William Calvo, MSD | Arizona State University
“The car is a living and a dead being” Daniel Miller, Car Culture
“The car is the closest thing we have created to being alive” Jaguar TV commercial The Humanity of the Car
Just as Daniel Miller explains, the existence and invention of the car have crucially defined the evolution and direction of the humanity in the last century. For some groups the car has become ‘the destructive symbol’ of human alienation and environmental obliteration. For others, cars are positive confirmations of the human ability to overcome their physical limitation of space and speed. Today, every major city has evolved or transformed itself around cars. Our freeways, garage parking, streets, and even our homes support and represent this landscape, reiterating that car indeed has a pervasive influence in human life. Cars are human-made objects, but we have elevated them from their level of common object to a level at which it literally becomes one of us
The importance of cars as an expression of material culture lies not in their functionality and what people are able to do with them as a medium of transportation, but “in the degree to which it has become an integral part of the cultural environment within which we see ourselves as human[s]” (Miller, 2) The car has became an expression of power, status and identity. The cars are in themselves repositories of cognitive cultural knowledge [tau] to the point where cars have lost their relevance, as mere transportation devises to become sacred elements of our everyday life. As Geist and Nachbar note, “the automobile we own becomes a tangible representation of who we are, and who we want our friends and neighbors to believe we are” (25). Objects and people are interrelated; however they are frequently studied separately because they are seen as independent entities; but the reality is that today objects and people coexist simultaneously and in many cases the object and the person becomes almost one. Most studies forget the objects; in this case the car, has blended so intimately into the social structure that we take for granted their existence as well as our socialization with them. As Miller explains “[car’s] humanity lies above the degree to which so many of us are socialized [and] take them for granted, so that we think [about] our world through a sense of the self in which driving, roads and traffic are simply integral to who we are and what we presume to do each day” (3). In relation to cars, traditional material culture theory has tended to become limited. Weiner and Mauss’ appreciation of object’s alienability does not really justify adequately the multiple meanings that some objects have when they are placed inside a social context. One of the problems of seeing human and objects as separate entities is that it prevents us to see how some objects work simultaneously as bridges between the material and the immaterial world. Those hybrids-objects, for example cars, are materially speaking “objects” but they are culturally speaking above their material world, beyond mere objects. The problem of evaluating and situating the relationship between human and cars into the spectrum of material studies results in insurmountable repercussions because their value is estimated relative to the social context and their community status (Stotz 1993).