Car Porn

12/08/2010 11:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Pavel Somov, Ph.D. Psychologist/Author of Reinventing the Meal, Eating the Moment, Present Perfect, Lotus Effect

So, I am flipping through the January 2011 issue of Automobile (why is it, by the way, that the magazine industry is always a month ahead of us when in reality even today's paper is already yesterday's news?) -- so, with the glossy on my lap, I find myself in "By Design" column. If you are not a car magazine reader, then let me tell you how it basically works. If there is no picture to go with the article, you flip through without pausing. If there's a pic, you pause and then flip on through. Now, if the pic really grabs, then, maybe, you actually read the accompanying narrative. Car magazines are basically car porn.

So, here I am -- looking at, believe me, no centerfold, per se, just a slinky red two-door cutie called IBE by Seat (pronounced "Say-ott), a Volkswagen-Spain brand. Enough to catch my eye but not without the following call-out: "This electric concept car tells us that the next generation of Seats will be very well-designed and will offer astonishing value." This, naturally, draws me in. The first thing that I am looking for in any article about a new hybrid is data about fuel economy. But what I get is straight-up car porn:

"The roundness of the basic form ... a rather soft basic form ... the surface above the front wheel is voluptuous, emphasizing roundness... the change from side to rear is marked by [...] "pressed" crease line [...] eliminating any hint of being pudgy..."

This lusting description of the exterior of the body is, of course, concluded with the fantasy of what it'd be like inside:

"The elegantly simple and highly inviting seat design could be very easily put into production without the slightest change. It's encouraging to see such realistic things in concept cars; it means we might be able to enjoy them ourselves in the near future."

So, as I scan through these twenty two points of purist commentary on form, I feel like I am reading a transcript of a couple of old men in a strip joint, fresh out of dollar bills, making ever more arbitrary aesthetic distinctions as they struggle to determine that evanescent point at which a strong ankle becomes a cankle.

I take another look at the Seat (pronounced "Say-ott"): it's basically another Golf with lipstick. So wh-ott?! I re-scan the piece in search for anything of Earthly relevance. There's the call-out with its promise of an electric concept with "astonishing value." There is an intriguing point about this car promising to be "safer" for both occupants and pedestrians. But there is no follow-through on any of these info-teasers. Just the syrupy aesthetic gushing. My mind reels: "I am done with this nonsense! Un-subscribe me from this car-nography!"

And then I come to my senses. Of course, how did I miss the obvious? As a civilization we still want our presents wrapped up in shiny paper with a pretty bow on top. Mankind is yet to develop a kind of mind that can recognize essential values (such as no-nonsense fuel economy and safety, with a minimal geo-karmic footprint) without having to sell them through Form and Contour. We -- the worshipers of Surface -- are yet to embrace an ancient dictum that not everything that shines is gold.

Visual. Oh, how visual we still are. Will there ever be a day when we buy a car blind, not worrying about how it looks to us and others, just on the planet-friendly specs?

One more thought in closing: I've always liked that Volkswagen culture of naming cars after various forms of flow: Scirocco -- derived from the Italian for "wind," Golf -- for Gulf stream, Jetta -- for Jet stream, Polo -- for Polar winds. How about this meme-machine -- a Lungta (Tibetan for "wind horse" -- a Buddhist allegory for a human soul, an inner flow of wellbeing, a wind of Essence, not Form)?

Automobile, Jan. 2011, Seat IBE: Electric Hijo De Scirocco (by Robert Cumberford)