Hot Rodding Hood
By Walter P. Crysisler
Oh What big pipes you have!
Oh what a big bumpstick you have!
Oh how massive your rods!
Oh what sizable meats!
The highly sexually-charged myth of “Little Red Riding Hood”
introduces young people to a highly fictionalized form of the sexual
predator at a very early age. The tropes are almost too obvious to require
enumeration: a feral wolf; an innocent grandmother; the “proper”
(socially approved) beau in the noble huntsman; the violation of safety
and home, tradition and family; their inevitable reinstatement as the
next generation is “rescued” from its peril. Red, of course,
being the color of passion, sexual availability, nubility, is only proper
for our imperiled heroine to sport. She must be, in some sense, “asking
for it,” but must also be helped toward the “correct”
sexual choices. But her naivete suggests that, as a young girl, she
simply can't help it.
The power of these archetypes can be seen throughout our culture, but
perhaps most surprisingly at your local car show. Automotive enthusiasts
have often painted their vehicles red not merely to attract the attention
of other drivers but to suggest hotness in all its permutations. Modified
cars, like ships, have long been referenced as “she” and
have acquired female names, notably in the cult classic car film Gone
in 60 Seconds, in which cars marked for theft by the band of anti-heroes
were given women's names as code words to elude the attention of police.
This adds yet another layer to the notion of hotness--hot as in “stolen”--and
enhances the transgression of the outlaw protagonists. The fact that
the film is a product of the 1970s underscores the transvaluation of
traditional values: the hero-wolves must take their brides from the
corrupting influence of the city/civilization. The order to be restored
is that of the fading counter-culture.
Further, the stylish curves of sports cars and traditional hot rods
suggest an aggressive and healthy femininity; these are not the soft
women of the 19th century but lean and lithe, muscular, “fast”
women. It is no coincidence that sleeker female forms became popular
at the same time as widespread car ownership in the 1920s. With speed
and rapid acceleration come the vertiginous sensations associated with
sex and eroticism: the tingling of the gut, the “racing”
of the pulse, the coursing of the blood. To be involved with a car at
that level literally feels the same as to be involved with a woman at
an intimate level.
And then there's the technical terminology: pipes, sticks, plugs, rods,
pistons, nuts, shafts. They are knowingly salacious, bandied about the
shop while grease guns lube nipples, while nubies recite the mantra
of the four cycles of the internal combustion engine: suck, squeeze,
bang, blow. Indeed, the male domination of the mechanical field is neither
mere default nor historical accident: it is a substitute for the wanton
sexuality of young men in a culture dominated by old men; diddling with
a succession of ever-hotter cars is an acceptable form of serial infidelity.
To revisit the filmic example above, the lessons about the Big Bad
Wolf are not lost on contemporary women seeking anti-heroes to fulfill
their fantasies of individual empowerment through acts of social rebellion.
If a woman is turned on by a man's car, he probably deserves her. Granted,
their days are numbered as soon as she wises up, but this works for
him: his reality of ever-new lovers is created by his automotive fantasy-lovers.
The hot rod itself is the embodiment of the outlaw image in a heavily
consumerist culture. Hot rodding involves taking a “normal”
vehicle, created in the context of a planned and engineered industrial
culture, and by re-engineering it, forcing the vehicle to perform beyond
its design parameters. This turns the relationship between dominating
industry and passive consumer on its head. Instead of being all things
for all people, the hot rod is customized by the individual for the
individual. The hidden potential of the car's body and frame, its suspension
and (most importantly) its engine is released; the placid, “nice”
family-oriented car is deflowered and simultaneously empowered (in a
literal sense). Hot rods publicly violate the normal laws of supply-side
economics and parade the loud and loose products of this violation all
over town. Often, they also violate the literal laws governing the safe
operation of a motor vehicle. The hot rod originated from men competing
to see who had the fastest machine, and scores settled on public streets
attest to the spontaneity, and some might say the purity, of this impulse.
Substitutes abound for illegal street racing, yet it persists, killing
hundreds every year. This is because hot rodding is at its essence about
violation, about messing where you shouldn't be messing: the planned
features of a car, the available but unattainable young woman, the safety
of grandma's home. Just as in sex, the illicit can be part of the thrill.
The fact that the tale of Little Red Riding Hood must be infinitely
repeated, generation after generation, attests to the enduring appeal,
and to the representatives of law and order, the enduring danger, of
the Big Bad Wolf.
Gone in 60 Seconds. Dir. HB Halicki. Perf. HB Halicki, Marion
Busia, Jerry Daugirda. HB Halicki Mercantile Co. 1974. Film.
Parr-Prudhomme, Mo. “Candy Apple and the Reds Meet King Dong.”
Hott Pursuit: Poems 1984-2004. Cleveland: HP Books, 2005. Print.