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A Cultural Critique of the Tesla Cybertruck

A Cultural Critique of the Tesla Cybertruck

2023-12-09 14:56:06

When folks ask me why I’m an automotive journalist, I invariably give them certainly one of two responses. The primary—after I need them to depart me alone—is “I simply at all times favored vehicles!” The second response, the actual response, is that I really wished to be a cultural critic. Sadly, that’s not an actual job anymore. Vehicles, in American society, are the next-closest factor to tradition itself, and so I selected to concentrate on these.

Whereas most days, I do concentrate on the “I just always liked cars” part of my job, typically a brand new automobile comes alongside that gives such reducing perception into the nation I dwell in that I’ve to drop every thing and analyze it. This occurred to me final week. From the attitude of a cultural critic, the Tesla Cybertruck is likely to be the only most attention-grabbing automobile of the twenty-first century.

a sign in a grassy area

Edwin Locke, 1937. Through Library of Congress (LC-USF33-004228-M3).

Get Your Kicks (on Interstate 66)

I’ll justify this declare, however first, I have to give a short historical past of America. Vehicles in america occupy a particular place in our conscience. Our nation’s transformation from an isolationist backwater to the commercial empire that dominated the 20 th century is inextricably linked with automotive tradition. Not solely did the auto (and the Federal Highway Act of 1921) enable Individuals to journey from coast to coast in a fast and secure method at residence, the mass-production techniques developed to construct them at unimaginable charges had been crucial to winning World War II, starting a long time of American dominance. In parallel with the auto and as a result of of the auto, the American West became heavily populated and america cemented itself as the first superpower of the worldwide West. The America everybody alive as we speak has identified and lived in was constructed on the again of “a car in every garage”.


Federal Freeway System

Put up-World-Warfare-II, when Eisenhower declared that America would construct the Interstate Highway System for nationwide safety functions—and subsequently, federal funds would at all times assist an auto-centric society—he cemented that American tradition would merely be automotive tradition for so long as america and the auto existed. Automotive possession amongst Individuals doubled in the decade after WWII; by the tip of the Fifties, one in six Americans had been employed (instantly or not directly) by the auto business. As this shift occurred, the auto’s design remodeled from a comparatively utilitarian two-box design to a extremely stylized reflection of the tradition surrounding it.

55 chevy


However none of this must be information. Automotive lovers inherently know that the postwar optimism of the Fifties is virtually synonymous with the ever-growing peak of land-barge tail fins, and the blocky restraint of Sixties sedans acquired ever-more-serious, nearly beat-for-beat, because the nation grappled with waves of assassinations and social unrest. The uncertainty of the Seventies introduced with it the awkward styling of an business caught off-guard; the Eighties noticed the rise of tech-centered Japanese futurism and its aero-forward wedge styling take over American roads.

Vehicles are distinctive of their cultural accuracy, too. Structure strikes at a glacial tempo (Googie structure lasted 25 years!) and trend is ultra-rapid (Dior’s New Look, one of the vital influential tendencies in ladies’s clothes to ever exist, in its purest kind lasted roughly 4 years), and each of these fields’ designs are vastly completely different for the rich and the common. Vehicles, however, replace roughly each three to seven years, and there’s a automotive for each value level and demographic possible, since nearly each American wants one.

a car showroom with cars

Victoria Scott

From all of those eras, sure fashions—from the unique to the on daily basis—appear to be excellent home windows into our nation’s ego and id; they present what it values, and what it fears, in the mean time of its launch. The ‘57 Chevy, with its huge expanses of gleaming chrome—and its ads full of perfectly-trad-beautiful gleaming white smiles and white faces—turned shorthand for the rock n’ roll Fifties; the stainless-steel Delorean DMC-12 and the unreliability beneath its gleaming sci-fi exterior got here to characterize the hollow futurism of the Reagan Eighties.

Which neatly brings us to the Tesla Cybertruck and the fraught current.

