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Old 09-20-2011, 01:36 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Onetime Course: ecomodding, driving, and the highway in American Culture

I am designing a one time January term intensive course. The theme is ecomodding and the highway in American culture. I'm wondering about readings, movies, and modding/driving projects you all might recommend for undergraduate students in the Liberal Arts (history and anthropology). The purpose of my universities January term courses is both study and practical applications of study. I'd love to have them work on modding a car, but liability could kill such an idea when the Dean gets ahold of it. Maybe my car and a buddies Metro/Swift could as demos.

Here is a segment from the Top Gear program I want to use to help frame the question about pathways through American culture that will promote more widespread ecomodding:

Technical intro:
Significant portions of Hucho

Books and films:
Two Lane Blacktop (movie)
On the Road (novel)
Thelma and Louise (movie)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (book)

I could probably try to elaborate, and I'm not sure about Thelma and Louise, and I think some good stuff on Chicano car culture here in SOuthern Cali is in order. But I want your suggestions... what would you want to show, to read, to share, to design, with liberal arts students interested in environmentalism but without much in the way of technical know-how?

james

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See my car's mod & maintenance thread and my electric bicycle's thread for ongoing projects. I will rebuild Black and Green over decades as parts die, until it becomes a different car of roughly the same shape and color. My minimum fuel economy goal is 55 mpg while averaging posted speed limits. I generally top 60 mpg. See also my Honda manual transmission specs thread.



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Old 09-22-2011, 08:30 AM   #2 (permalink)
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(I'll have to write this quickly)

Differentiate between town & country.

A car in the city is the normal Coasty viewpoint, West or East (and irrelevant ethnic takes; plus boring suburbia), but for 80% of America it was access to goods/services over part of a larger region that the car was revolutionary. Steinbeck is a better choice, both Grapes and Travels than opium-eater Kerouac. One needs the memory of the hatred for the railroads, but also the limitations of the horse. Damned both ways. The "car" as that synthesis of liberation from the problems of both.

The Wild Bunch is a much better choice than T&L, for the car represents the old nomad versus land-tied problem anew -- Gypsy versus farmer, Jewish mendicant versus city-dweller; nomad fear meme -- and fits better with Pirsig though that both use motorcycles is irrelevant; stage-props; Wagner stripped down. We come and go as we please, but we are thus tied to the machinery irrevocably.

Tying it together under Hucho ought to be interesting: the lowest cost over a maximum distance (as motorcycles are useless) for the transport of persons & small goods. Comancheros and coastal schooners are an even better set of analogies: willing to risk the frontiers external and internal. A sci-fi novel of asteroid-mining by huge numbers of skilled individuals -- risk-takers, loosely co-aligned -- is another (even if perfectly unlikely; as a thought exercise by some authors; maybe an excerpt from K.S. Robinson Mars series).

Fossil fuel meant dominion over climate & terrain. Cast it against Vaclav Smil and societal time-frames of energy-sources. An individual can find ways to transport high btu liquids. Good luck, only, that he is not in Vichy France keeping a charcoal-burning car supplied. The navel-gazing version of cars is long-dead. Corpse a'horseback since 1973.

Forests and coal mines once, electrical generation next -- all are tied to economies of scale.

Personal "independence" may as well have been the ad slogan. But to cast it as energy independence among small groups would be a better realization. Isolation didn't work out.

.

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Old 09-22-2011, 12:19 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Great recommendations... the town/country contrast and the Steinbeck recommendation. The functions of machines in Grapes of Wrath are ambivalent, right? The "Cats" that demolish housing and farms, the tractors that industrialize the farm, and the car that they try to use as a vehicle of escape. And for Travels with Charlie Steinbeck *made* that camper to seek America in. I have the same feeling about Kerouac versus Steinbeck.

