Bad Attitudes, a magazine of culture, politics, art, literature, 
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Putting Your Tiger
In a Tank

Now and then we are given a peek at what our masters really think of us. This one was offered on July 17, 2000, by The New York Times.

“...Auto Pacific Inc., an auto market research company in Santa Ana, Calif., found in another large survey this spring that sport utility buyers placed a lower value than minivan drivers on showing courtesy on the road. Sport utility buyers were more likely to agree with the statement, ‘I’m a great driver,’ and to say that they drove faster than the average motorist...

“DaimlerChrysler has chosen high-riding designs even for the two-wheel-drive versions of its sport utilities, even though they are unlikely to be driven over rough terrain and are therefore unlikely to need to ride higher, said David C. McKinnon, DaimlerChrysler’s director of vehicle exterior design. Mr. McKinnon said the company’s highest executives had told him repeatedly to ‘get them up in the air and make them husky.’

“...A recent television ad for the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited showed a driver who had to scale a pile of rocks that had blocked the driveway to his house, in a scene intended to show that a sport utility owner can overcome a threat. Similar themes have been found in ads for the Lincoln Navigator, promoting it as an ‘Urban Assault Luxury Vehicle’ or urging customers to ‘Ditch the Joneses.’

“Mr. Bostwick of DaimlerChrysler and other auto market researchers said they had been greatly influenced by Dr. Clotaire Rapaille, a French-born medical anthropologist who has worked as a consultant to DaimlerChrysler, Ford, and General Motors.

“Dr. Rapaille looks at the intellectual, emotional and ‘reptilian,’ or instinctual, reasons why people buy consumer products. He said sport utilities are designed to be masculine and assertive, often with hoods that resemble those on 18-wheel trucks, vertical metal slats across the grilles to give the appearance of a jungle cat’s teeth and flared wheel wells and fenders that suggest the bulging muscles in a clenched jaw.

“Sport utilities are designed to appeal to Americans’ deepest fears of violence and crime,* Dr. Rapaille said. People’s earliest associations with sport utilities are wartime Jeeps with machine guns mounted on the back, he explained. Sport utilities are ‘weapons’ and ‘armored cars for the battlefield,’ he said.

“Detroit advertising agencies have looked at buying the rights to make television commercials from the ‘Mad Max’ series of movies, and inserting footage of sport utilities into movie scenes showing combat in the Australian desert by bloodthirsty, leather-clad biker gangs in masks, Dr. Rapaille said.

“The big, powerful S.U.V.’s with a message of ‘don’t mess with me’ are going to be around for some time, because American culture is not going to change,’ he said. ‘The reptilian always wins.’”

July, 2000

* The same strategy was employed by the arms industry after World War II, when no plausible military threat to the United States remained and there loomed the terrifying prospect of peace. It became necessary, as Ambassador James B. Conant once counseled, “to scare the hell out of the American people.” This brilliant marketing campaign continues today, with total sales in the incalculable billions. (Editor’s note)


Copyright © 2004 by Jerome Doolittle