“Mainstream” – that is, corporate – journalism died when it was bought, as by the drug cartels (Kudos, Woody Harrelson). Car journalism fell victim to the same forces, which homogenized journalists, often in the name of superficial “diversity.” Too many men, many of whom drank and smoke and – worst of all – were white and straight. The corporations said: More women! Because they were women. Not because they could write. Not because they knew cars.
So why were they being hired to write about cars?
Well, because some of them had big . . .
One of the first “diversity” hires I witnessed hired was a woman who was put into the not-driver’s seat at USA Today, back when people still read it (this was the ’90s). She had as much business writing about cars as Liberace had writing about dating. Well, women. But she did have something. Two of them. So she was given – literally – the job and the rest of us guys watched and marveled, which was foolish of us, in the manner of watching and marveling at the sight of the tide receding from the beach, the water drawing back, far out to sea.
Then came more “diversity,” in the form of the guy tasked by The Washington Post to be their car guy. He happened to black, which wasn’t the problem. It was that he could not drive, literally – unless the car had an automatic transmission. A brand-new high-performance sports car with a rear engine was dropped off for him to test drive and write about. Before he could do so, he had to be shown how to drive it.
And then he “reviewed” it.
This guy was not a bad guy; I knew him personally. He was a good writer, too – within his field of expertise (which was business). But his knowledge of cars – how they worked as well as what they meant – was superficial and thus his coverage. It costs this much vs. that one, which costs this much less (or more). It has this much power. It has a trunk this big.
Maybe that is what Post readers wanted, though.
It’s what they got, at any rate.
I used to attend the New York Auto Show at the Javits Center in New York City each year. Before the show is opened to the public it is open exclusively to press. One year in the mid-’90s I was there, waiting for one of the several serial press conferences about a new model “reveal” that was about to start. A guy approached me and identified himself as a writer for the Wall Street Journal. He told me he knew I wrote about motorcycles as well as cars and wanted some advice about getting into motorcycle writing. I figured he was a guy like me – who knew and liked bikes – so I asked him about his. He didn’t own a motorcycle. He did not know how to ride one. He had never ridden one.
But he wanted to write about them.
It took me awhile to respond.
This is what’s become of car – and, to some extent – motorcycle journalism, too. It correlates with what has become of cars and – to some extent – motorcycles.
Viz, the new electric scooters.
People who don’t know how to drive (or ride) like automatic transmissions, because they make it possible for people who do not know to drive (or ride) to go through the motions of driving and riding. This synergistically encourages more automatic-equipped cars and scooters, too. Leading in time – our time – to almost no manual-equipped cars. Encompassing even high-performance cars, most of which are now automatic only.
And that, in turn, leads to more boring cars because anyone can “drive” them. Unlike, say, a Dodge Viper – if you remember. It was never even available with an automatic, which meant you had to know how to drive – at least a little bit – in order to drive it.
Inevitably, a post-manual dreary utilitarianism sets in. You can see it all around you.
It is crossover-ism.
One like the rest and all of them essentially the same, almost literally. A 2.0 liter engine paired with an automatic transmission. Is it any wonder the coverage, such as it is, focuses on cargo capacity and MPGs?
For what else is there to cover?
The automatic transmission arguably is the chief culprit – after the government – responsible for the loss of the diversity that once characterized what cars were all about.
It has encouraged people who had no business writing about cars to write about cars, which encouraged the manufacturers of cars to build more cars that cater to people who know nothing about cars – except insofar as they are useful as appliances. And thus, cars have become more and more appliance-like, with the electric car – that is “vehicle” – the most appliance-like of all. It is a vehicle that anyone can drive who can push down on a pedal and soon even that will be deleted from the equation.
At which point we’ll have come to where they wanted us to arrive.
. . .
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