RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Humorist and commentator P.J. O'Rourke is also worried about the state of the auto industry. His new book is called "Driving Like Crazy." And now he offers his own theories about where things went wrong.
Mr. P.J. O'ROURKE (Humorist): I blame feminism and Facebook for the death of the American automobile. I'm a Republican, so I blame everything on feminism — or commies. But commies are making a profit building cars in China. And I'm a curmudgeon, so I hate all those Inter-netty, dotty-com sort of things. About time this computer fad blew over, is what I think.
Anyway, feminism and Facebook killed the car. The whole point of cars — why boys had to have them — was girls. A boy took a girl for a ride in a car. Then they parked somewhere with a view — of submarine races, for instance. Or they ran out of gas. Or something, and gender identity! Leading to patriarchal social constructs, and — with luck — some smooching.
Feminism didn't end the smooching. But it did end a lot of marriages. Dad came home from the phallocentric office or factory, and Mom threw a Bella Abzug at him. Feminism also ended job discrimination against women. A woman could get hired as an able-bodied seaman, a man about town — even a strongman in the circus.
So, with Dad off living with his second wife in Phoenix and Mom at work, boys and girls didn't need to go for a ride. The whole house was Lovers' Lane. The last time any serious smooching was done in a car was about 1979, and the kids got tangled in the mandatory shoulder belts, and the air bag went off, and they aren't going steady anymore.
This is kind of a shame because by the late 1980s, cars — particularly minivans and SUVs — were providing a smooch-friendly environment. What with fold-up seats and fold-down video screens, it was a regular hotel suite in there.
But why bother when kids could walk to each other's parentally unsupervised homes, or ride a bike or a skateboard. Contemporary teen sexual activity has a small carbon footprint.
The other point of a car, besides taking a girl for a ride in it, was finding a girl to take for a ride. Boys did this by looking cool in cool cars. A few boys — high school football stars and such — could look cool without cars. But these were the boys who had cool cars anyway.
Facebook destroyed cruising the burger stand. You could have two Corvettes and drive them both at the same time and not look as cool as you could make yourself look on Facebook. Corvettes come with a lot of accessories, but not Photoshop. And what with emailing, tweeting, texting and cell phonery, boys and girls could meet each other at the speed of light.
Our tastes, our interests, our passions are formed in youth. Our passion for the automobile is gone. The car has rolled away to die somewhere because we don't love it anymore. Why fill the tank, check the oil, put air in the tires and drive to hell and gone when heaven is just a mouse-click away?
MONTAGNE: Commentator P.J. O'Rourke's latest book is "Driving Like Crazy." You can hear him on NPR's game show: WAIT, WAIT, DON'T TELL ME, and you can comment on his essay on the opinion section of npr.org.
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