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Cars and Their Ongoing Effect on Society and Pop Culture

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cars on the highway

Whether you’re a verifiable petrol head or not, it’s hard to deny the impact that the motor car has had on our society. In the Western world, almost every aspect of life has been affected by them. The way we shop, vacation, work, and even plan our communities has radically altered thanks to the proliferation of the personal transportation units we colloquially refer to as cars.


The positives…

Having our own vehicle has certainly had many positive effects on society. Firstly, travel is much easier. Want to visit relatives on the other side of the state or country? No problem. You can get from your own front door to theirs in a shorter period than ever before. We can take holidays in more remote places, and work within a much larger area.

11 millionth vehicle produced at Arlington Assembly

The production of cars creates jobs worldwide

The motor industry has also been beneficial to many; it’s provided millions of jobs across a variety of sectors. Obviously, the cars themselves need manufacturing. Then there’s the fuel that needs drilling out of the earth, refining, distributing, and selling. At every stage of the process, additional roles need filling, giving a generous boost to local economies across the globe. Jobs like traffic wardens, driving instructors, mechanics, hire car services, car washes, and many more have also been created because of the car’s invention.

Even the way we choose to plan our communities has undergone a huge overhaul thanks to motor vehicles. At one time, if you wanted to work in anything but agriculture, you’d need to live in the city. This is no longer the case. Now, large suburban developments sprawl out across the land, providing less claustrophobic conditions in which to live. These are connected by a myriad of road networks that simply didn’t exist prior to the car.


The not so positive…

However, not all changes have been positive. The environmental degradation caused by personal vehicles is something our children will likely be burdened with. Cars, in their current form, require huge amounts of resources to manufacture and run. Despite recent efforts to create “greener” machines, the struggle to reverse the damage already done to the planet’s oil reserves may well prove to be too great.

Cars can also be blamed in part for the death of cities. Whereas once most commercial activity took place in these great hives of humanity, now suburban developments spread Western economies more thinly across the land. This in turn has created a more isolationist living experience. People travel in their portable steel box alone to work. Then afterwards, they head out of town to pick up their groceries from a huge faceless corporation in the form of a supermarket. After shopping, they head back to their fenced off home in the suburbs. The opportunities for social interaction are greatly diminished throughout the day, and local communities are often that in name-only.

Motor vehicles are responsible for a great many deaths too. From reckless racers spinning out of control on winding country lanes to careless drivers on the school run hitting children crossing the street, the warnings anti-motorcar lobbyists gave when cars were first becoming popular have rung true to some degree. Granted, modern driver testing and in-car safety features are working to diminish these risks, but they’re still prevalent today.

A toll road

Roadways as far as the eye can see
Photo: SPUI

Then there are the more cosmetic affects on society. Our countries are now patchwork networks of concrete surfaces between suburban living areas. Green spaces are rarer than ever before. Cities have become polluted with fumes and engine noises, and at certain times of the day, only the most necessary of all car journeys should be attempted through them. “Rush hour” affects almost every town across the Western world, and the rare urban centre that isn’t friendly to the automobile feels like heaven in comparison. Take Amsterdam, for example. The difference between walking around there at 5pm on a weekday and say, Manchester, is like night and day. In the former, the air is cleaner, and journeys home take minutes not hours. There’s less noise pollution and far fewer accidents. There’s no doubt that not everything about the motorcar is worth celebrating.

Whatever your opinion on the proliferation of personal vehicles, there’s no doubting that they’ve permeated almost every aspect of life. Popular culture recognises this, and some of the best-loved books, movies, songs, TV shows, and video games pay homage to the motorcar. Cars have become a status symbol, and a convenient way of conveying opulence or otherwise in a variety of different mediums. From the failing businessmen in the UK’s Only Fools and Horses with their unsightly and impractical Morris Minor, to the flashy head turners emblazoned upon the slot machines acting as lures for those browsing the likes of NodepositFriend’s selection, we can tell a lot about a character from the wheels they carry themselves in.


Pop culture influence

Take James Bond, for example. He’s synonymous with supercars. Would he still ooze the cool in quite the same way had he not a beautiful woman on one arm whilst the other rests atop an Aston Martin or similar? How about Doc Brown and Marty McFly? You’ve probably never seen a real-life example of their time hopping silver saloon, but I bet the name DeLorean rings a bell with you. Then there are video games like the iconic Grand Theft Auto. The best-selling smash and grab crime-a-thon created a whole world of fictional cars that were clearly based on real-world designs. The further you got through the game, the more successful your character became.

Of course, with that came flashier whips. Even pop stars have even got in on the act. Johnny Cash’s “One Piece at a Time” celebrates a resourceful chap who manages to steal every piece of a brand-new motor from his workplace at an assembly line over the course of several years. The track culminates with our hero assembling his franken-car only to discover that the design has changed considerably since he started working at the factory. The song culminates with the amusing admission that Cash is now the proud owner of a “’60, ‘61, ‘62, ‘63, ‘64, ‘65, ‘66, ‘67, ‘68, ‘69, ’70 automobile”.

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Thelma and Louise, rocketing off the cliff
Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Cars have become a vital tool in the modern world. Their impact on almost every aspect of life is clear. They might not be the most ideal solution for personal transportation, and no doubt the future will see different forms take the role they’ve filled. Maybe one day we’ll lust after the flashiest teleportation unit but for now, we’ll have to be content with ogling Bond and his DB9 or even that convertible Thunderbird from Thelma and Louise.

This article was written by one of our affiliates.