Bill Totten's Weblog

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Rejoice, The Hummer Is Dead

It might be the end of the world's most phallically sad SUV.
But has the damage been done?

by Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist (May 23 2007)

The late Rev. Jerry Falwell? He was exactly like a Hummer H2. Oh yes he was. Bloated, arrogant, offensive to millions and deeply wrong in a thousand ways and yet blindly worshipped by a shockingly large and happily uninformed throng of devout minions for no other reason than he was, well, bloated, arrogant and wrong.

Is that too harsh? Lacking in prudent subtlety? I'm completely OK with that.

See, it is time for much rejoicing. It is time for an upraising of hands and a hallelujah and a praise be to the heavens despite how, of course, the heavens don't really exist.

No, not for the death of Falwell, for that would be pointless and in poor taste and besides, the ever-acerbic Christopher Hitchens did it much better over at Slate. And as I pointed out last week, Falwell's own collection of (in)famous quotes do a far better job of revealing the man's true nature and worth to humanity than any sort of carefully articulated, cheerful celebration of his demise ever could.

No, this minor offering of joy is for the imminent and forthcoming death of the Hummer H2 itself. Oh my yes.

See, sales of this particular model - perhaps the most idiotic consumer vehicle ever produced in your lifetime - are down. Way down, a full 27 percent from last year alone, which was already way down 22 percent from the year prior, with sales continuing to plummet as fast as gas prices are rising and Bush's war is raging and Americans are generally snapping awake to the fact that dumping well over 100 bucks to fill the tank of this monster abomination every other day might not be the best way to waste their kid's college fund.

Hence, it's heavily rumored that GM will soon kill the model entirely, which is already being supplanted by a slew of smaller, less disgusting H2 offspring like the H3 and the H3 pickup and the H3 whatever the hell else they can think of to milk this horrible idea until it's deader than Dick Cheney's black soul at a pagan tree festival.

Is this not good news? Is this not a sign that times, at long last, might be changing for the better, even just a little? Wait, don't answer just yet.

First, a flashback. Do you remember the time, that dark and skanky period of bleakness way back in, say, 2003, when gas was (relatively) cheap and Bush's war was still being spun as some sort of righteous, WMD-justified love-in and the dour, "global warming is a liberal hoax" Republicans controlled the sour American universe? It was a time when GM dealers couldn't sell the giant hunk of laughable penis compensation known as the Hummer H2 - which was nominated that very year for North American Truck of the Year - fast enough.

GM even went so far as to build ridiculous, theme park-like Hummer dealerships and to contract with special plants in Indiana to crank out America's ugliest, most dangerous, least environmentally friendly monster truck, and celebs and rappers and pro athletes and supermodels and senators and glitz wannabes of every ilk everywhere couldn't waste fifty grand on the horribly built, lunkish hunk of karmic contempt fast enough. Oh what a time it was.

Fast forward to right now. The Republican party is grumbling on the sidelines, kicked to the curb by their own impressive corruption and warmongering and excessive kowtowing to the extreme religious right. America feels slightly more wary, awake, a tad more environmentally aware, slightly more in touch with something resembling its soul. And the H2 - essentially the emblem of all that is/was wrong with Bush's America - the bloat, the recklessness, the false machismo and unchecked waste and bigger-is-better senselessness - might very well end production entirely. Something, at long last, seem to be changing for the better.

Or is it?

See, there's this snag (isn't there always?): Because despite the H2's apparent demise, despite $4 gallons of gas, despite a huge increase in sales of hybrids and the move toward alternative energy and despite all the talk of the "greening" of America, sales of giant SUVs seem to be surging once again, just this year, after many months of slumping sales.

What the hell is going on? Is it because, like Dick Cheney, like Karl Rove, like Jerry Falwell, like reality TV, the dumb-as-lead Hummer H2 has had its nasty, permanent effect? Has the giant SUV now become so mainstream, so deeply tattooed into the pasty, overweight flesh of American culture that it doesn't even really matter that the H2 is on its way out, essentially turning into a sad, silly cultural footnote? Do you already know the answer?

Perhaps it is simply the way of the culture, the evolution of a very bad idea, made slightly more palatable through slick, careful marketing. Today, manufacturers are simply redesigning and rebranding their luxobarges as crossover vehicles, offering slightly improved handling and slightly improved fuel economy and not at all improved emissions and slightly less chance of flaming rollover death at the slightest need for emergency handling at any speed over about twenty 20 miles per hour, and hence many Americans somehow think that buying the newer, sleeker three-ton Chevy Suburban with 23 cup holders instead of the 2005 model with only fourteen must be, you know, a healthy improvement.

Or perhaps it's a remnant of the careless Boomer worldview, that all-American, "use it before it's gone" attitude that spins on an axis of a truly horrible irony: The more we learn of our desperate environmental straits, the more we learn of dwindling oil reserves and the more we learn that our shiny happy United States might not be the responsible, beneficent global superpower we once dreamed it was, the more we say "screw it" and grab onto the last gasp of pleasurable excess and vice no matter the future repercussions, telling ourselves we might as well enjoy that stupid, chromed-out three-ton GMC Yukon Denali before the oil runs out and the terrorists eat my babies and the damn liberals change the laws and make us all drive Smart cars to the Tofu Hut in order to turn us all gay. Sound familiar?

But no matter how you slice it, the ongoing SUV phenom is, in its way, one of our most fascinating cultural studies, a neat - if rather depressing - measure of American attitudes.

The truth is, the comically irresponsible H2 represented and encapsulated its brutal - though mercifully brief - time period in Bush's America perfectly. And now perhaps we are simply moving on to the next phase, slightly improved, a tad more aware, but somehow remaining completely unfazed by $120 tanks of gas and ongoing pollution and the rather obvious idea that, despite the slick marketing hype, nothing significant has really changed at all.

Bottom line: You can hope for the big shifts. You can hope for some sort of grand awakening, some sort of removal of the tumor and a relief from the pain of excess waste and abuse and happy ignorance.

But, of course, what you get instead is, well, a nice drive to the megamall in a shiny 2008 Escalade for a couple of aspirin and some compact fluorescent lightbulbs and a copy of "An Inconvenient Truth" on DVD. Ain't that America.


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Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SFGate and in the Datebook section of the San Francisco Chronicle. To get on the e-mail list for this column, please click here and remove one article of clothing:

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(c) 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.

Bill Totten


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