� Oh Yeah, Love | Main | my big tent �

December 27, 2002

American Wa'benzi

There is a scene in the film 'The Killing Fields' in which our journalist hero finds his life saved by a skinny Khmer rouge teenager with a machine gun. The kid holds up a Mercedes Benz hood ornament that the reporter had given him years before as a gift and says 'Mercedes Benz, number one'. He takes off the bonds of the journalist and sends him on his way.

I've been thinking here to myself about why I like rednecks. (les cou rouges?) And why conservative pundits give me gas. It has to do with a metaphor I have invented for the infrastructure of the United States.
The United States offers every one of us a Mercedes Benz. But it is up on blocks in a junkyard. Most of us will use it just like kids, as a big plaything to climb on and play drive. We will never be able to afford to put on the wheels, fix the carb, fill the tank and have regularly scheduled maintenance. It costs too much. But if you have the cash and a little luck, you can have that thing on the road and have plenty places to go. The manual is in the glove box, and you can read it for yourself, or have somebody do the whole thing for you.
When you literally ride a bicycle, or walk, or take the bus to work, when you clip coupons and try like hell to make your kids do well - when you take shit from your boss and you finally make peace with the fact that your big TV makes you happy, you're a peasant American. Peasant Americans, workers, and people who sometimes don't even get the work they deserve - these people don't have time for good manners. They are not, and never will be vice presidents in the Fortune 500. So they don't know how and don't bother to learn how to bridge cultural gaps. Moreover, rednecks, say f the Mercedes and f everybody who drives one. Why do I like that? Because I admire how people make their lives efficient.

This country is run by people who own fully functional Mercedes Benz automobiles. The wa'benzi. Despite the fact that they get killed in the same kind of drunk driving accidents as the rest of us, there is something about *our* dreams that make the wa'benzi seem a little bit taller. We expect them, perhaps not properly so, to treat us with respect, to not run us over with their fast cars. We expect them to be politically correct, because if *we* had that Mercedes we would be better people.

I think everybody loves Bob Vila. He's just the kind of American we'd all like to be. He knows something very well, and he gets to go all over the country to meet the kind of nice people who have fixed up their houses to be castles. If I had Bob Vila’s money, and I had the time to visit and learn and share, I’d be smiling all the time - I would be a wonderful person. We all would, because we all are natural Mercedes Benz drivers. But I don't, and so I’m more small-minded and more selfish and all I have time to care about is my family, my mortgage, my taxes, my kid's school, my bills and my problems. I don't have time to grow nice manners. And the slower the mode of transportation I take to work, the more of an asshole I am. Not because I spend time thinking about being an asshole, but that as compared to Bob Vila, most of us are. And that Mercedes Benz is sitting out there, taunting us.

When you're wa'benzi, Americans need you to be sophisticated. You need to know how to keep people happy. You need a lot of skills. It's not an option. This is America, number one. They eyes of the world are watching and you need to be responsive. You need to be as classy, durable and performance oriented as your Benz. This is the country with all the layers of infrastructure for the life of the wealthy, brainy and powerful. This is the country that promises all of that for every one of us, peasants though we may be. You need to be possessed of all the virtues Stephen L. Carter writes about. You need to be diplomatic, urbane, articulate, witty, bright, engaging, civilized. What you cannot be, under any circumstances, is a peasant.

There are few things I find more repellant (in a snooty chatting class way) than a peasant Republican. This fact leaves me with a number of problems, not the least of which is the level of mendacity inherent in the cast-iron stomach of Ralph Reed. Yet and still, I like rednecks. Well, I like rednecks in redneckville, and I can even appreciate redneck behavior in French restaurants - in fact, I look forward to it. However, I expect that rednecks who succeed in putting their Mercedes Benz together bolt by bolt to drop their peasant ways and be more like Bob Vila, which shouldn't be so difficult if they truly love America. America is full of all kinds of different wa'benzi, and to deal with diversity of the wa'benzi forces one to grow some manners. So you would think.

Half the point of this is to send out a virtual middle finger to Sean Hannity. I recall Hannity's early days in redneck radio when he spent lots of time lamenting the firing of WABC's Bob Grant. It just never ceased to amaze me how Hannity could get away with the yang he was talking. I like redneck radio as much as the next guy; it's blunt, honest and crude. It is possessed of the same authentic raw passion as gangsta rap music. True American stuff going on here. Yet there's a certain amount of suspension of disbelief one engages in with redneck radio and gangsta rap. You know that there's a man in a million dollar studio surrounded by engineers and producers making product for huge media corporations and that guy pretends to be the voice of the streets and dirt roads even though they make wa'benzi moola. So you dig it for a while. Then they go national and still try to 'keep it real'? This is an embarrassment.

I'm a new blogger. I'm decades ahead of talk radio call-in shows. I know that Americans, while they may live like peasants, still have Mercedes Benz dreams and Mercedes Benz expectations of the big dogs. Anybody who says different should apply for a job as Bill Clinton’s press secretary, (zaftig brunettes need not apply.) They're also damned smart when given a chance, and damned apathetic when disrespected. I hope one day the angry white men who believe they can continue their studio gangsta front are called into account by people with class. It's only funny to blast that loud crap from your Benz for a short while, but we're getting really tired of that video. Grow some manners, peasant.

Even illiterate peasants are capable of remembering the gift of the Mercedes America gives us, and it is certainly better to have your life spared by one such as the Khmer kid, than to be executed by the rest. But I still am lamenting whatever day it was that we lost the kind of leadership we had and wound up putting microphones into the hands of these vulgar populists, like so many teens with ak-47s. We can do better than this.

P.s. This goes double for Bob Novak and John McLaughlin. Every time I listen to you, which isn't often, I long for Bill Buckley.

Posted by mbowen at December 27, 2002 02:10 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Could you please explain to me what you ment by this comment "even illiterate peasants are capable of remembering the gift of the mercedes america gives us, and it is certainly better to have your life spared by one such as the khmer kid, than to be executed by the rest," it maybe that I am unaware of who the khmer kid is, but this comment threw me off, please clarify who the khmer kid is and why your life was "spared". Thank you much.

Posted by: Michelle at September 28, 2004 02:17 AM

The 'Khmer Kid' was a character from the film 'The Killing Fields'. In that film, the American journalist is being driven around Cambodia in a Mercedes Benz. The kid runs up, begging. This was before he had joined the Khmer Rouge. The journalist gives him some money, I think, and the hood ornament of the Mercedez Benz. The kid's only English is 'Mercedes Benz, Number One'. The journalist agrees, maybe tells him something nice about the car and then heads off.

Just being associated with 'Mercedes Benz, Number One' was enough esteem for this illiterate peasant kid who grew up to be a Khmer Rouge conscript. The moment of kindness of the gift of a Mercedes Benz hood ornament saved the life of the journalist.

Posted by: Cobb at September 28, 2004 06:39 AM