Thinking about a new car for the holidays?
You may think twice after listening to this week’s guest, Anne Lutz Hernandez, who together with her sister, authored Carjacked, The Culture of the Automobile & Its Effect On Our Lives. You may soon agree, it’s an appropriate title.
Catherine, the anthropologist, and Anne, the investment banker turned consumer product marketer, team up to de-mystify the automobile. Once I started reading, I had to interview Anne. Like the kiss that breaks the spell, Anne’s book has lifted the veil such that I can see the car and the culture that comes with it more clearly. Beware! Listening to her could have the same effect of you.
How can we objectively evaluate a culture when we’re immersed in it? The automobile is featured in the ads we watch on TV, in the movies we watch, in the newspapers and magazines we read; we are surrounded by the glamor, mystique and sex appeal of the automobile.
Think you’re a good driver? So do most of us. Think you’re a good negotiator when it’s time to visit the showroom? Mostly that’s men. Think most accidents are the fault of bad drivers? Many of us rationalize away the body count — the equivalent of a plane going down every day which is something we wouldn’t otherwise tolerate or rationalize away. Think you’re immune to advertising? We’re more susceptible than we think; the messages that car manufacturers deliver saturate our senses wherever we turn. Who’s the better mother? The one who lets her kids walk or ride their bikes, or the one that drives them to school? The peer pressure is subtle and pervasive.
Like the recent 3-part series in the Los Angeles Times: Buy Here, Pay Here, you’ll cringe as you hear Anne describe auto dealers who prey on the working poor, because to work, in so many parts of the country, you must have a car. And so the poor are crucified by these dealers who sell clunkers at above Blue-book prices and repossess at the first late payment — you’d never guess what a long and insidious life your old car could go on to in this after life. And there’s little protection for these victims because too often in our society, “Bad credit is the equivalent of bad character and few politicians are willing to stick out their necks for people with bad character.” You’ll think you’re living in a third-world country as you listen to Anne spell out how the poor get screwed because of the lack of transportation choices and dealers who gouge them.
Think you’re adequately insured? Anne may have you thinking again. Too often a crash can lead to personal bankruptcy, “If someone loses their job because they can no longer work, maybe they have disability insurance and maybe they don’t.” Any one of us could be so severely injured that a spouse or loved one would have to stay home from their job and be a caretaker — “There are a lot of ripple effects we don’t think about… When you watch the insurance commercials you get the impression if you crash your car, the new one will be there, instantaneously, and you’ll be on your way. And of course, in this economy there are a lot of people driving without insurance because they simply can’t afford it.”
As Anne sums up, “Pretty soon the luster comes off the chrome…”