The Automobile and American Culture: 07/06/15
The Automobile and American Culture edited by David Lanier Lewis is a collection of essays about the affect of the automobile and the highway system had on American culture. It was published as the United States was recovering from the energy crisis of the 1970s and Detroit was facing growing competition from Japanese and European car makers.
These essays cover everything form the early history (including research, development, and long since forgotten companies), romance and sex, cars in the arts (paintings, songs, and books), and some dystopian glimpses of the America post automobile as the cars seem to have destroyed the smaller, people oriented cities, but have created an infrastructure that can't sustain itself.
But they miss across the board economic collapse that Detroit saw with the shuttering of factories and the real estate bubble bursting. But the book still serves as a good cultural census of the automobile industry as it stood in the 1980s.
The purpose of reading this book (actually re-reading it) was to get a large scale time line of the evolving road trip story as the automobile became part of the American life style. The first time I read the book I did so on the prompting after having seen three films with very similar road trip elements, despite being otherwise completely different: Thelma & Louise (1991), Cherry 2000 (1987), and The Terminator (1984). I noticed that the road, including road marks and road signs, were used to punctuate the plots of the films.
In re-reading the book twenty years later I can see the road as grammar is alive and well in American story telling. Much of my reading of these essays were taken against a long running show that at first glance might not seem like a road trip series (despite the inclusion of a 1978 Chevy Impala), Supernatural. What I also didn't expect was that it's not Sam and Dean's road trip, per se, as theirs ended with the finding of their father; instead, it's Castiel's and he bears the hallmark signs in his clothing. That trench coat or duster that he usually wears was at one time the hot ticket item for any young man to wear to show that he owned an automobile that was rugged enough to hit the open road at any time.
To see the results of my live blogging of the book as I read it, please see Tumblr.