Alexei Sayle: The big motor show at the end of the world

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Indy Lifestyle Online

I have several women friends for whom shopping can be something of an ordeal. This is because when they go into a store they have this feeling that the staff will get upset with them if they don't buy something. The result of this is that they inevitably come out of any shop lumbered with expensive stuff that they don't want. The same used to be true for me when I visited exhibitions and shows. I remember going to the Farnborough Airshow a few years back to protest against the arms trade and coming away with a McDonnell Douglas F15 Air Superiority Fighter complete with an M1601 20mm internal cannon and Aim 9L Sidewinder missiles. It's a bastard to keep clean since the wings won't go through the carwash. Similarly, when I went to the Motor Show in 1992 when it was still at the Birmingham NEC to film an item for Top Gear, I found myself buying a brand new Rover 827 Coupe.

Since then, though, I've managed to get a grip and have been able to attend a couple of motor shows without buying much apart from some brake pads for a tractor and a single spark plug for a Maserati that I don't own. However, now I'm not entirely sure what motor shows are for. With airshows it's easier. Most people are hoping that something will crash, but where's the kick with a motor show?

It occurred to me after visualising the last show I went to, that, with all the stationary cars dotted about the floor at various angles,a motor show is just a highly polished traffic jam from the near future. The more I thought about it, the more these exhibitions came to resemble a view of the future. Not a benign one, however, more some George A Romero-style Dawn of the Dead dystopia. Motor shows take place in huge, interlinked, domed halls into which no light filters, where everywhere there is advertising and strident messages being shouted at you over the PA. This cacophony resembles any number of visions of society in years to come, particularly Terry Gilliam's Brazil and the setting of Godard's Alphaville. In these imagined cities, you never see daylight and it is easy to imagine that the outside world has become poisoned by nuclear war or ecological disaster. The role of the braindead mutants who feature in Day of the Dead or the The Omega Man is of course taken by the members of the public who have paid to get in and who wander robotically from stall to stall, their mouths hanging open and a trail of dribble inching over their chins. Rather than feasting on human flesh, these motor-show zombies seem to exist on a diet of brochures and free baseball caps. There is always a decadent elite and they are represented in the motor-show dystopia by those who manage to get on to the manufacturers' stands. Once or twice, I have experienced the wonder world above or behind the makers' displays, a world of free sandwiches and unlimited cava.

To my overheated mind, the cars that have been artistically sliced open to show their workings resemble vehicles that have been chopped in half by alien lasers, terminator cyborgs or possibly the mutant resistance. And then there is the food. It may be different at ExCel, but all I have to go on is the stuff they used to sell you at the NEC. In perhaps the greatest of all the "warning-to-the-future" films, Richard Fleischer's 1973 epic, Soylent Green, it turns out that the populations of earth's crowded cities are being fed on the recycled flesh of those who opt for assisted suicide rather than go on living in such unpleasant circumstances. Recalling the sausage I ate at the NEC, so ghastly were its contents, I can only conclude that it was made from the cars and exhibition stands of previous shows.

motoring@independent.co.uk

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