- Jan 16, 2007
- 2012 VW Passat VR6
An Homage to Hummer
Comedian Penn Jillette laments the passing of the 'big, stupid' vehicle
By PENN JILLETTE
There's a feeling one gets when one sits behind the wheel of a really big stupid military-lite American Hummer. You have that feeling of being strong and safe, high on your pleather throne, above the fray, above the danger, not having to listen to anyone or anything, the rumble of a too-big motor giving you a wiggle and jiggle and tickle inside you. You have the power to run over anyone else on the road, if they dare monkey with you and your Hummer. Don't tread on you. Kill one of ours, we'll kill 100 of yours. You're Arnold Schwarzenegger before he was a wimpy whining begging politician in a state where he has to smoke his cigars in a tent. Put the Hummer bumper against a small building, put the lead Terminator foot down on the Hummer pedal, and the Hummer will move that small building. The Hummer is the four-wheel "heavy metal thunder" that Steppenwolf (the band, not the book or the artsy Chicago theater company) sang about. The Hummer is "Born in the U.S.A.," not the ambivalence that Springsteen slid into the lyrics, but the "Born in the U.S.A." we all knew from the straightforward title and the 2 and 4 of the drums. Do you know that feeling?
I don't. I don't know that feeling at all. I got my Massachusetts driver's license the day I was legally able, but only so I could safely drive my mom's little Ford Falcon 100 miles to see Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in Boston. I like Steppenwolf, the band, the book and the artsy Chicago theater company. I liked Springsteen right up until "Born in the U.S.A.," and I drive a little tiny pink Mini Cooper. The Cooper is engineered for 6'6" max, so I have only one extra inch to squeeze in. I didn't even get the stick shift. My little Mini doesn't go way fast, but even in drive-fast-take-chances Nevada I rarely go faster than 55 miles per hour.
The Mini has a comfortable heated seat and I had some guy in a heavy-metal T-shirt add in a great after-market stereo. I can ride my 20 minutes to work and back contentedly. I can pull into my "Penn & Teller" designated parking space at any sloppy angle I happen to land at, and the Mini fits easily with plenty of space all around. It fits sideways in my big stupid garage. I never have to back up and straighten it out. I never scrape the side mirrors. My Mini gets high enough MPG that I never get dirty looks?for that. My license plate reads "ATHEIST" and when friends drive my car, they report plenty of dirty looks, but I've never seen any of that. I drive oblivious. I don't ever notice the world around me. I'm in a little moving chair with loud music, nut talk or slanted news.
Cars mean nothing to me. I'm not a car guy. I let my motorcycle license lapse as soon as I could afford something more comfortable than my Vespa motor scooter to get me to gigs. I don't need the top down and the wind in my hair. I don't desire fast and furious or low and slow as the tempo. I don't crave rumble. I've never revved my car at a light for an attractive woman or an auto-rival, not even as a joke. I've painted most of my cars bright pink. My heart is so much closer to multilevel-marketed Mary Kay pink than speed-freak Mot?rhead chrome and black. I don't even know which "O" to put the umlaut over in "M?torhead." I've seen M?t?rhead live a couple times, but I couldn't get the exact pronunciation from Lemmy at that glorious ear-ringing volume.
Now it looks like the Hummer will be no more. General Motors has set a deadline of May 1 for any last-minute bids to save the brand, but it seems unlikely anyone will step up. Meanwhile President Obama has taken over GM and is jacking fuel economy standards up to 35 miles per gallon. The Hummer gets like 10 miles per gallon. The new standards would barely allow a Hummer unicycle. American auto manufacturers are thinking in terms of electric vehicles so the disgusting smoke will come out of coal smokestacks many, many miles away, and not right out of the tailpipe where you can see it, smell it and enjoy it.
Having a Hummer is stupid. It's stupid to waste that much gas. It's stupid to waste that much money on gas. It's stupid to parade your insecurities on public roads. Hummers are stupid looking. You don't need an attack vehicle for the Krispy Kreme drive through. My wife and I saw Adrien Brody in a Hummer at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons and it made him seem less like an eccentric pianist and more like a?Hummer. When Carrot Top came by my house to do my radio show, he drove up in a Hummer. It fit well with his big muscles. I have a friend who made his father turn around and take his new Hummer right back to the lot. My friends have to be able to take a great deal of embarrassment, but even they have to draw the line somewhere.
Hummers are stupid and wasteful and if they go away because no one wants to buy one, that'll be just a little sad. It's always a little sad to lose some stupid. I love people doing stupid things that I'd never do?different stupid things than all the stupid things I do. It reminds me that although all over the world we humans have so much in common, so much love, and need, and desire, and compassion and loneliness, some of us still want to do things that the rest of us think are bug-nutty. Some of us want to drive a Hummer, some of us want to eat sheep's heart, liver and lungs simmered in an animal's stomach for three hours, some us want to play poker with professionals and some of us want a Broadway musical based on the music of ABBA. I love people doing things I can't understand. It's heartbreaking to me when people stop doing things that I can't see any reason for them to be doing in the first place. I like people watching curling while eating pork rinds.
But if any part of the Hummer going belly-up are those government rules we're putting in on miles per gallon, or us taking over of GM, then I'm not just sad, I'm also angry. Lack of freedom can be measured directly by lack of stupid. Freedom means freedom to be stupid. We never need freedom to do the smart thing. You don't need any freedom to go with majority opinion. There was no freedom required to drive a Prius before the recall. We don't need freedom to recycle, reuse and reduce. We don't need freedom to listen to classic rock, classic classical, classic anything or Terry Gross. We exercise our freedom to its fullest when we are at our stupidest.
There's a lot of bad stupid around. Really bad stupid. But we can't stop the real horror by stopping just-plain-stupid stupid. We're not going to stop overseas wars by stopping people from driving big stupid cars. As long as we think that "nation building" is part of our destiny, no amount of independence from foreign oil is going to stop us from getting into meddling, expensive, immoral foreign wars. As long as we let terrorism fill us with terror, we're not going to get our nonstupid freedoms back. Our government declaring that we need alternative energy sources, and betting our money on who might get a smart idea, is not going to give smart people smart ideas. It's really easy to see stupid all around us, but I don't think we want to be too quick to stop it. We need to protect other people's stupid to save freedom for all of us.
Yeah, Adrien Brody and Carrot Top wasted gallons of gas driving their stupid cars. I can feel smug about my Mini Cooper's sexy 37/28/32 MPG measurements. But I don't think we should be too quick to feel happy about the stupid Hummers going away. We're all making bad choices all the time, and most of mine are way stupider than driving a Hummer. I love my freedom of stupid. I bumped into Adrien one time and had a great talk with him, we got along great. I know Carrot Top well enough to call him "Scott." I know that they're both a lot thinner than me. They're both in a lot better shape. They eat better than me, and they can do a lot more push-ups and sit-ups. They can run farther and faster than me. So, in the near future, with us all being involved in each other's health care, Adrien and Scott might make up for their wasted gas mileage paying for my high-blood-pressure meds. If we're all getting together to stop the stupidity of driving a Hummer, will we have to stop the stupidity of eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts and pie? Freedom is freedom to be stupid.
They came first for the Hummers.
Then they came for the pie.
?Penn Jillette is the larger, louder half of Penn & Teller and co-host of Showtime's "Penn & Teller: BS!"