Steve Stajich, Mirror Contributing Writer
“Pain at the pump.” Or, alliteration makes punchy, people-pleasing prose. Either way, we’re now officially mad at the price of gasoline. Or are we?
The current gasoline price gouging (Come on, it’s something else…?) brings with it an opportunity to view America as it really is now. Part of that photo shows that people who can afford to pay between three and four dollars for a gallon of gas are simply doing so. Then there’s a group in the middle who appear to be in the thrall of something we might call “Nascar Oblivion.” (More on that in a minute.) The people at the other end who are actually in pain? They’re not in the photo, as usual.
Also revealed in that same picture is the somewhat frightening possibility that just as we sat on our butts and let the Bush-Cheney team snow us with what we knew was baloney about WMD’s and “terrorist” connectivity, so are we now sitting on those same butts and nodding acceptance of any lame excuse offered for robbery at nozzle point.
Both of these observations play strongly into a cynical view of 21st century America as a passive consumer culture simply waiting for instructions: Watch American Idol, continue eating enormous hamburgers, obsess about gas prices instead of the tragically wrong war you’re paying for with your kids and your taxes.
But maybe that’s a little too easy. It does seem that large segments of American society have adopted the philosophical view that certain things just cost more money. The Rolling Stones come to town, and we’re told that decent seats for watching 60-year-old men sing about sex will cost us $300. Starbucks chokes out the Mom and Pop diners, and that coffee will be four dollars please. We’re concerned about additives and processing, so whatever price is marked on the blue corn chips and salmon at Whole Foods, we’ll pay it.
In fact when prices are put side by side, there’s a clear indication that we shouldn’t be putting gas into our cars, we should be drinking it. We can chase it with some “Two Buck Chuck,” which will soon be cheaper by the gallon than Exxon Premium.
It’s certainly true that the minute any new electronic innovation is available, we process its very existence as “need” and we pay whatever they say it’s worth. We’re told that digital cameras cost $400 or even $500. Says who? Why are some cell phones expensive, others free? We know that the physical components of a DVD are a plastic disc and a box with a combined street value of about 12 cents. So why do we happily agree to hand over $19.99 after a corporation has burned “Finding Nemo” onto the disc?
Who’s deciding what “pain” we’ll bear? Not to sound like the longhaired drunk at the end of the bar, but…it’s pretty much the same dudes that said cigarettes didn’t cause cancer, and then years later swore under oath that cigarettes weren’t addictive. Cigarettes are a nicotine delivery system; cars are a gasoline burning system.
Of course, it takes two to tango. CNN ran a story showing the impacts of high gas prices on NASCAR racing and its fans: None whatsoever. The fans continue to fill the enormous gas tanks of their Winnebagos, then they travel in their Fuelasaurus to a place where they can watch cars burn gasoline by driving in a circle. Fast. Maybe it’s not oblivion; maybe it’s a political statement. In which case, we need one more Neil Young song.