My knowledge of the automobile is surpassed only by my deep, Maharishi-like insight into the female orgasm, which, in layman’s terms, means I am supremely incompetent in both areas, though not without some consternation. In essence, if presented with the parts of even a rudimentary engine and asked to put them in some sort of working order, my frazzled embarrassment would parallel the same red-faced humiliation, outrage, and colossal insecurity when faced with the Lewis & Clark-style adventure of bringing sexual pleasure to a member of the fairer sex. For me, a car is little more than a way to avoid walking, as it fits neatly into my sloth-filled lifestyle where the only mantra worth repeating is that, when in doubt, avoid even minimal effort. Sure, I like the satellite radio, the ice cold air conditioning, and the security that comes from knowing great or even mediocre food stuffs are but minutes away, but I’d drive around a pink, rust bucket of a clown car if it meant I could get to my destination without a hassle. As such, I am utterly shameless (or sans vanity) when it comes to my vehicle of choice, a fact made obvious by my recent purchase of a Dodge Durango. To be even more honest, I have little doubt that my picture is posted in dealerships across the Denver area, informing the salivating salesmen that if this man walks on to your lot, he is apt to sign any deal set before him — in blood if necessary — and the more advantageous to the seller, the better. No, please, let me give you more money down.
I revel in my cold slap of chosen misfortune for no other reason that to describe how conflicted I was when viewing this documentary, as I am philosophically behind an electric car, but as my fat, greasy middle finger has already been lifted to the environment, who am I to back a genuinely responsible idea? I consume filth made by oppressed wage slaves, buy products sewn together by pre-pubescent Chinese children with pistols pressed firmly against their temples to ensure better production, and I rail against outrageous social policies while doing absolutely nothing myself to alleviate them. If anything, I am firmly — and inescapably — part of the problem, and I have little doubt that if I were to be shot and left for dead in the alley where I dump my un-recycled trash, the quality of life for all would witness a noticeable improvement. In that way, I’m a little proud, sort of like the mother who feels pain that her son shot up a Wendy’s, but still relishes the opportunity to be on television. Because I know that I will fail to make a mark on this world in any lasting way while alive, it warms a few cockles to be the sort of chump who can contribute something in death.
As a film, Who Killed the Electric Car? is yet another installment of the left-wing sweepstakes to win back at least a few-dozen hearts and minds in our increasingly conservative culture, but without any of the sanctimonious spirit of the genre’s patron saint, Michael Moore. Fine, the film doesn’t entirely avoid a smug sense of superiority, but why must it reach for fairness? You should be driving an electric car, you slob, and if you don’t leave this film feeling like a heel, you obviously have no conscience. Or, failing that, you could shuffle from the theater much as I did; railing against the conspiracy to keep these wondrous machines from us, yet too selfish and greedy to give them a shot. The documentary is breezy, fun, and told much like a court case, as the “guilty” parties are brought before us and exposed for their hypocrisy and short-sightedness. Amazingly, General Motors manages to sail in both seas — heroic and villainous — because it had the audacity to produce the Saturn EV-1, yet given a slight opening, GM killed the project, destroyed all the cars known to exist, and went right back to insisting that SUVs were what everybody needed to feel whole again.
Still, this is far from a one-sided screed against an auto company that went temporarily electric because of a California regulation requiring a small percentage of zero emission vehicles to be operating within its borders. GM deserves to crash and burn, of course, but the film also has its weaponry aimed right at the government, oil companies, and even the sainted consumer. And yet, the “failure” of the EV-1, while somewhat related to a lack of demand, does not take into account that GM deliberately failed to market its product aggressively, which we must assume to be true because the film shows at least four “man on the street” interviews where the participants claim to have never heard of such a car. Though it’s likely that these same people couldn’t name a single Supreme Court Justice and hence, possess a striking ignorance about nearly everything not under their nose, their testimonials had me questioning how passionate GM was about the EV-1. But let’s face it, GM would sell cars that run on the bone marrow of infants if they could make a profit, so it’s absurd to think they wasted hundreds of millions of dollars for the hell of it. Right?
What about this car? Is it practical? Certainly not for long-distance travelers, but given that a single charge will give you enough power to get to work and back each day, it’s something every family should have in their garage. It won’t allow for cross-country trips with your screaming brood, but that’s why you have the behemoth, right? The EV-1 is deathly quiet, lightning fast (that it zips along might surprise someone who believes an electric car operates much like an Amish buggy), and in my mind, reasonably attractive. Sure, it seemed like only celebrities drove the thing (Ed Begley Jr., Peter Horton) but it was a great idea for a region of the country so foul with pollution that freedom of choice must eventually yield to government mandates if people continue to be deliberately idiotic. Hell, I’d be satisfied if L.A. became a fucking police state, given its nastiness right about now. California even set up dozens of power stations for quick plug-ins, but I imagine it would still be nerve-wracking to be close to the end of a charge without a friendly sign popping into view.
So why didn’t GM simply discontinue its “failed” experiment and allow the few surviving cars to remain on the road? Sinister voices suggest that the auto giant didn’t want advertisements for environmental sanity influencing consumers, and I’m inclined to agree. One wonders, then, why they didn’t snuff out the human advocates for the machine, as they continue to demonstrate and hold up signs protesting the demise of our salvation. Of course, as much as I can agree that few people would want an electric car because they continue to assign automobiles near-mythical status in our cock-obsessed culture (the very idea of “cruising for chicks” would be immediately feminized), I do blame big oil for this mess, partly because I want to blame them for everything that goes wrong in our world. If even 10% of American cars did not need gasoline to power their engines, billions of dollars in revenue would be lost every year. And what would happen to the lust to blast away superfluous caribou in the Alaskan tundra? That the California state government went back on everything it initially proposed also proves that either dollars exchanged hands in open bribes, or campaigns for the all-precious re-election began to get a bit cloudy.
But we know all that. Cash comes from corporate America, spineless politicians accept it readily, and legislation is passed that benefits boards of directors and stockholders, yet is obscenely labeled as “in the public interest.” To say much more would be to pound out the obvious. Still, Who Killed the Electric Car? doesn’t come across as quite that simplistic, and it’s entertaining enough to allow for a few cinematic mistakes. And any film that opens with an “auto funeral” at Hollywood Forever cemetery has my immediate attention, and even a few thoughts after it reaches its conclusion. But I still drove away in a Durango, so I’ll spare you the lectures.