Car Castration

By Joel Stein Illustration by Mikey Burton

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Car Castration:

Every new technology emasculates us more. Before fire, we ripped raw meat with our huge teeth, and before the wheel we carried women by their huge hair. Since then, robots have taken our factory jobs, gas grills have ruined outdoor cooking and fantasy football has nerdified watching NFL games. But no technology has ever threatened our masculinity as much as the self-driving car.

There are lots of terrific things about self-driving cars. For example, they won’t kill us. And they’ll drive really close to one another, reducing traffic and, therefore, pollution. They’ll allow the blind and handicapped to get around. Parents won’t have to lug teenagers to all their stupid activities. We’ll be able to do other things while we drive, such as things we already do while we drive: eat, switch songs, shave, adjust the temperature, talk, read magazines, fix our hair, pick our noses, see how many miles are on the odometer, look up that word that guy on the radio just said, think about girls, look at girls, text girls—all without feeling guilty.

But here’s one thing that’s not so good about self-driving cars: They will steal our dicks.

Being a man is about freedom, danger, risk and speed. It’s about peeling out, doing doughnuts and challenging the guy at the red light to a race. But once we’re all in self-driving cars that all go the same five miles over the speed limit, there are no more Steve McQueens. There are no more bank-robbery getaways. There are no more car chases to watch on the local news. And there’s no more impressing a woman by taking a sharp turn at 60 miles an hour. What we are talking about when we talk about driverless cars is a future in which Hollywood finally has to stop making The Fast and the Furious movies. A future in which Sammy Hagar has to remake “I Can’t Drive 55” into a song called “My Self-Driving Car Can’t Drive Over 55 Due to Manufacturer’s Liability Issues.” It’s a future in which the frisson has been completely removed from the car blow job.

There was no greater thrill my senior year of high school than sneaking out to the parking lot, getting into my Olds-mobile station wagon and taking it off-road through a hole in the baseball-field fence before the security guards caught me. Maybe a self-driving car could do that, but it would have made coming back from Burger King and bragging about my exploits to my nerd friends in AP Calculus a whole lot less fun.

My desire to drive was so strong that after my parents got a tractor mower when I was 13, I cut the grass without even being asked. Driving was so much fun that I offered to not drink at parties just so I could be the designated driver, and I drove so badly and so fast that my high school friends would have been better off without a designated driver.

Driving is how we show our personality, display our skills and vent anger. We cut people off, give them the finger, honk and complain about how every other driver sucks. We watch out for cops, since the highway is the only place most of us ever break the law. Behind the wheel, we are all outlaws, looking out only for ourselves. At home we might sit in front of the television or stare at Facebook for hours, but when we drive, we rush, desperately aware of just how little time we have left.

There will, of course, be no point to buying a nice car. Or knowing about cars. If you can’t operate it, why own a Lamborghini? Or even a Mustang. Who would even build a consumer car with 400 horsepower when it’s allowed to go only 60 mph? We’ll all have Priuses. Or—even worse—we won’t own cars. Whenever people at Google talk about their self-driving cars—the company has about a dozen on the road now, logging more than 500,000 miles without causing an accident—they talk about a future in which people summon different cars depending on their needs. Vehicles will drive themselves to the mechanic or the car wash. It’s a dystopia in which we are even more passive, more dependent, more irresponsible and more distanced from the present. To put it simply: No matter how well-dressed or handsome a guy is, no one looks cool commuting on a train.

Already there’s too little wrenching in our driveways, too much distance between us and our tools. The driverless car is another black box that only the specialist nerds understand. Fixing cars—even just checking the oil level or tire pressure—was our last chance to dirty our hands. Except for gardening, which is not manly.

You can drink alcohol in a driverless car, which sounds good, but that’s not driving, that’s riding in a party van. Or a Greyhound bus. Sure, there’s a future with self-driving cars that are like Michael Keaton’s Batmobile or Knight Rider’s K.I.T.T. But there’s a far more likely one with cars that are like Herbie the Love Bug, our highways transformed into a monorail of Disneyfied, testosterone-free riders who never look up to see the land they’re driving through. And in that slow, careful, automaton future, a hero will one day emerge who rips the computer chip out of his car, rebuilds the engine and flies by us all in the emergency lane. He might crash, he might be arrested, but he will be alive. And I’m absolutely certain he’ll get laid.


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