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Postmodern Village
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Little 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!

Mo Parr-Prudhomme

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.


Works Cited

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.