We Didn’t Begin The Hearth

Hindsight makes most of those observations about bygone fashions appear widespread sense, however it’s in fact a lot tougher to precisely describe a historic second as you reside by way of it. It will ordinarily be much more troublesome to decide on one thing to characterize that second.

a black car with a white ball in the front


Fortunately for us, the Cybertruck and Tesla CEO Elon Musk are usually not delicate about their goals. Stylistically, in fact, the Cybertruck seems to be like a parody of an Eighties dystopian future. Extra Whole Recall’s Johnnycab than Blade Runner’s Peugeot Spinner, though that has not stopped Musk from making parallels to the latter movie. He, in any case, introduced the Cybertruck in 2019 on the identical day the unique Blade Runner movie is about. That launch occasion 4 years in the past featured Musk harping on the rugged nature of Tesla’s new pickup, throwing metal balls on the impact-resistant home windows and mentioning that the chrome steel pores and skin of the Cybertruck can be “literally bulletproof to a nine-millimeter handgun.”

Within the 4 years for the reason that preliminary announcement of the Cybertruck and its launch, Musk has doubled down on these feedback. He has known as the Cybertruck “what Bladerunner would have driven” and “the best in apocalypse expertise”. Press movies launched by Tesla present complete MP5 magazines emptied into the doorways to drive residence the physique’s bulletproof nature. Musk’s emphasis that the Cybertruck is an “armored personnel service from the long run” is probably going pushed by his perception that “the apocalypse could come along at any moment.”

Whereas Musk is, to say the least, well-known for outlandish statements, he does appear to genuinely consider society is on the precipice of a collapse. Over the previous decade throughout his Tesla-fueled rise to prominence, he’s repeatedly expressed issues that killer robots will threaten humanity within the close to future and known as synthetic intelligence “our biggest existential threat.” His more moderen embrace of right-wing rhetoric appears to have solely deepened this perception; throughout a recent trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, he said that undocumented immigrants will trigger “a collapse in social providers,” and he believes that falling birthrates—prompted, in his view, by birth control and abortion—are a “a lot greater danger to civilization than international warming.”

It Begins With An Earthquake, Birds and Snakes

Whether or not Musk really believes society is close to collapse—or whether it is really about to break down—are immaterial. What is true is {that a} majority of individuals—throughout nearly all demographics and ages—agree life in America is getting worse, and we should metal ourselves for the grim future ahead. Extra Individuals are pessimistic about the future of the nation than optimistic. Virtually three-quarters of Americans believe, at the very least considerably, that “the nation is falling aside.” That is mirrored a lot nearer to residence, as properly; polling reveals {that a} quarter of Individuals fear being attacked in their own neighborhood.

And our autos mirror these anxieties. Greater than half of autos offered as we speak in America are vehicles and SUVs; this fueled a brand new all-time excessive for the average weight of a new passenger vehicle in 2022, which hit a staggering 4329 kilos. Pickup patrons, extra steadily than different varieties of automobile homeowners, say they get pleasure from their vehicles because they are “powerful” and “rugged”. Most new automobile patrons fee automobile security as a top priority in their purchases, and bigger vehicles are indeed safer for occupants than small ones (though they’ve vastly more negative externalities, resembling tire particulates and useless pedestrians).

So automakers have given us what we demanded, and the stylistic language has modified to match: the overarching tendencies of this decade so far is to make our autos broader, heavier, boxier, and more militaristic in nature, as rounded strains don’t mission energy. The Cybertruck—which Musk said at its launch “will win” in an “argument” with different autos—merely follows all of those themes to their logical endpoints.

A bulletproof three-and-a-half ton stainless-steel truck equipped with “Bioweapon Defense Mode” designed to slam by way of different vehicles is the proper automobile for a society the place over a 3rd of individuals are scared to walk around at night.

a building under construction

I’m Afraid Of Individuals

I moved lately from a rural city in Idaho to the guts of Seattle, a change I’d been longing to make for ages. After I instructed my mom I used to be lastly relocating, she instructed me to keep away from strolling outdoors in my neighborhood, as a result of she had heard it was harmful. She has not been west of the Mississippi River at any level in my complete life. She is solely an avid Fox News watcher.

The Cybertruck is the proper automobile for her. It’s the excellent automobile for a tradition the place everyone seems to be afraid of their neighbor. Musk’s bulletproof wedge-shaped machine is the bodily manifestation of America’s concern, and whether or not it’s good or unhealthy, we deserve it.

Headshot of Victoria Scott

Contributing Editor

Victoria Scott is a contract author, photographer, writer, and cat mother who lives in Seattle. She is a number one business professional in catastrophically breaking her autos whereas off-roading. Her proudest second behind the wheel was finishing Mission 34 in Gran Turismo.

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