Welcome to Two Minutes Hate, in which we, the TTAC staff, will choose some hapless writer and/or industry person and then flog that person with all the verbal viciousness we can summon up. Complaints about “negativity”, “hatefulness”, and “substandard caviar served during the press dinner” are not welcome here. This is Two Minutes Hate. Thank you — JB
Did you know that there is an “ascetic populism [added to] to the inherent machismo of the engine-revving manual transmission”? My mother, who was a Palm Beach deb prior to driving a lifetime’s worth of stick-shift MGs, Honda, Nissan trucks, and Mercurys even while suffering from advanced sarcoidosis, apparently never got the memo on that. Same for my ex-wife, who used to flog an SRT-4 around Nelson Ledges once a month or so until the vacuum hoses performed their inevitable high-boost seppuku. Come to think of it, the number of women who have daily-driven a manual-transmission must be in the hundreds of millions, particularly given the fact that many developing markets still don’t have slushbox volume models.
In today’s edition of Salon, however, David Sirota attempts to make the case that driving a stick shift is, like, totes manly. He devotes a few paragraphs to how he “can’t let go of [his] love for the stick” using language that wouldn’t be out of place in the inevitable “tween” edition of Fifty Shades Of Grey. Having convinced himself, at least, that choosing a particular transmission is just about as manly as dunking over Akeem The Dream while simultaneously using one’s toes to digitally violate Rihanna, Sirota then comes to the inevitable conclusion: stick shifts are bad, mmmkay?
According to Sirota, “AOL Autos” has declared that automatic transmissions are now just as efficient as manuals. Faced with this terrifying piece of unimpeachable information, and desperately needing to crank out a column in order to justify his existence on this planet, Sirota goes on to say
Thanks to all this, on the days I don’t bike to work
Due to vaginal soreness, presumably.
and instead fire up my 11-year-old Saturn and shift it into first gear, I no longer feel so righteous or populist.
Oh, David, your voluntary ownership of an old Saturn makes you a real man of the people! Every single mother who is praying each morning for her Saturn to start so she can make it to McJob and feed her children that night basks in the reassuring glow of your decision to do the same!
I feel like part of the problem — not just because I’m driving a fossil fuel-dependent vehicle, but also because the manual transmission seems like a silly relic.
As opposed to your Saturn itself, which is a righteous populist relic of such righteous populist value that it should be placed behind glass and ritually kissed by the righteous populist American poor with whom you sympathize at a safe, but righteously and populistically so, distance.
Likewise, word that manual transmissions may be coming back no longer seems like such great news; it seems like more proof that when it comes to transportation, we’re still prone to making shortsighted decisions.
Spoken like a man who has never had his family stranded by the side of the road by a recalcitrant old transverse-mounted papier-mache transmission, or personally known anyone who has been in the same situation. Those of us who actually trawl in the low end of automotive ownership for real know that, with the exception of the occasional well-autocrossed Honda S2000, manual transmissions in small cars are durable where automatics often aren’t.
Truth be told, Sirota doesn’t actually care about the fuel economy of manual transmissions. His true problem with the idea of self-shifting is found in the oddly erotic sections of his column. In Sirota’s mind, driving a manual is one of those bizarre masculine rituals, like “blood pinning”, motorcycle racing, or heterosexual intercourse for the purpose of procreation, that no longer has any legitimate purpose in his World Of The Future. We’ve covered that ground recently so there’s nothing more that should be said about that right now…
…except that he’s wrong. There is nothing inherently masculine about operating a stick-shift. Women do it all the time, around the world, and usually think nothing of it. In fact, a lot of the early demand curve for the Accord and its contemporaries was driven, pardon the pun, by women who were surprisingly calm about the idea of purchasing such vehicles. Dare I ever mention the original VW Beetle, which was nominally available in a clutchless “autostick” but rarely delivered as such?
Never mind. If Sirota wants to keep his righteously populist Saturn, he’s going to need to come up with an even more PC, populist, feminized reason for doing so. Luckily, he’s a bright guy.
That’s why I was happy to see that there remains one significant reason to still love the manual transmission — a reason that’s substantive, rather than just aesthetic or experiential. In the age of distracted driving, many believe the stick shift might encourage kids to stay focused on operating their vehicles, rather than operating their smartphones. The idea is that because a manual transmission requires special attention to operate, it doesn’t allow for as much multitasking as an automatic.
My hairy ass it doesn’t. I drove my 911 to work this morning while eating a biscuit, drinking a soda, and aggressively sexting a number I thought belonged to Derek Kreindler’s girlfriend but turned out to be the property of a Cameroonian taxi driver working Yonge Street. (Sorry, Mr. Kony or whatever your name was.) Unless you deliberately fetishize the act to Sirotavian levels, driving a manual requires no “special attention” at all. Once in a while you have to reach down there near your genitalia, which may be of any shape you and/or your parents have determined, and move a lever. This guy makes it sound like it takes the sacrifice of a chicken coupled with precisely back-tracking the end of “Darling Nikki” on your iPod to change gear. In modern cars, with their endless torque and computerized throttles, you don’t even need the right gear in order to progress with traffic.
There’s been a tendency lately among the auto media to use the manual transmission as some sort of litmus test for automotive enthusiasm. This dumb-assery comes from the fact that operating a clutch represents the apex, pun intended, of the average journo’s accompishments. It’s human nature to set the barrier to entry for a particular club right under our own abilities. Ask any fraternity president. I would suggest that the bar either be set higher — as in automotive competition — or moved to somewhere that actually matters, like genuine interest in the automobile that is unaffiliated with free stuff, luxury travel, or impressing the neighbors. Either would work. Now, if you excuse me, I have to take a call from a female friend of mine who wants to know whether she should buy a Wrangler Sahara or Rubicon. She’s already decided on the six-speed manual for reasons of durability and resale value. Wait ’til I tell her that, according to David Sirota, she’s just grown a cock.