The semiotics of a 1999 Toyota Corolla
Despite the ever-growing might of the South Korean auto industry, it’s a boring place for the car connoisseur. The occasional Ferrari or Lamborghini still looks freshly delivered in the loud yet basic color schemes beloved of the nouveau riche Gangnam. More stylish but rarer are the domestic survivors of the scrappy 1980s: the Kia Pride, for example, a mass-produced symbol of modernity marketed in the West as the Ford Festiva, or the Daewoo Maepsy, Korea’s last branded car. a true Korean-sounding Name. For the most part, the streets of Seoul offer a breathless parade of generic vehicles this side of local automakers (in addition to the city’s signature orange taxi cabs) in black, white and gray, none of the designs likely to stand out. quicken the pulse of anyone but a development economist.
Most of the passenger cars circulating on Korean roads are of recent era, mostly dating from the last ten to fifteen years. Even Kia’s trusty Spectra, Kia’s economy compact, has become a rare sight in its homeland since it was discontinued in 2003. While testing a model from that year, my favorite car review channel on YouTube once summed up the lack of distinctiveness of the Spectra. likening it to “the fictitious idea of an ordinary car, a completely invented symptom of the ridiculousness of the human condition”. The channel host didn’t praise other Korean automobiles much more effusively, either: Hyundai’s somewhat forward-thinking 2013 Veloster Turbo is “a budget car in a man’s tuxedo”; the chintzily hip 2016 Kia Soul 6MT is “the official car to wear fake Gucci to a deposition.” Of Hyundai’s 2020 Elantra GT N Line Sleeper, he says, “Good: the very definition of this one.”
The channel is Regular Car Reviews, which I discovered after moving to South Korea in 2015. I was from Los Angeles, a city reflexively associated with a car culture I’ve never been part of. The same transportation dissident impulse that kept me from driving in Southern California now compels me, in Seoul — a city whose subway system is as good as car tracking is bad — to watch videos on the Chevrolet Camaro, the Dodge Neon, and even the Ford Pinto. It could simply be a way of securing the hoped-for benefit of expatriation: a new look at my homeland, the United States of America. Each of the more than five hundred episodes of Regular Car Reviews assesses an automobile’s design and performance, but also reflects on that automobile’s sociological significance, triggers on non-sequential comic riffs ranging from light-hearted to beastly vulgarity, and unfailingly delivers a shot of pure 21st century America.
See how the host, the flippant alias of Mr. Regular, who films and produces his videos from his home in central Pennsylvania, pronounces the name Hyundai. His review Veloster alone features variations ranging from “hon-day” to “hoon-day” to “hay-oon-day”, none of which sound much like the word as it is pronounced in Korean. This is obviously a deliberate satire of Americans’ notorious apathy towards foreign languages - he does something similar with Peugeot – but only to a certain extent: Mr. Regular presents himself as both parodist and participant , even when taking photos, as he often does, to the obsession with posture of more conventional YouTube car channels. He and his collaborator, a writer and musician known as Roman, are clearly reducers, and they betray few qualms about falling into dumpsites of technical knowledge. But the genius of their business lies in the way it discourages their colleagues.
It starts with its title, Regular Car Reviews, which promises something less than the ride of a lifetime. The first video in the series, uploaded in 2012, reviews a then ten-year-old Toyota Echo that was as ordinary as a car, that is, as ordinary as a car. The explosion in popularity that would eventually turn Regular Car Reviews into a full-time job happened the following year, sparked by a video of the 1995 Mazda Miata MX-5. the Miata compared to other sports cars, it also parodied the stubborn enthusiasm of the impecunious young weekend racer likely to buy one. (The hypnotically repeated exhortation of “Track day, bro! some of them not ordinary at all.
As well as brands synonymous with high performance and big spending – Ferrari and Lamborghini, but also McLaren, Lotus and Tesla – Regular Car Reviews also reviewed non-regular cars like a school bus, a fire truck, a DeLorean DMC -12 , and a replica of KIT from “Knight Rider”. These last two attract the attention of any American of the same generation as the forty-year-old Mr. Regular, myself included. (The same goes for the equivalent generation in other countries, like South Korea, which have long been saturated with American popular culture.) CE, “your car for a sixty-year-old visored mom who looks after of her eighty-five-year-old mother, while helping her twenty-seven-year-old daughter plan her wedding”.
Driving a 1985 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, Mr. Regular envisions “another desperate, angry dreamer” who “imagines himself flying into battle, shooting down evil regional managers and double-talking owners.” The 1999 Chevy Blazer is powered by General Motors’ Vortec, an engine designed for “the guy who follows the McRib, raves about Mountain Dew Code Red and quotes ‘Boondock Saints,’ whether the conversation calls for it or not.” The 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon is “a car for wealthy Uncle Christopher who likes ‘muscle cars'” and whose voiced opinions are unquestioned because he “owns an extrusion plant of aluminum and employs two-thirds of your family. While some reviews imagine the ideal driver for a car, others personify the vehicle itself. The Miata has “respect for the classics, but also an exaggerated sense of its own importance – it’s the Kanye West of cars”.
Some models come with a wider variety of combinations. Underpowered as a car but highly charged as a sociopolitical statement, the Toyota Prius is “the ultimate avatar. This is the ultimate emoticon. It’s the ultimate selfie. The 1994 Acura NSX is presented as a representation of that year, one of those rare times when “car culture, pop culture and the public perception of what is good align”. (In support of this idea, examples include “Pulp Fiction,” “True Lies,” Oasis’ debut album, the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” music video, and Sony’s PlayStation.) -funnels, or Mondays at TGI Friday’s with your American Literature professor – you know, that restless 60-year-old whose favorite cocktail is a Tequila Mockingbird. One detects a real-life inspiration from Mr. Regular: Since YouTube success allowed him to quit his day job, he revealed in interviews not only his real name, Brian Reider, but also his possession of a graduate degree in English literature.