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June 1972

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Please Reverse This Tape



Los Angeles (AP)-Herman Detweiler's wife never stops nagging him And he loves it. "Your engine is overheating." "Check your radiator. I see steam." "DO something." Herman uses recordings of his wife's griping hooked up to various gauges in his van and whenever something starts to go , wrong, it's gripe, gripe, gripe, gripe. Even. when he gets out of the vehicle, his sweet wife's nagging can follow him. "You forgot to turn off the headlights. Come back! You forgot to turn off the headlights." He has pre-recorded tapes wired to existing warning gauges in the car and when a gauge hits a certain level-instant nag. Herman's prototype auto-nag also includes prerecorded shrieks about unfastened seat belts and being low on gas. Detwefler's wife, Bernice, admitted she is a back-seat driver at times. "So I was just playing' my natural role," she said. I read the item over again, this time more carefully. One sentence leaped out at me. It was the key line: And he loves it. Somehow the idea of a guy deliberately wiring up his car for transistorized automatic nagging seems curiously symptomatic of our time. Everywhere masochism is rampant. The incessant desire to have a loud voice forever bitching at you about what is Right and what is Wrong, about you and your society, is spreading at a fantastic rate. Every night on endless talk shows pinch-faced actresses and out-of-work comics mewl and thunder at us about our iniquities - and apparently we (or at least some of us) love it. Herman is right there in the middle of the main stream. Bernice incessantly yammering away at him gives him a deep sense of satisfaction, if not outright security. And good old Herman has done nothing more than open up a whole new field for the nags and zealots of the world. For example, brief warnings, admonitions and lectures by Ralph Nader in eight-track stereo might supplement Bernice Detweiler's ringing advice. NADER (his dry voice crackling out imperiously in stereo): It is a fact that 17.93%, according to figures released by my idealistic, young, hard-hitting research team, of drivers in 1972 Whoopeemobiles have suffered impacted wisdom teeth due to insufficient suspension safeguards. This figure is well verified, sir. DRIVER (tugging nervously at his tie): Yes Mr. Nader, but I ... NADER: You are the victim and pawn of the military-industrial complex. Working through the ugly machinations . of Madison Avenue, they have convinced you, at a cost of $197 4.12 per unit, that the Whoopeemobile is a safe vehicle. This is an exact figure released in a bulletin by my in-depth, comprehensive, young Truth Team. It is absolutely indisputable. DRIVER: I know, Ralph, but I like the Whoopeemobile and I've already put 103,000 miles on it and nothing has . . . NADER: Rubbish! That is a delusion; a snare perpetuated by endless television commercials. You, sir, are in dire danger of becoming another sorry statistic. Are you aware that 19.48% of Whoopeemobile purchasers die before they reach their seventy-third birthday? I am quoting a paper I delivered to a Senate investigating committee, sir. It is no use to argue. It is irrefutable. Figures don't lie. And now, sir, you will please reverse the tape. My denunciation of the new Whoopeemobile Super Sports XK continues on the other side. Driver, feeling purified and refreshed, pulls in to the McDonald's for a Filet-0-Fish and a Coke and to pick up a Ronald McDonald doll for the kids . It's just too bad Nader can't play the guitar. He could make a fortune setting his stuff to music for the protest market. Oh well, you can't put Ralph down any more than you can put down Bernice. It has been often said that nags are born and not made. Many are called, but damn few are chosen, and when you've got the talent to be a first-class nag you'll find plenty of customers. The key line, remember, is, "And they love .it." A nagger cannot exist without a naggee any more than plus can exist without minus or light without dark. Of course, the real victims of this Age Of The Cosmic Nag are those great numberless millions who are neither naggers nor naggees. They must simply exist in the crossfire of an enormous din, caught between the wails of the breast-beating penitents and the great horde of the barking denunciators. The signs are everywhere of the rising battle. For example, there's this great commercial where a young, vacant-faced chick holds up a shirt and in an accusing tone whines, "Mom! I can't wear this shirt to school." MOTHER (a care-worn lady surrounded by festering mountains of wash answers, in the correctly apologetic tone that all TV adults use when addressing their betters-their children or the Man from Glad): But why, Martha? DAUGHTER: It's too clean. The kid's will never