Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Toyota's Goose is Cooked

For years, car buyers in the U.S. worshipped Toyota.  It was hyped as the most reliable, most trustworthy, safest, requiring the least maintenance, happiest car around.  The Consumer's magazines rated it through the roof.  Miles of column inches of hyperbole praised Toyota's high technology and standards and the absolute trustworthiness of the Japanese manafacturers.  It was almost an article of religion that they were beyond reproach when it came to integrity.  If they failed, legend had it, they would lose face and be forced to eviscerate themselves, so they adhered to a strict policy of high ethics. 

Because we largely believed that line, Americans bought Toyotas when Fords or Chevys might have actually been better -- to the point that we almost put the American car-makers out of business.  Some of them did go under.  So what if the Japanese models were more expensive?  So what if we were putting our own people out of work?  It was a matter of integrity.  We trusted the Japanese cars.  We believed Detroit made drek.  We bought accordingly. 

I read the reviews when I finally learned to drive at age 44.  I needed a reliable car, and Toyota seemed to be the best and safest bet.  I checked the consumer's journals for the best reviewed car and found the exact model and year they said would have the fewest problems of any car ever made.  A Toyota, of course.  In two years, it was totally rusted out and ready for the scrap heap.  It got decent gas mileage, but the electrical problems they told me would never happen happened all the time.  It was a disaster.  Went straight to a Ford and never looked back.  I would never buy a Toyota again if it meant having to ride a bicycle.

Toyota's ticket to ride in the U.S. was its impeccable reputation.  Maybe there was a reason for it at one time, though I am skeptical, given my experience in the early1980s.  Now that the nasty underbelly has been revealed, with Toyota's attempt to cover up a massive and dangerous design failure by blaming it on floor mats, that impeccable reputation is tarnished beyond repair.  Who will ever believe the hype again? 

Once we've seen the wizard, Oz no longer glistens in our eyes.  There's no place like home, and Detroit is looking very homey, these disillusioned days.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

T'ain't funny, McGee!

I used to love listening to Fibber McGee and Molly on the radio.  Fibber sometimes make bad jokes and Molly would tell him, "T'ain't funny, McGee."   I loved Molly. 

I got a joke from a friend yesterday which involved racism, gay-bashing, violence and race baiting.  This came from a man I suspect has not a racist nor a homophobic bone in him, yet he was passing this really repugnant thing along as a good joke he had really enjoyed.  It was really stunning to realize that he had no clue whatsoever that there was anything wrong with it.

After all, he said, we laugh at Road Runner cartoons, and they are as violent as it gets.  He also argued that he could have substituted any ethnicity for what was described as a "huge black man" in the joke.  "If it had been a big lazy white hillbilly would it have been OK?" he asked. 

Stunning.  He was missing the point on so many levels. 

Gay jokes are always popping up, and people don't seem to realize that it hurts when you tell them to gay people.  A comedian I saw on Logo expressed how it feels really well -- he said something like "Oh, right! I forgot -- I'm a joke. Thanks for reminding me."  They don't seem to realize that reducing someone to joke status seriously diminishes their personhood, not to mention self-esteem and general confidence.

It hurts when you tell gay jokes to straight people, too --it reinforces stereotypes in people's minds, and promotes the marginalization of those who are different.  It helps people justify prejudice, which in turn further alienates gay people.  It may even feed into gay-bashing in a more violent way.  The joke my friend sent could really do that, as the gay man in it is beaten to a pulp in a bar parking lot as part of the joke.  Imagine that my friend didn't realize there was anything wrong with that!  What part of Matthew Shepherd's death was funny? 

When you make fun of someone for who they born or who they are at the core of their being, it isn't funny, it's just wrong. 

I'm Jewish, and there are a lot of good Jewish jokes that emphasize the strong points of Jewishness.  They are ethnic, but not negative, like this one:
A Jew drove at 100 mph so a policeman stopped him. The officer asked him "Excuse me but where's the fire?"

So the Jew answered "I'm hurrying to smuggle drugs and kalachnikovs."

The policeman ordered backup quickly. When more squad cars arrived the vehicle was inspected and they found neither drugs nor kalachnikovs.

The comander was furious at the officer for such a false alarm, went to the Jewish driver and apologized. The Jew replied "Yeah, and I suppose he also said I was going 100 mph."
Jokes like this don't belittle or objectify.  The Jew in the joke is clever.  It's when we start portraying Jews as cheap or Polish people (or blondes!) as dumb and Irishmen as drunks that we are in trouble.  The phrase "huge black man" in my friend's joke was meant to conjure up a lazy drunk.  I missed that completely, since I don't even vaguely have a stereotype in my mind that would match that. 

Before you pass a joke along, think about what it really says and what kind of message it carries.  You could even save a life. 

photo credit: mousetracksonline