November 20, 2005

"Crap Cars" and the figures of speech they inspire.

Roy Blount Jr. reviews Richard Porter's book "Crap Cars":
The DeLorean DMC-12 of 1981-83, he writes, had an engine "so weak it would struggle to pull a hobo off your sister." Not since Raymond Chandler have I met a metaphor so much more powerful than would do.

Which is not to say that Porter slings figures of speech around indiscriminately. The body of the G.M. EV1 (1996-99), he tells us, resembles "a snake trapped under a rock," and so it does. With regard to performance, Porter turns phrases the way sports cars should take corners. The Chrysler K-Car (l981-89) may have "pulled Chrysler from the depths of financial trouble," he concedes, "but did it have to be such a weedy little griefbox?" The handling of the 1974-78 Datsun B210 was "like trying to steer a wheelbarrow full of logs."
Do you like the outlandishly-overstated-metaphor style of humor? Overused, isn't it? I tend to think people who feel a lot of pressure to be funny use it when they don't really have a humorous observation to make.

17 comments:

Starless said...

Yeah, but these are car people. The same people who brought us such gut-busting acronyms as "Found On Road Dead". That kind of humor is a subculture thing.

Dave said...

Denis Leary does this in his routines. I think it is quite effective, more so than other comics' attempts to riff on modernity.

Blair said...

I think that's being overly postmodern. Did it make you laugh or not? If it makes you laugh, it's funny. If it doesn't, it's not.

Paul Sand said...

Maybe it's a guy thing, Ann. Or, following your guideline: women have more sophisticated reading circuits that don't respond to such little literary firecrackers.

I do know, that whenever I see one of these Chandleresque metaphors, I'm mainly envious, because I can never come up with good ones. I'm like, dumb as a ... thing that's really dumb.

shake-and-bake said...

Pick up a copy of Road & Track and read how the mainstream auto media describe how a car handles, accelerates, and so on. Prose only an engineer could could love. Dry as a Death Valley cowpie. The humor is in the vivid contrast.

Ann Althouse said...

Paul: It's just a formula. You could train yourself to follow it. That is, if you actually admire that sort of writing. I can see envying it for a few minutes but then deciding it's rather tired and corny.

Steve Barton said...

Ann --

I think Paul is right with his first assertion: appreciation of these phrases is a guy thing....Hmmm, I just went looking for a hoo-ha metaphor in Mickey Kaus's car-writing, which I have enjoyed, and did not find one. I thought I would. His Gearbox writing is much more interesting.

This:

"In the long run of automotive history, the Focus will be recognized as a significant advance, both in style and structure. The PT Cruiser will be the equivalent of the Chippendale pediment on Philip Johnson's AT&T Building—intriguing at the time, but soon (like most postmodern architecture) dreary and tired, an easily forgotten footnote."

Comes from this great column: http://www.slate.com/id/110541

As a guy, maybe I don't really want hobo-sister metaphors...

Troy said...

I think this thread is as odd as tits on a bull.

Noumenon said...

I don't know about metaphor, but I absolutely love simile-based humor. I like a writer who can draw a comparison faster than Dennis Miller running into Zell Miller in a whorehouse.

Ann Althouse said...

Noumenon: Very good. Yeah, Dennis Miller. He relies heavily on the device. Wonder what he's up to now.

Robert said...

Chandler's early stories reveal a struggle to get to the witty, cynical point he reached later. At first, his main device was to have a man burst into the room with a gun when the action flagged. I prefer the snarkiness. His mature metaphors are not "more than is needed". They just show how much can be done with smart-aleck dialogue. As Dash Hammett said, "(Chandler) wrote like a slumming angel".

reader_iam said...

OK, I'll admit: I've got as big a sophomoric streak as the next guy.

Because although I'm a girl, when it's done well I get a big kick and a laugh out of it.

Then again, as my husband would wearily and disgustedly attest, I have a weakness for extremely dumb jokes and also--HORRORS!--puns.

reader_iam said...

Shake-and-bake: In contrast, try reading certain gun magazines, especially out loud.

After a while, you'll wonder if the periodical in your hand has morphed into some sort of skin magazine.

LOL.

shake-and-bake said...

The best mainstream auto writer is Jeremy Clarkson of the Times of London. A sample:

Of course, none of these cars offers much in the way of driving fun. Earlier this year I drove the new Rolls round a racetrack, and to understand what it felt like you must try to imagine Queen Victoria doing the 100-metre hurdles. Or better still, AA Gill on a jet ski. In one corner, the traction control didn’t just intervene, it blew a silent whistle on proceedings — and that was that.

With no fuss and no drama, and with my foot hard down on the throttle, the three-ton car just ground to a halt in a cloud of palpable incredulity. “What in the name of all that’s holy,” it seemed to be saying, “do you think you’re doing?”

The second best is Dan Neil of the L.A. Times, who won a Pulitzer for his auto reviews. Don't have time to search for something really good, but this is from his most recent review:

You have the traditional Jeep seven-port vertical grille flanked with headlight assemblies, fine. Then you have this enormous plastic-covered bumper jutting out like a lower lip, making the vehicle resemble the Churchillian malocclusional bulldog.

alan said...

The style can be corny and overdone, but it can also be memorable and near perfect.
P. J. O'Rourke, in Car and Driver, described a car with acceleration
"like an antelope with a hot sour soup enema." Can't remember which car but the phrase has stuck with me.

Thomassamuel said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brett Evans said...

As a car person and a literary buff, I have to resent some of the comments made, but with a tongue slightly in my cheek. Go pick up the aforementioned Road and Track, and read Peter Egan's column, "Side Glances." I guarantee that, car person or not, you will appreciate the self-knowing and -deprecating humor Egan casts, as well as learn to appreciate his interesting, compelling, and ultimately expensive hobbies.

Or just read anything from Automobile. Absolute best writing in any popular mainstream magazine, bar none. Compare it with Cosmo, Red Book, Sports Illustrated, Better Homes and Gardens, anything.