Gartman, David. Auto Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design. Routledge: New York, 1994.
This book is a strict Marxist interpretation, where the automobile is the symbol of a culture that holds consumption as the new opiate of the masses, the automobile as "religious utopias in steel." David Gartman aims to prove that the aesthetic of the automobile has been "shaped by the contradictory process of class conflict." The conflict he most draws on is the satisfaction of auto consumerism versus the indignities of mass production. Rather than consumption as false needs, he sees consumption as true needs which are channeled by class conflict into the only path available, that of consumption. This avenue to self-realization is the result of the fusion of class culture with capitalist competition. Pun intended, he refers to consumer products as vehicles of ideology, and the automobile "an ideological dream of transportation from the ills of capitalist development."
This book not only presents the history of automobile design but also discusses gender inequality as built into the physical form of our culture, as well as the deeply rooted social factors that serve to co-opt environmentalism and any attempt at a move away from consumerism.
Some salient quotes:
The demand of consumers for autos and other mass-produced goods that completely insulated their consumption from from production led to an imperative for class-obscuring style which would prove the demise of Ford's simple motorcar for the masses. [p. 39]
Because the automobile was the most advanced and individual means of physical movement, it immediately became associated with social mobility and freedom in American culture. As mass production lowered prices and popularized ownership, the car was championed as an instrument of democracy, equalizing among all classes the opportunities of geographic mobility. [p. 54]
But could excitement and change be rationalized, turned into an impersonal cog in Sloan's corporate bureaucracy? This question would only be answered by a monumental struggle at all levels of American society. [p. 69]
The division of labor that rendered workers skilless also prevented products from achieving unity. [p. 71]
Aesthetic expressions like streamlining that emphasized continuity discouraged such rational analysis by depriving the mind of a critical pause and keeping it racing along to keep pace with the seamless rush of new experience. [p. 102]
Individualistic consumption produced social costs it could not compensate, while alienated production was undermined by its own prosperity. [p. 185]
The square, stern lines of the cars of the late 1970s to early 1980s assured Americans that they could consume themselves out of the indulgent excesses of the 1950s and 1960s and back to a more "natural" lifestyle without altering the structure of Fordist production that gave rise to the notion of salvation through consumption to begin with. [p. 217]
Copyright 2000 -- Peter L. Kantor [email@example.com]