What the hell is going on with Cars? There are no people – yet there are sidewalks. I never saw the first film so maybe I’m missing something but I’ve had a hard time wrapping my brain around the universe portrayed in it. Maybe I’m overanalyzing it, punching a dead horse, and whatever other cliché you can insert here but it’s wrong – on many levels. Finally I’ve concocted a theorem about Cars’ civilization:
A long time ago motor vehicles gained consciousness somehow and overtook humanity. Subdued, in a Matrix-like fashion, humans are now the fuel for the cars (one character mentions “fossil fuels” at some point). Very much like Motel Hell the humans are harvested, possibly living in a computer generated reality, and used as fuel. Why else would there be sidewalks in a civilization entirely populated by cars?
The sidewalks are a dead giveaway but also the shape of the cars in Cars isn’t evolutionally sound. In essence, the shape of the cars serves humans. Heidegger said this in The Question Concerning Technology when he discusses technology (made by humans) only really serves human purposes. Why are there double-decker buses in London when the bus’ primary function is transporting large amounts of people? Deciding Cars’ civilization wasn’t a product of evolution happened quickly and that only leaves one other possibility I can think of: The Four Wheel Drive Armageddon.
I’m not sure how it happened but the cars took over, human abjection is rampant, and the former dwellings of us bipeds became elaborate garages. Driveways are right out – they won’t have homeless vehicles scattered about. However, somehow all the aspects of our culture, right down to Catholicism (supposedly there’s a pope somewhere in the Cars universe), have been integrated into their cultures. All the stereotypes are there: Japanese people (or cars) enjoy little gadgets; Americans from the south are dumb and suffer from poor dental hygiene. A particular scene, where Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), partakes in an elaborate Japanese bathroom, testifies to this film’s reliance on stereotypes and orientalizing the East. The thing even had a robotic looking bidet.
Why am I overanalyzing this?
The answer is simple: children across America (and ultimately, the rest of the world) are being indoctrinated into taking these ideas at face value. It’s dandy to be an uneducated schmuck if you have good intentions. Mater eventually found himself by films end but not without making a total ass of himself in the process. Being mistaken for a secret agent by Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer and drafted into international espionage, Mater eventually saves the day and wins back the respect of his friends, including his best friend, the world racing champion Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson). Is this what we want to convey as a society: it’s ok to fall ass backwards into success?
But isn’t that what we do every day: drift through life? We plan and scheme but our dreams are never exactly how we imagine them. Some of us obtain the objects of our desire but it’s never really full. Life throws curveballs, is unpredictable. Maybe a character like Mater is necessary, showing us how life really is. Even if we dream to be doctors or famous it’s not certain we will. Mater’s bumps (akin to scars) show the road he’s travelled, demonstrating how life pegs you whenever it wants and that’s how it goes. Then again, McQueen is a world famous racer with no body damage. Is it possible Mater represents the person worse off than you or I who we can laugh at and receive a confidence boost? If that’s the case I can’t determine whether this transference is healthy or not. Literature and other expressions of humanity contain similar characters – but did these have as much crass automotive commercialism and American bravado?
One could say yes. Just look at Virgil The Aeneid: a story rife with Roman propaganda. Augustus commissioned this while emperor, hoping to generate positive public morale by creating a new Homeric like tale glorifying Rome. It’s arguable that America’s cultural output is grossly nationalistic and coarse. A look at professional wrestling (with its “USA! USA!” chants) or a slew of Hollywood action flicks can attest to this. Maybe we’ve become so accustomed to this in our media that it seems second nature – a part of what we are. Maybe this is what creates that certain something inherent in all Americans and maybe it’s necessary it’s perpetuated through our adolescent media. After all, capitalism only succeeds if some are left at the bottom.
Unfortunately, one of our prime inventions provides the catalyst for our demise in the Cars universe. The fuel Allinall, portrayed in Cars as an alternative energy source, is really us. It’s like Soylent Green but sold through pumps at Shell (which I’m sure murders union forming cars in third world countries). I felt the anti-big business mentality, geared towards Big Oil, was a good moral to teach children: don’t rely on the big oil companies in the future because corporations are dangerous and when given too much leeway become fascist. As much as I rely on big corporations on a daily basis I know they’re not good for me, my nation, or the world in general. I always think of the documentary The Corporation when at this point and wonder if their idea, that corporations are sociopaths and psychopaths, holds any water. Maybe reigning in some of the corporate allowances in our world would change things and maybe the next generation is the one that’ll do it. However, veiling this commentary amidst a sea of advertisements, nationalistic propaganda, and banality combined with a fictitious civilization where cars rule supreme is a bad idea. After all, fantasy is ok but a little too much might prove hazardous.
Here is the trailer