Cars as Symbols of Wealth and Power
What cars stand for or symbolize in their owners’ minds can be very different from how others perceive those vehicles.
The classic example would be the Hummer. A large number of these were sold—not for off-road, work-truck use, but to make a statement about the driver’s testosterone level. Like NFL players, they were big, strong, powerful and overweight.
One of our frequent commenters, panayoti, put some thoughts together (see comment #5 here) on why those who buy luxury SUVs (land barges) should be perfectly able to choose and drive what they want without getting dumped on.
Well, of course they should, but it’s not a matter of environmentalism or economics, as he suggests. It’s about human psychology: greed, envy, strutting, preening one’s feathers, power-hunger—and the reactions these displays cause in others. It can become a “my judgment against yours” thing.
The newer land barges that I wrote about cause these reactions in many of us, just as the Hummer did, because their owners appear to flout not only needs of the environment but common sense and good taste. It’s like Paris Hilton and her pink Bentley.
If people want to drive cars like the Infiniti QX56, they ought to expect comments like mine:
It is easily the ugliest new car on the road; it’s a “dressed-up truck…ultimately assembled from Nissan’s mainline parts bin”; it handles like a pig and costs $75,000 as tested.
I also called these cars part of the American Dream, since many people aspire to them, as they do to status symbols like Ferraris, diamonds and other accoutrements of the elites. Women drive these cars to share in their man’s power domain, maybe in his alpha-maleness.
Car lovers get so enmeshed with the objects of their desire that they frequently fail to recognize how others view their behavior. And what is a status symbol for one group is a joke to another.
A parking-lot attendant makes disparaging remarks about your black Escalade. How do you react?