American Anthropological Association and American Automobile Association were founded in the same year. 1902.
For while, I was wondering if this serendipity may contain a lead into an interesting cultural truth. Then I saw the recent Toyota commercial called “Human Touch.” The invention and rapid spread of automobiles in Europe and the U.S. has dramatically altered both cities and the countryside. Most importantly, cars gave people autonomy and independence. Cars were especially instrumental in ripping individuals out of their local communities, making mobility part of individual humanity, and tacitly converting loyalty to roots into love for routes. In the U.S., automobility spawned a whole infrastructure comprised of highways, motels, garages, gas stations, fast food stations, and drive-thrus.
The influence has been mutual, for no other vehicle looks so much like a human being. Trains look like snakes or centipedes, airplane like birds, submarines like whales. Cars certainly look human and behave intelligently, and the Toyota commercial has highlighted this old truth in a new way.
In the U.S. the car constitutes the second major purchase in a person’s life (after the house; or third, if small business can count as a purchase). In Russia, as we read on CNN, the worsening demographic slump has led to the introduction of a nationwide rewards-and-incentives program. Governor of Ulyanovsk (ironically, the town in which Vladimir Ulyanov-Lenin was born) has decreed September 12 a Day of Conception and awards successful couples with cash, cars, and other valuable goods.
The metaphor “car as a human being” easily translates into a pragmatic metonym: child is a particular kind of human being, birthing a child is causally related to getting an actual car. The transaction transcends the marketplace: in a version of the Communist ideal, Russian lovers obtain cars (again, the second major purchase in the U.S.) for free from the state as a reward for their reproductive activity. American Anthropological Association and American Automobile Association may use this example as an new idea for partnership.