit about cars. These people are out there.
There are many people who delight in their lack of interest in cars, treating their own car with a showy, gleeful neglect so you can be absolutely certain that this machine, this thing that ferries them all over the place, has no real bearing on their identity or self-worth.
There’s a some parallels here to people that let you know they don’t own a television within the first few minutes of meeting them; the absence of an object becomes as or more important than the object itself.
There’s also people who just genuinely don’t care about cars, not to make any statement, but just because they have other things in their lives they care about more. They really just hardly ever think about cars.
All of these people who simply aren’t into cars share one thing in common: they actually do give a damn about cars. Here’s the simple experiment that demonstrates this: find your car-apathetic friend. Make up some reason why they can’t use whatever anonymous whatevermobile they drive for a few days, but then tell them you have a vehicle you can loan them.
Tell them that vehicle is a bright yellow full-size Hummer H1 on chrome spinners, or maybe a safe but very filthy and rusty Geo Metro, or maybe a lowrider or a car covered in stickers and spoilers, or a vintage Jaguar E-Type, or a black Maybach or whatever – it just needs to be something with a very distinctive personality.
The person, however much they insist they don’t care about cars, will react. They’ll either be delighted or horrified or embarrassed. They may insist there’s no way they can drive that around, or perhaps they’ll be excited about the idea; the whole point is that, barring any actual interest in the act of driving or the technical aspects of the car, their reactions will all be related to being seen in the car, and having that car identified with them.
This is because cars really aren’t like the other machines and tools we use on a daily basis. If anything, cars are closer to the world of fashion than they are with heavy machinery, even though a car is likely the heaviest machine any person is likely to own.
It’s impossible to not care at all about cars because cars are identity, like clothing. Values and status and group affiliations are communicated through what we drive, and we all know this, on some deep-seated level.
I don’t pay that much attention to clothes (just check the comments on any Jason Drives video for proof) but even I have some idiosyncratic rules and there’s certainly clothing I would feel extremely uncomfortable to be seen in, because those clothes were simply not me.
Cars are no different. For everyone, there is a car they would not be caught dead in. I’ve had press cars that I found so boring that I felt compelled to explain to people I met that this was not my actual car. Did they give a shit? Almost certainly not. But I did, because my identity is so closely intertwined with the things I drive.
Years ago, a friend of mine once angrily shushed me when I started to mention in a public context the Mercedes she used to drive, because that car, and all of its associations, were so far removed from the person she’d worked to become. She’s not someone who’s interested in cars, but that interaction makes it very clear that she does care about them.
I think this is all important to note and realize because, frankly, car-lovers don’t get a whole lot of respect in the broader world. We still live in a world where working on your own cars is somehow seen as unsophisticated, a world where there are laws that consider cars to be unsightly things to be hidden, a world where, for some reason, interest in architecture and industrial design is thought of as erudite and sophisticated, while car enthusiasts are still usually pigeonholed on the meatheadier part of the human spectrum.
Whether you’re actively interested in cars or not, I think everyone has to admit that they’re among the most intensely human and wonderfully irrational things we build, and, to some degree, they’re interesting to everyone.
So stop lying, you car-apathy fakers. Because I know I can find something you’ll be mortified to be seen in. I probably even own it.