Tuesday, February 22, 2005

where the wild things check air pressure

Last week a handful of billboards went up for Esuvee.com, with a picture of a guy riding an enormous Maurice Sendak-like monster with headlight eyes and a chrome-grill mouth, and the slogan "An SUV is not a car." Y'all have probably seen this thing around. Anyway, I assumed that it was a bold and brilliant anti-SUV ad campaign, and for a few days we cheered when we passed it on the Bay Bridge onramp. Then I finally visited the site, and it turns out that it's an SUV safety campaign, and the evil ogre is actually a friendly SUV monster who needs love and attention -- in the form of air-pressure maintenance/defensive driving -- to stay safe and happy. Normally I'd say I'm all for an SUV safety campaign, but entering site gave me the same turned stomach as when I first visited this little hypocritical marvel.

I may be reading this entirely wrong, of course. But spending lots of money to educate drivers on how to avoid dying (or more likely, killing someone else) when operating a vehicle whose design and structure are inherently, fundamentally unsafe seems a little bizarre to me. Hence the comparison with Phillip Morris. If you want to reduce the consumer risk of a product that has been approved by a federal regulatory agency, stop approving it! This is why the FDA has not approved DDT for use at French restaurants, and why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn't let you ride a giraffe down I-95. This is just another instance of government agencies dumping liability onto consumers so as to avoid pissing off major lobbying interests by actually holding them responsible for the safety and legality of their product.

This ESUVEE campaign also gives off a pungent aroma of assuaged upper-middle-class guilt. Now, if people buy hybrid models and follow all the friendly monster's instructions, it'll finally be okay to own an SUV. For those of you unfamiliar with that assuaged-guilt smell, just think of a Starbucks shade-grown mochachino and you're pretty close.

I guess the site I was hoping for would probably be called something more like "Effuvee.com." Not holding my breath, though.

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