David Gartman’s ‘Three Ages of the Automobile: The Cultural Logics of the Car’ and Michael Moore’s ‘Roger and Me’

David Gartman in ” Three Ages of the Automobile: The Cultural Logics of the car ”, argues that the history of automobility may be divided into three ”ages” Does Michael Moor’s Film, Roger and Me, substantiate or contradict Gartman’s analysis? Explain.

According to David Gartman, the automobile has carried additional connotations beyond its basic function of transportation.  In this broader notion of the automobile, each model of car or truck carries meanings and identities unique to it.  The twentieth century being the age of the mechanized automobile, has seen three distinct ages of evolution of the automobile, each set within its larger cultural context.  In its first age, when western industrialized societies were still class-based, the car acted as a symbol of power and wealth and served to distinguish the privileged from the under-privileged.  In its subsequent transformation, when society was defined by ‘mass individuality’, the automobile in general and the car in particular brought a semblance of equality between the classes.  Yet, the fact that class differences were not obviated is evident from the practice of customizing a car to appeal to individual preferences and affordability.  In its final phase of evolution, the car came to represent the unique lifestyles of different communities, while also simultaneously catering to a postmodernist consumer culture that is more diverse in its choices.  Each of these ages was an extension of the preceding one and during the course of these three ages of automobile history, the conception, design and identity of the car reflected the cultural mores of its age.  In the words of the author, the book focuses on the social conflicts and struggles that shaped automobile production throughout its history. He argues that

“the design of cars was unconscious attempts to solve in the realm of culture the conflicts and contradictions created by the rise of the system of mass production, for which the auto industry was also largely responsible. The analysis showed that the meaning and identity of cars was indeed shaped by the needs and desires of consumers, but that these were themselves of the social products an unequal and debilitating production system. Unable to realize their needs for individuality, sociality, and autonomy in the realm of work, many working Americans turned to the realm of consumption for compensation.”

Documentary film-maker Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me” is also based on a similar theme.  AlthoughMoore’s film does not make direct allusions to the ‘Three Ages of the Automobile’ theory proposed by David Gartman, both of them agree in their view of the harsher realities of the car manufacturing industry.  ‘Roger’ in the title Roger and Me refers to Roger Smith, the Chief Executive Officer of General Motors who was allegedly responsible for heavy job losses in GM’s manufacturing plant inFlint,Michigan. Mooreimplies through his documentary that Mr. Smith could have prevented those job losses, of only he was not entrenched in the culture of corporate greed.  Such an assessment is strikingly similar to that of David Gartman’s view that cars were products of “an unequal and debilitating production system”.  If Gartman’s work can be interpreted as a record of harsh social realities inAmericaand the disempowerment of its people, then it is consistent within the theme of Michael Moore’s documentary Roger and Me.  In this respect, Michael Moore’s film does indeed substantiate David Gartman’s analysis.