The Gas / Pop Metaphor

[Bendy tubes.]
"If you like cheap gasoline, this January is the month for you!" says the headline this morning.*

The framing reminds me of the recent Marathon gasoline advertisement, and its unforgettable bluegrass jingle: "With a full tank of freedom, find your own highway, we'll take you wherever you go."

The ad features magic American flag fumes, nostalgic images of gas pumps, and a close-up of a young white woman sipping the straw of a big cup of soda.

[Mmmm. Good ol' pop 'n' gas.]

The mistake that we make in framing articles about "people who like cheap gasoline" is to think about gasoline as a consumer choice. Sure there are "types" of gas -- high and low octane, I suppose. And maybe in some earlier era, when gas was young, there were differences between gas companies.

Filling your car with gasoline is like paying your taxes. Everyone hates doing it, everyone must do it.** It's not a choice, it's a curse.

The other side to the metaphor is that both gasoline and soda pop are 20th century mass market productions tied deeply to vast cultural and material infrastructures. Both the gasoline in your tank and the corn syrup that's the #1 ingredient in a big gulp rely on cheap energy, exploiting vast acres of land, shady conglomerates, and heavy government subsidies. And for both, these pernicious supply lines are hidden behind a patriotic, nostalgic, and shiny fa├žade.

[Billions of dollars and lifetimes of work to convince us there's a difference.]

[From the NYC soda pop wars of 2013.]
And both gasoline and soda pop are terribly bad for your individual health. For a long time our culture was willfully naive about the effects of cheap pop, putting machines in schools or making the "super size" option a default choice. But then diabetes began sweeping the nation like a bad dance trend, and a few places began pushing back. There's a long way yet to go.

And apart from cigarettes, the only thing worse for you than soda pop is gasoline. Even if you don't drink gasoline -- and don't drink gasoline -- driving everywhere keeps hundreds of millions of Americans from getting any exercise in their everyday lives.

It would be nice if we stopped talking about "people who like cheap gas." For most people, gasoline isn't a question of taste. It's simply the most visible piece of an environmentally destructive transportation system that desperately needs reform.

Gas isn't pop. Gas isn't fun. It's a boring bad habit.

[Only an idiot has fun at the gas pump.]

* It's another article about gas prices, and articles about gas prices are about as useless they come. Never once do any of them mention tax structure, subsidies, or global oil markets. To simply report the price of gas is like reporting on the blowing of the wind. You might as well be an inanimate sign.

** PROTIP: Once you get rid of your car, you never buy gas any more.

[Pop has gotten cheaper, gas more expensive.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Agree, so much. Also, lower gas prices actually make me angry because gas emphatically ISN'T cheap.