"The SUV Phenomenon"
Coming from an affluent suburb, I know first-hand that the number of SUV's people own has grown to a staggering figure. I often wonder why all these stay-at-home mothers and businessmen so desperately need these enormous off-roading vehicles when their activities consist of commutes to and from grocery stores and office buildings.
In David Goeway's essay, "'Careful, You May Run Out of Planet': SUV's and the Exploitation of the American Myth" (Maasik and Solomon 105), I begin to view the connotative embodiment of the SUV from an alternative perspective. He discusses at length the history of the automobile in conjunction with man's desire of independent travel; beginning from the first automobiles and ending in the present with our super-sized SUV's (105-6). Throughout his essay, he points out several contradictions (especially evident in advertising) surrounding the American ideology of the SUV.
He addresses advertisements for SUV's that display the vehicle amongst the gorgeous outdoors, implying that the car is at one with nature.
As Goeway notes, "[T]he SUV is anything but nature-friendly with its thirsty gasoline tank and lower emission standards."(106). Furthermore, in proving the SUV's inharmonious relationship with nature, we learn that automobiles must meet a fuel economy standard of 27.5 miles a gallon while SUV's are permitted to drop as low as 20.7 miles a gallon with some SUV's still falling short of the lenient standard (113).
In Thomas Hine's "What's In a Package", he says "Advertising leads consumers into temptation." (71). This is evident when we look at current advertisements that target both genders. Men see a commercial and immediately feel that if they had an SUV, they would be rugged, attractive and invincible. An SUV shown traversing rugged terrain tells a man that he will discover a boundless frontier for his newfound strength.
When a woman sees a commercial for an SUV, she sees the embodiment of her independence. For example, Goeway alludes to an ad where there is "[A] casually dressed young woman easily tying a kayak to the SUV's roof." (112). The truth is, a man will not exhibit more strength for owning an SUV and a women will have no more independence. They will continue their daily trips to the grocery store and the office only their car will be much bigger.
One point that Goeway didn't address fully in his essay is the SUV's supposed safety. Commercials imply that families should own these vehicles due to their outstanding safety measures. In actuality, statistics show that SUV's cause a fatality rate higher than that of any other vehicle on the market. Many deaths result from lack of visibility. Some instances show parents running over their own children in their driveway. Furthermore, in a two car collision, the passengers in the SUV will be fine while the passengers in the other car are much more likely to sustain major injuries or even death.
The SUV phenomenon says a lot about American culture especially when we notice other countries haven't fallen prey to their charms. Americans are lacking in confidence and therefore seek strength from this oversized vehicle. We are a fear-based culture and find comfort in the inherent safety of this warlike machine and yet we are totally self absorbed and egocentric because we purchase this vehicle knowing that in a collision, our lives would be spared while those in the "other" car may not be so lucky. We can be sure that as long as Americans strive to find strength and courage, the SUV will be a staple in our automobile market.
Goeway, David. "'Careful, You May Run Out of Planet': SUV's and the Exploitation of the American Myth." Signs of Life in the USA. 3rd ed. Eds. Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon. Boston: Bedford, 2002. 105-115
Hine, Thomas. "What's in a Package." Signs of Life in the USA. 3rd ed. Eds. Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon. Boston: Bedford, 2002. 69-78