Automobiles In American Society
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American Culture and Automobiles
Americans have been crazy about cars since they were invented in 1890. When introduced during the early 1900s, automobiles served as a more powerful and modern mode of transportation and little else. Now in present time the automobile plays a far greater role in American culture. Its popularity is due to its ability to accommodate our desire for individualism, freedom and power. The automobile embodies deep-seated cultural and emotional values that have become an important part of our American culture.
The automobile has come to play a major role in our consumer society, which has, in turn, enabled the car to become a universal experience. As America's population moved out of the cities and into the suburbs, obtaining a driver's license and purchasing that first car became a right of passage for the majority of America's youth. Today nearly every adult has a driver's license and car to drive. This helps us understand why the car is the number one choice when we need to get from place to place.
The car offers the driver a method to exercise power and control. When a driver climbs behind the wheel of a car, he is in command. The driver sees its destination, direction and speed as something determined by him. The car at this point is a motor vehicle designed to cater and respond to the driver's every whim. In this way the car also represents freedom in our massive industrialized culture. It opens the option of a quick escape to the owner and gives them the opportunity to exercise their free will. For a sense of this freedom and power, one only has to get behind the wheel of a powerful muscle car, crank up the stereo and roar off down the road.
Power and control are objects every human seeks. The car has given the average man control over his environment to a degree not accessible anywhere else in his daily routine. The automobile provides something that individuals can be comfortable in, own and slowly master. The driver has complete control over his/her speed, a speed greater than one they could achieve on their own. They have power over the temperature in the car, how there seat is adjusted and what music they listen to. This constant control gives the driver a sense of security.
However some of this freedom is taken away from us by society's need for order in America.
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Automobiles American Society Present Time Consumer Society Daily Routine Important Part Driver Stereo License American Culture
Traffic rules and regulations limit drivers from obtaining complete freedom just as laws in general limit the American culture. As Americans we live in society in which we can never be completely free. It doesn't matter who you are, there will always be times when our jobs and responsibilities limit our freedom. That is why cars promise escapism as well. They allow us to momentarily leave the pressures and stresses of the intense business world associated with our culture. Advertisers really play toward this notion, with commercials of cars on wild safaris or trudging through the back country.
Automobiles, being very noticeable and highly accessible, have come to express a person's individualism. Even when coming straight off the assembly line, automobiles offer a prepackaged customizable product that is able to demonstrate the uniqueness of individuals and create a cozy, comfortable space that provides a sense of security and personality. For many, a car is an extension of their home and they care for it as if it were nearly a member of the family. And just as a home and its contents tell about a person, so too does a car make a statement about the driver.
Consequently, within the car culture, making a statement with what one drives is unavoidable, despite the absence of intention. This situation is the product of America's reputation as the quintessential car culture, which in turn produces a cluster of beliefs, attitudes, symbols, values, behaviors and institutions which have grown up around the manufacture and use of automobiles (Sanford p.137). Accepting the fact that, like it or not, we are part of the car premise, every individual is responsible for defining their identity and establishing their individualism.
Identities that are established not only represent the individual, but can be seen as a status marker. Many Americans purchase expensive flashy cars to show off their wealth. Celebrities frequently own four or five top-of-the-line cars; they may only primarily use two, the others are just for show. The phrase "You are what you drive." May sound cliché, but it has a serious validity in our culture. Automobiles are modes through which we can express ourselves. They slowly change from a meaningless factory produce motor vehicle, to a rich text able to describe the driver within.
Go to a party, a bar, a blue collar lunch or a church picnic and you can be sure that there are several "car-centric" conversations going on. Cars have become a part of the very fabric of America, a part of the American dream. Within the concept of the individual, motorized mobility, Americans have discovered an entity which caters to their long standing, deep seated desires for power, control, freedom and identity.
Charles Sanford, "Women's Place in American Car Culture," in Lewis, D. ed. The Automobile in American Culture, (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan
Peter Steinhart, "Our off Road Fantasy," in Lewis, D. ed. The Automobile in American Culture, (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1980),
Peter Steinhart, "Our off Road Fantasy," in Lewis, D. ed. The Automobile in American Culture, (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1980),
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