Sunday, March 16, 2008

A lot of Volvos? Part 2

The other day, Leigh alerted me to this piece in New Orleans Magazine. (We later learned that we're not really supposed to show people the terrible stuff they say)

At the time, my response was to refuse to respond because I found the biases in the article to be so offensive that it wasn't worth my time.

One passage in particular was especially elementary:

The protesters themselves were the subject of much of the controversy. Several prominent New Orleanians, including a couple of council members, charged that many of the protesters were out-of-town, Birkenstock-clad agitators who had never set foot inside a New Orleans housing development until news cameras showed up.

Recent developments seemed to bolster that claim.

After a three-hour standoff at B.W. Cooper – the old Calliope project – SWAT officers arrested two 50-something-year-old protesters from Brooklyn. Other public housing activists turned out to be Ivy League college students on Christmas break.

“We’ve seen a lot of Volvos,” one city official said.

That last quote clearly seemed to strike me. That's why I'm still clearly bothered by it. That it was the language of a city official and not the author was maybe the reason it stuck with me so hard.

By the way, the author of that "article" is actually an outside agitator himself. His name is Chuck Hustmyre and he lives in Baton Rouge. He also is a frequent contributer to Fox News and has appeared on the prestigious The O'Reilly Factor.

I'm sure he's a nice guy.

Anyways, there was still something that irked me about that Volvo quote.

There was something I had read one time...

... in one of them books.

Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left Wing Freak Show by Geoffrey Nunberg.

A preview is available online for free with google books!

Here's a passage:

At it's inception, "Volvo liberal" was just another one of those pop marketing descriptions like "baby boomer" and "soccer mom," but it rapidly became a disparagement. By 1981, Pat Buchanan was accusing his radio sparring partner Tom Braden of the "Volvo, white wine and cheese set."

The brand image of the Volvo was ideal for this sort of stereotyping: not only was it an unglamorous car from socialist Sweden that people bought simply because it was safe, but its name had a serendipitous gynecological resonance - probably the main reason Volvos rather than Saabs were singled out for political stereotyping.

In fact, lifestyle and consumer preferences aren't nearly as good as a predictor of political affiliation as the right likes to pretend. It's true that Volvo owners skew Democratic, but only by about 4-to-3, not very big when other factors like geography are added into the mix, and one that has been shrinking as Volvos become more expensive and luxurious - among buyers of new Volvos, Democrats have only a slight edge. As indicators of party affiliation go, owning a Volvo is a somewhat less reliable than rooting for a baseball team with a blue uniform.

Funny, the city official quoted in the article had to resort to a right-wing talking point label in order to trash activists in a city full of Democratic voters.

(That is, making the sketchy assumption that the official didn't skew his or her comments special for New Orleans Magazine, which is not likely to be financially supported by many Democratic voters in Orleans Parish.)

(That is, making the sketchy assumption that the official didn't skew his or her comments special for Chuck Hustmyre, frequent guest of Fox News Channel.)

It is also funny to note, as Geoffrey Nunberg does in the passage, that Volvos are quite expensive.

Most activists you'll meet in the city are actually poor. A lot of those public housing activists wear old, raggedy clothing and otherwise look as though they invest less in their hygiene. The hippie labels work better than the 'a lot of Volvos' label. You wouldn't tend to see New Orleans activist types of people in Volvos or any other new car. More likely, they're living out of their cars. Or off of Americorps stipends. Or they're otherwise volunteering in different recovery-related programs and limiting their own ability to create the type of income necessary to purchase a fancy new Volvo's. It's all about bicycles.

I thought a lot of those activists that I just labeled in another set of broad generalizations made some major tactical errors during the public housing demolition hearing process and it made me mad at them.

This New Orleans Magazine Article doesn't qualify as journalism.

The "city official" needs to be told about his or her mixed metaphors.


Frolic said...

A little off topic, but anyone who has a foot in the academy should track down Stanley Fish's essay "The Unbearable Ugliness of Volvos." It a wicked takedown of academic culture.

