P.J. O'Rourke on Lost Love

August 1, 2013—Four years ago, P.J. O’Rourke penned an article, “The End of the Affair,” for the Wall Street Journal on why Americans’ love for cars had ended. For me, it was momentous because I had just graduated with a Bachelor’s in Transportation (read: car) Design from Art Center College of Design. My timing has always been questionable. I remember thinking that his proclamation was quite possibly true and that hopefully some upstart Chinese company would send my salvation in offer-letter form.

While the email from Geely never arrived, with some hindsight it seems that (to paraphrase) reports of the death of Americans’ love affair were an exaggeration. The “pointy-heads” are still firmly in charge and yes, if you look under the hood of a Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf you might as well be dissecting an Apple iPod, yet the passion is very much there. O’Rourke’s piece now seems quaintly reactionary to the turmoil that categorized the auto industry a few years ago.

Back in 1800, William Wordsworth railed against the march of technology in “Preface to the Second Edition of ‘Lyrical Ballads’.” Proclaiming that as technology and chaos rise, advancing to prominence in our culture, the human mind declines “to a state of almost savage torpor.” Additionally, Wordsworth specifically mentions the “increasing accumulation of men in cities.” This preface was written in the midst of the industrial revolution when men and society were allegedly losing their souls to the factories, mines and mills of England.

It was indisputably a time of great confusion, which later helped to give rise to socialism, communism, two world wars and corresponded to the transition from farm to city to megalopolis. So did mankind actually lose its soul? I’d argue not, for we never knew the time of Wordsworth, but find much to love in the post-industrial world. Also, waking up at five AM to slop the hogs isn’t our idea of a rich, full life.

Fortunately, we do have the benefit of experience when discussing the automotive industry’s meltdown of five years ago and recognize that it was stressful. But did it help to seal the automotive enthusiast’s coffin?

Absolutely not. Cars are more fuel efficient, safer, and certainly more chock full of nanny-state gizmos. Wide Open also concedes that cars have become more expensive compared to real wages and that a high-school grad working at a gas station can’t go out and buy a V8 Mustang (as might have been possible in 1968). But if, as a car enthusiast, you can’t find a single new car that inspires you, that makes you want to search out your favorite road you haven’t fallen out of love, you’re clinically dead. We’d suggest that the change that Mr. O’Rourke notes is within, that he, and not the enthusiasts around him, became jaded and cynical. Don’t despair Mr. O’Rourke, horse[power] is still one of four things, greater than all things. [kiWO]