People can get very sentimental about their cars. Our vehicles are political statements, indicators of wealth, and status symbols all rolled up into one expensive ball of metal, plastic, and the severed appendages of auto workers.

In recent weeks, various media outlets have reported on the Prius as a symbol of an impending generation of smug liberal yuppies hoping to rub their insincere eco-friendliness in the faces of the general populace. People like Slate’s Emily Bazelon, whom I love, and the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson, who has an awesome mustache, have each recently waxed poetic on what owning a Prius actually means.

While these are just two examples, I think they are finely written and make interesting points…but I disagree with a key point both of them are inferring in their pieces.

Both articles insist that Prius ownership is, to a certain level, about image. The Prius is universally distinguishable from anything else on the road. As Samuelson says it “screams Hybrid”. That may be true…in fact, it’s totally true…but the writers go on and press the idea that this car symbolizes a new degradation in American culture, an idea that I definitely don’t subscribe to.

Bazelon, who…again…I am in love with, writes that she is concerned her new Prius is turning her young children into snooty eco-snobs of the Leonardo DiCaprio variety. She thinks that by and large, this is a negative phenomenon, that the Prius as an identifiable symbol of environmental consciousness is somehow cheapening the cause and attracting animosity from the non-hybrid public.

Sure, she has a point. Regular people get annoyed at Mac users, Prius drivers, and vocal political wonks…and since I’m all three you can imagine how popular I am. But Samuelson takes it one step further and uses the Prius as a political symbol in criticizing the intentions of figures such as Arnold Schwarzenegger who have, publicly of course, waxed poetic about setting lofty environmental goals. Samuelson cites population increases and Chinese energy consumption as factors that would not only completely offset any advances we might have made, but that coupled with our swooning rhetoric is bordering on the irresponsible.

Samuelson and yes, even the love of my life Emily Bazelon, belong to what I like to call “Gray Journalism”. This is the journalism of the pedestal, of the institution, of the successful and pragmatic. It is a style of journalism that isn’t affected by the medium, as the NY Times’ webpage being one of the most sophisticated sites on the planet proves. Gray Journalism is old journalism through new means, and like gray concrete, it lays the foundation for the real discussion.

Today, incremental change is unacceptable. In a world as connected as ours, baby steps became baby leaps that became Olympic long jumps, when Al Gore spoke of eliminating the internal combustion engine in 25 years he was laughed at. Indeed, we are on track to seeing it happen in 15. When Barack Obama speaks of the audacity of hope, the courage to turn belief and passion into action and sweat, what was once dismissed as lofty BS is now a few percentage points from putting a Black liberal in the White House.

Samuelson’s numbers, and Emily “My future wife” Bazelon’s worries are both correct and worthy of attention. But the idea that the Prius represents something that is false, I think, is untrue.

Prius drivers may be cocky, smug, and judgmental…but they have a point.

Disclosure: The author drives a Prius, loves it, and is only a little bit cocky, smug, and judgemental.

Advertisements