Other film possibilities:

Grease
The Wild One
Easy Rider
Fast & Furious (2001)
Smoke Signals

Most of these films, except Grease are in some sense a comment on the Western or an application of its metaphors and characterizations in new contexts... I like trying to reach deep into the mythic and technological history: prairie schooners and cowboy duds. And I'll make presentations in that direction. But for texts I only have three weeks, I need material to frame the inquiry around pathways through American culture that suggest how ecomodding becomes as "American" as a Western, I suppose... you see Top Gear reaching for this kind of cultural politics in their short clip about the sipster: the opening and closing sequences are classic Western genre references. The camera angles at the start are much like any Western where we meet the forbidding land before we meet the outlaw/hero who will save the town (in this case "save the world"). The final seconds feature sipster saddled-up and riding off into the sunset. Those are among the most powerful and motivating metaphors in American life... their marketers knew what they were doing. It's superficial in their form. I want the students to think about this stuff in grainer grassroots contexts ... think of it while hacking cars, or hanging out with car hackers ... in the culture of the customizers and amateur engineers that populate parking-lot carshows and ecomodding challenges.


Quote:
Originally Posted by slowmover View Post
(I'll have to write this quickly)

Differentiate between town & country.

A car in the city is the normal Coasty viewpoint, West or East (and irrelevant ethnic takes; plus boring suburbia), but for 80% of America it was access to goods/services over part of a larger region that the car was revolutionary. Steinbeck is a better choice, both Grapes and Travels than opium-eater Kerouac. One needs the memory of the hatred for the railroads, but also the limitations of the horse. Damned both ways. The "car" as that synthesis of liberation from the problems of both.

The Wild Bunch is a much better choice than T&L, for the car represents the old nomad versus land-tied problem anew -- Gypsy versus farmer, Jewish mendicant versus city-dweller; nomad fear meme -- and fits better with Pirsig though that both use motorcycles is irrelevant; stage-props; Wagner stripped down. We come and go as we please, but we are thus tied to the machinery irrevocably.

Tying it together under Hucho ought to be interesting: the lowest cost over a maximum distance (as motorcycles are useless) for the transport of persons & small goods. Comancheros and coastal schooners are an even better set of analogies: willing to risk the frontiers external and internal. A sci-fi novel of asteroid-mining by huge numbers of skilled individuals -- risk-takers, loosely co-aligned -- is another (even if perfectly unlikely; as a thought exercise by some authors; maybe an excerpt from K.S. Robinson Mars series).

Fossil fuel meant dominion over climate & terrain. Cast it against Vaclav Smil and societal time-frames of energy-sources. An individual can find ways to transport high btu liquids. Good luck, only, that he is not in Vichy France keeping a charcoal-burning car supplied. The navel-gazing version of cars is long-dead. Corpse a'horseback since 1973.

Forests and coal mines once, electrical generation next -- all are tied to economies of scale.

Personal "independence" may as well have been the ad slogan. But to cast it as energy independence among small groups would be a better realization. Isolation didn't work out.

.
__________________
See my car's mod & maintenance thread and my electric bicycle's thread for ongoing projects. I will rebuild Black and Green over decades as parts die, until it becomes a different car of roughly the same shape and color. My minimum fuel economy goal is 55 mpg while averaging posted speed limits. I generally top 60 mpg. See also my Honda manual transmission specs thread.



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Old 09-23-2011, 04:00 AM   #4 (permalink)
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With the disclaimer than I'm not in America or an American could I suggest including American Graffiti. There is an interesting contrast in the film between all the "attractive" guys with their fancy (and fast) cars and one of the main characters being a nerdy deep thinker type driving a 2CV.

Ads are also a great way to see how things change over time - the 40s and 50s super optimistic future "jet" looking cars, 60s "good life", late 60s muscle and then into 70s nervousness about energy supply and cost, and where they start to push MPG etc.

Also those good old "public information" films that used to be made. The Internet Archive is a good place to see lots of these.
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Old 09-23-2011, 09:22 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Arragonis View Post
With the disclaimer than I'm not in America or an American could I suggest including American Graffiti. There is an interesting contrast in the film between all the "attractive" guys with their fancy (and fast) cars and one of the main characters being a nerdy deep thinker type driving a 2CV.
America is so loud you can hear it over the great waters.