His theory on why academics buy Volvos is that they're uncomfortable with affluence. They're trained to love suffering. So when some of the them get enough cash to buy a nice car, they get the ugly one that can be justified by its safety. I'm pretty sure Fish drives a sports car.

Leigh C. said...

My in-laws own Volvos and they are staunch Dems...but on the other end of the spectrum, until fairly recently, my aunt and uncle, serious Repubs, were Volvoids themselves.

As for its street cred amongst the anti-Establishment folk, Kurt Cobain first bought a Lexus with the money he was getting from the sales of "Nevermind". Criticism from his fan base caused him to recant and turn in the Lexus for...a used Volvo station wagon.

Why can't we ALL just drive Porsches - or have the Lord buy us Mercedes-Benzs, a la Janis Joplin?

jeffrey said...


The world is choc-full of these stupid shorthands by which lazy people define one another. It is this laziness which enables soulless advertisers and the politically ambitious to turn every aspect of human existence into a cheap tool of power.

This is exactly the kind of crap that had Cobain swallowing shells eventually.... that and the stomach ulcers... and life with Courtney, I'm sure.

E says here that New Orleans Magazine "doesn't qualify as journalism" I suppose that's true but only because it is an extreme and easily identifiable case of reporting that is driven by a desire to placate a niche market.

The same relationship exists between all major media and their advertisers. There is very little "journalism" out there that actually meets the standard I imagine E is holding NO Mag to when he makes this judgement.

Leigh C. said...

Gee, is this the wrong time to tell Jeffrey to fix HIS car, dammit? ;-)

Schroeder said...

It was a crappy piece of vitriolic stereotypes -- good for you for investing your time to expose it as such so eloquently.

On the other hand ...

Both sides in the argument for and against public housing are playing their stereotypical roles perfectly while the residents who may be getting left behind, and those who may be able to do better for themselves, are being ignored.

Pushing people's buttons is all that's happened in this deplorable situation.

Volvos -- well yes, if you're to believe Stacy Head. She's the one who said a bunch of public housing activists showed up at her house late one evening to pound on her door and intimidate her. She said they drove away in Volvos with out-of-state license plates.

The point to make about that incident had less to do with the fact that they were driving Volvos, in particular, and more to do with the fact that they were driving an expensive car, and were from out of town.

Public housing activists have played right into the hands of right wingers.

Meanwhile, the whole public housing issue was being settled without any meaningful discussion or opportunity for reconciliation.

Both sides have been acting like a bunch of f**kers.

E said...

Councilwoman Head was also the most vehement supporter of "redevelopment" and was the only City Councilperson to support David Vitter's blockage of the Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act.
Vitter's opposition to that bill was the sole reason it was killed in committee, in spite of widespread support.

E said...

Though the public housing advocates certainly did play right into the hands of right-wing opponents.

NOLA radfem said...

I'm sick of the shorthand, including in this election. Obama people drink lattes from Starbucks, while Hillary's voters go to Dunkin' Donuts or Wal-Mart....

I don't fit those neat categories, never do. Apparently although I struggle economically, I often vote with the "upscale liberals". Apparently I'm confused.

The categories are so stupid, but heaven knows the media needs their shorthand, right?

I haven't read any Stanley Fish in a long time. I'll have to check that one out. I did recently go to a conference where a professor called himself a "self-hating academic, an academic who hates academics." Wonder if he drives a Volvo. Meeting him was disappointing. I'd read his books and when I met him, he was just the absent-minded professor, couldn't even carry on much of a conversation.

mominem said...

I drive a Wolvo, I currently have two of them. I've owned them for more than 25 years.

And a lot of those hippies looking people in torn jeans aren't poor, they just like to dress poor, out of solidarity for the the masses.

Torn jeans can be very expensive, didi any one check the labels?

E said...

I don't like this conversation anymore. Mominem, I think you'd be surprised.

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