This past week brought one of those small, illuminating skirmishes in the culture wars, this time over that quintessentially Texas vehicle, the pickup truck.
First came this New York Times piece by Many Fernandez on the Texas Truck Rodeo. If it weren’t for the opening paragraphs, it would be a pretty solid (if not terribly in-depth) piece on pickup trucks in Texas.
But look at those opening paragraphs:
DRIPPING SPRINGS, Tex. — Tim Spell has noticed a peculiar condition that affects Texans’ mental, physical and automotive well-being.
“I call it ‘truck-itis,'” said Mr. Spell, the former automotive editor for The Houston Chronicle. “People in Texas will buy trucks even if they’re not going to haul anything heavier than raindrops. I was interviewing one guy. He had a 4-by-4. I said: ‘You live in Houston. Why do you have this 4-by-4?’ He said, ‘Well, I own a bar, and 4-by-4s are higher, and I can climb up on the cab and change out the letters of my marquee.'”
It’s like New York Times editors think their target readership wouldn’t dean to read an article on pickup trucks without two opening paragraphs of smug, patronizing condescension. The rest of the piece focuses as much on Texans’ love of pickup trucks as the truck rodeo, and few would take issue with that portion:
Whether for high-up urban letter-switching or more rural and rugged purposes, pickup trucks are to Texas what cowboy boots and oil derricks are to the state — a potent part of the brand. No other state has a bigger influence on the marketing of American pickup trucks.
Texas is No. 1 in the country for full-size pickup trucks. More of them were sold in 2015 in the Dallas and Houston areas than in the entire state of California, according to the research firm IHS Markit. There is the Ford F-150 King Ranch, named for the iconic Texas ranch. And the Nissan Texas Titan, the floor mats and tailgate of which are emblazoned with the shape of Texas. And the Toyota Tundra 1794 Edition, featuring leather seats that mimic the look and feel of Western saddles, was named for the year that the JLC Ranch in San Antonio was established.
The Texas-edition truck is a product of the state’s pull on the truck world. Some truck styles are sold and marketed only in the state as Texas editions, ensuring that pickup trucks, like a lot of things in Texas, are different here than elsewhere.
“I like to say that you almost can’t overmarket Texas to Texans,” said Fred M. Diaz, a Nissan North America executive and a native Texan.
All true, and all largely uncontroversial.
But what really shifted The Great Pickup Truck War into high gear was one simple Tweeted question:
The top 3 best selling vehicles in America are pick-ups. Question to reporters: do you personally know someone that owns one?
— John Ekdahl (@JohnEkdahl) January 4, 2017
From the reactions of the chattering classes, you’d think Ekdahl asked “How many of you liberal reporters have stopped raping your children?”
Why does this fucking matter? https://t.co/otUfHZDqTu
— Emma Beckerman (@emmabeckerman1) January 4, 2017
@JohnEkdahl There's nothing macho about the glossy hay-and-mudless trucks driven by fantasy cowboys clogging up corporate parking garages.
— L. Austyan Julian (@LAustyanJulian) January 5, 2017
@JohnEkdahl I live in a city. I wouldn't want to know people who felt they needed to own a pick up in the city (unless they haul bricks)
— John Corbett (@CorComm) January 4, 2017
1) this is wrong, 2) many of these are fleet vehicles, 3) they’re geographically concentrated bc duh, 4) this is a dumb question for stupids https://t.co/6kulkdzStO
— Danny Concannon (@Danny_Concannon) January 4, 2017
You ever notice how a lot of these "get out and meet some REAL AMERICANS" suggestions are pretty patronizing toward those "REAL AMERICANS"? https://t.co/TVUYwuUNKn
— derek davison (@dwdavison9318) January 4, 2017
Never said anything about "real Americans" https://t.co/h7qHKcqT85
— John Ekdahl (@JohnEkdahl) January 4, 2017
@JohnEkdahl i think journalists are in a bubble but your question was a lot like "when did you stop beating your wife"
— Oliver Willis (@owillis) January 4, 2017
@mattdpearce why are you bringing this argument to more people's attention
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) January 4, 2017
@JohnEkdahl A lot of people are very angry at you for asking this, and dragging their own baggage along with them.
— Jim Treacher (@jtLOL) January 4, 2017
And there’s been many an interesting roundup on the subject:
Rather than answer with a simple “no,” the esteemed members of the most cloistered and provincial class in America–political journalists who live in New York City or Washington, D.C.–reacted by doing their best impersonation of a vampire who had just been dragged into the sunshine and presented with a garlic-adorned crucifix.
There were basically three types of hysterical response to a simple question about truck owners: 1) shut up, 2) you’re stupid and/or sexist and/or racist, and 3) whatever, liar, trucks aren’t popular (far and away my favorite delusional response to a simple question from a group of people who want you to believe they’re extremely concerned about “fake news”). It turns out that people who are paid large sums of money to opine on what Americans outside the Acela province think get very upset if you demonstrate that they don’t actually know any of the people about whom they pretend to be experts.
I have a quibble with that: I doubt many of the liberal reporters snipping at Ekdahl are well-paid.
The automotive editor for Ars Technica compares truck owning to BEING A HEROIN ADDICT BECAUSE HE’S NOT SENSITIVE ABOUT IT AT ALL:
.@JohnEkdahl plenty of heartlanders are opioid addicts. Does that mean to report on real Amerikkka you need an oxy habit?
— Jonathan Gitlin (@drgitlin) January 4, 2017
The responses were predictable: The sort of smug progressives who are proud of their smugness scoffed that pick-ups, pollution-belching penis-supplements for toothless red-state Bubbas, are found mainly in the sort of communities where they’d never deign to set foot; the sort of smug progressives who are ashamed of their smugness protested that it is a silly question (which it is — that’s part of the point) and made strained connections with pick-up-owning childhood friends back home in East Slapbutt; conservatives mainly said “Har har stupid liberal elites.”
Russell Kirk, describing his “canons of conservative thought,” argued that to be a conservative is to appreciate genuine diversity, “the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems.” The Left is living up to Kirk’s expectations: The increasingly sneering attitude of coastal elites toward the more conservative interior, particularly for the poor communities there, is as undeniable as it is distasteful. But conservatives are not immune to these Kulturkampf tendencies, either. No, the whole country does not need to be Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It doesn’t need to be Lubbock, Texas, either.
Ekdahl’s question doesn’t suggest that owning a pickup truck somehow makes one morally superior or “more American” (it’s sort of pointless anyway for someone living in Washington, D.C., or New York City to own a vehicle, let alone a giant, hulking truck. Good luck parking that thing). His question appears to be about the insular nature of media, and whether those who cover the electorate have a broad and significant understanding of American culture.
The point is that a significant number of people drive pickup trucks. How many national media reporters can say they know one of these drivers? The question seems like a worthwhile exercise in self-reflection for the press, especially after it was so violently broadsided in November by Trump’s victory.
Becket concludes with this question:
Rifles are consistently the most manufactured firearm in the U.S., according to the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
The AR-15 is the most popular rifle in the U.S., according to the National Rifle Association.
How many reporters can say they own or know a person who owns an AR-15?
Hell, no need to even go that far: How many reporters know someone that owns any gun?
If there’s one thing missing from the commentary, it’s the unspoken moral code liberals bring to the question. The late novelist Michael Crichton noted that environmentalism is the new religion for unchurched urban elites. To them owning a pickup truck makes one an environmental sinner, a moral lapse no less offensive than committing adultery is to a Baptist.
Declaring you own a truck is declaring you’re a sinner in the eyes of an angry media…