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Ads are also a great way to see how things change over time - the 40s and 50s super optimistic future "jet" looking cars, 60s "good life", late 60s muscle and then into 70s nervousness about energy supply and cost, and where they start to push MPG etc.
These are great suggestions. The rhetoric of these ads will offer students examples of how cultural constructions of the car and driving looked in America, what the marketing research had helped the agencies to produce for the sell.
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See my car's mod & maintenance thread and my electric bicycle's thread for ongoing projects. I will rebuild Black and Green over decades as parts die, until it becomes a different car of roughly the same shape and color. My minimum fuel economy goal is 55 mpg while averaging posted speed limits. I generally top 60 mpg. See also my Honda manual transmission specs thread.



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Old 09-23-2011, 11:24 AM   #6 (permalink)
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(another one thrown off)

Ha, wild bunch! I did mean The Wild One.

The Dark Side is worth exploring:

As to "personal freedom" let's also remember State licensing, traffic laws, blurring of causes for arrest. Riding horseback? No. A wedge in that door as "traffic law" is often no more serious a threat to others than what constirute the basis for library fines. A new thing concurrent with cars: The Bill of Rights does not apply.

Parasitic "insurance": Were insurance collected as a tax at the gas pump we could insure all drivers at a far lower societal cost. But that would cut insurance company profits (divide & conquer), plus remove another State weapon against citizens.

A little rope to roam, but not outside prescribed bounds: 1920's/'30's criminals use automobiles and automatic weapons. Both are suspect thereby. The FBI rode that one to permanent budgets: the "need" for a national police force.

Restrictions on travel, again, on the increase: airliners serviced overseas at un-secured facilities, but Americans subject to illegal searches to board same. "Air Marshalls" cut back because TSA won't pay hotel bills. Etc. Ad infinitum. In that same vein: DUI "checkpoints" and ICE stations miles inland. Not to mention the seizure of cars without due process. None of these make us more "secure" in the way more intelligent problem-solving would. The belief that Big Brother must police our internal movements (as opposed to passports and external movements) is a wedge in the door concurrent with the auto age.

Bet that "hypermiling" will be castigated -- for propagandistic purposes -- as inimical to The American Way of Life.

Ownership and use of a car makes one automatically suspect.

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Old 09-24-2011, 05:06 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by California98Civic View Post
America is so loud you can hear it over the great waters.
Sometimes its deafening, and sometimes not the image you may think or wish to promote

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Originally Posted by California98Civic View Post
These are great suggestions. The rhetoric of these ads will offer students examples of how cultural constructions of the car and driving looked in America, what the marketing research had helped the agencies to produce for the sell.
Cool - IMHO ads are also, ironically, often more "real" than other forms of popular culture where often the protagonists are in charge of the message. e.g. most people assume everyone in the 60s was into rock music, drugs and freaking out but the biggest music sales were in "easy listening", the people in places of influence in the media are those who were freaking out at the time so thats the message we get.

Modern Mechanix has a great Automobile section too.

Will there be an output from this course, a presentation or document you could post up, I would love to see it as I'm sure others would too.
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Old 09-24-2011, 08:00 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Arragonis View Post
Will there be an output from this course, a presentation or document you could post up, I would love to see it as I'm sure others would too.
I'm hoping there will be a car and tests of a car. Perhaps an Android or iPhone app. Definitely some traditional papers. Some of that production will be postable for sure. The course is democratic in structure, meaning I don't dictate the projects but rather lead with ideas, negotiate the actual content, and facilitate their problem solving. That does sometimes mean that my expectations are not part of the final product, making the final outcome hard to predict. And this project has special obstacles: I am certain the university will raise liability concerns when I propose getting access to or buying an old RUNNING car--perhaps a friend's Metro, perhaps something else. But even if I cannot get a car, using my own I would like to answer at least one EM Forum question, which would be the level of pollution produced by a relatively new car driven with the pulse and glide. If the cost is not too ugly, I could rent a five gas analyzer on the course budget. I have a lot of ideas... need to recruit students and start structuring it with them.

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See my car's mod & maintenance thread and my electric bicycle's thread for ongoing projects. I will rebuild Black and Green over decades as parts die, until it becomes a different car of roughly the same shape and color. My minimum fuel economy goal is 55 mpg while averaging posted speed limits. I generally top 60 mpg. See also my Honda manual transmission specs thread.



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