In Foreign Parts: Self-proclaimed ethical fascist puts the boot into big cars

Click to follow
The Independent US

Amy Alkon does not pretend to be a nice person. The term she likes to use is "ethical fascist". Which is why, to advertise her aversion to large four-wheel-drive cars blocking Los Angeles streets – what Americans refer to as sports utility vehicles or SUVs -- she is leaving business cards on outsize windscreens all over her neighbourhood in Venice Beach.

Amy Alkon does not pretend to be a nice person. The term she likes to use is "ethical fascist". Which is why, to advertise her aversion to large four-wheel-drive cars blocking Los Angeles streets – what Americans refer to as sports utility vehicles or SUVs -- she is leaving business cards on outsize windscreens all over her neighbourhood in Venice Beach.

"Road-Hogging, Gas-Guzzling, Air-Fouling Vulgarian!" the card reads. "Clearly you have an extremely small penis, or you wouldn't drive such a monstrosity. For the adequately endowed, there are hybrids or electrics."

At the bottom of the card there is no name. But there is a phone number, and if you dial it you get a further shower of invective from an answering machine message: "Piggy, piggy, piggy. If you can afford one of those huge new SUVs, you can afford something that doesn't suck all of the air out of the planet and spit it back black ... It's really creepy that you drive that thing, and I just wanted to let you know."

Hers is a modest gesture. Mostly, she leaves the cards surreptitiously while on her evening jog up the beach. Occasionally, car-owners will catch her and shout "moron!" after her, if not something less printable. Quite often, they will call the SUV insult line advertised on the card and hurl invective back at her. Most of it, curiously, comes from men defending the size of their manhood.

But there are also supporters. For all the popularity of monster family vehicles, the ranks of the SUV-haters are also swelling, not least because of the perception -- in these times of war, terrorism and increased consciousness of the US energy dependence on the Middle East – that a little modesty on the roads, not to mention fuel efficiency, might be in order. Or, as Ms Alkon puts it in her inimitable way: "If we didn't need so much Mid-East oil for these losers' mobile living rooms, Osama, Saddam and friends would probably be looking for work as goatherds."

Calls have come in from all over America from people wanting to know where they can get hold of some cards of their own. Many have downloaded the text from Ms Alkon's website – her day job is writing, of all things, a syndicated agony column.

So far so good, particularly in the light of recent events. Widespread public anger has erupted over the US Senate's failure to pass a relatively modest package of improved fuel efficiency standards because of motor industry lobbying. There is consternation at the Bush administration's refusal to countenance the slightest conservation measure, even as it insists that energy supplies are so short there is no choice but to drill for oil in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

And, with the Middle East in flames, the price of petrol keeps edging up, something guaranteed to give pause to even the most ardent SUV owner.

Not everyone agrees with Ms Alkon's tactics. Most environmentalists argue that imposing tougher efficiency standards on all vehicles, SUVs included, is the way to go. Lambasting consumers for their taste is generally considered, well, counterproductive.

But Ms Alkon doesn't care. She enjoys being obnoxious, and reckons other people get a kick out of it, too. Whenever she pulls out of a parking space, she refuses to make way for an SUV, waiting for something smaller to come and take her place instead. That earns her a pile of insults, of course, but she takes them in her stride. "I was a loser as a child," she explains, "so I've heard it all already."

One male caller said that receiving her card only made him want to pollute the planet more. Amy Alkon loves this stuff, because it raises the temperature of debate ever higher. "It really makes my blood boil," she says.

"SUVs are one of those things that are plain wrong and everyone hates, but nobody does anything about. Well, I'm doing something about it." And if you ever meet her while sitting at the wheel of a monster Jeep or Range Rover, you'd better have a damned good excuse.

Comments