believe we use a low-phosphate detergent. MOTHER: Aha. But I did. You know how dirty your brother Charlie's clothes can get: (She holds up a pair of pants that look like they have previously been used in the operating room scenes from M.A.S.H.) Well, with just one washing using new, all new Krapgon with XLD-97 additive for the rinse cycle they come out like this. (She then holds up spotless jeans.) DAUGHTER (still skeptical and distinctly unimpressed): The kids will never believe me. (She exits, dragging shirt behind her.) Mother smiles weakly and holds up box of new, all new Krapgon to make sure we've spotted it. A classic. Every time I see that speckled beauty I can't help but picture the next scene as well. That wonderful crowd called "The kids," a nattering, hounding pack of adolescent Naders denouncing and condemning their peers for showing up in class with too-clean underwear, too-white shirts and who can predict what else. What, God help us, would happen if ''The kids" don't buy Martha's story? Martha skulks into the classroom, attempting to conceal her spotless shirt under a rumpled and dirty sweater. It is no use, since "The kids" are omnipotent. THE KIDS (in a shrill rising chorus): Your shirt! It's too clean! Too clean! MARTHA (now adopting the tone her mother must use, and with tears welling in her eyes): My mother used a low-phosphate detergent, kids. It's called . . . THE KIDS (in a thunderous chorus of mingled boos and hisses): You lie. You LIE! You have befouled the environment. Destroyed the ecology!! MARTHA: WHAAAAAA! (She runs from the classroom, pursued by a yapping pack of wrathful kids.) A scene straight out of Lord Of The Flies. Poor little Piggy, immaculately Americanized, will get it in the ass every time. Lest you figure this is far afield from the world of the car, consider this. Every hour, on the quarter, TV commercials pop up hawking automobiles with an increasingly high Evangelistic tone. There is one gasoline spot in particular where this folk singer arrives on screen dressed in the somber black of a sawdust-trail preacher. (This is not accidental. He is about to lay God's gospel on us.) He plucks his guitar somberly and looking you straight in the eye begins to intone, in a curiously hymn-like song, why all good men and true and St. Peter too all go to the LEA-DOUT pump. He wails piously with the down-home honesty of a sinner who has seen the light. At the conclusion of the hymn, No. 139 from the LEA-DOUT song book, he turns and somberly stalks off in the darkness. I'm sure countless guilt stricken born naggees in the audience are warmed by a sense of pious contrition when they wheel into their LEA-DOUT station the following day and bark to the attendant in clear righteous tones, "Fill 'er up, brother, with goodness and rectitude." "Amen," the attendant intones in a reverent, quavering voice as he sloshes in 16 gallons of the Lord's word and spills another four onto the blacktop while the pilgrim is busy fumbling through his wallet for the tithe. Commercial evangelism, high-paying morality, is creeping in everywhere. It has produced some heart stirring scenes on TV. A crowd of your fresh idealistic faces gathered on a hillside holding aloft, each and every one, a bottle, looking up into the sun, perhaps even to heaven itself, singing in sweet, all-the-world's-a-brother tones: "I'd like to buy the world a Coke and live in simple har-mo-nee ... " Somehow, it leaves you with the impression that every time you swill down a lukewarm Coke you're contributing to world peace. Makes you feel downright, decadent to order a Pepsi or a Dr. Pepper - which is, by implication, probably what Archie Bunker would do. Yes, gang, the signs are all there as plain as that new dent in your trunk. The world is being taken over by a new super race. It won't be long before the churches will get in the act to make it formal. Cars will have to bear the seal of approval of your local diocese, or certainly at least your local reformer, before they can be driven in clear conscience. And as impetus gathers on one side, there is the predictable reaction to the contrary. Already many friends of mine are beginning to show furtive signs of conscience because they are using and (ironically) enjoying forbidden products. I see the day when a new industry, illicit of course, will break out to fill the needs of guys whose souls are occupied by the Devil. This industry will bootleg old evil decadent products in counterfeit wrappings. For example, some guys really do like Caddies in spite of universal condemnation by every hip kid for miles around. An underground bootleg garage will, at a price of course, install a new '72 Caddy chassis, engine and all; under a battered, peace sign bedecked psychedelic school-bus body, thus satisfying both God and the Devil at one and the same time. Herman and Bernice are but pioneers. They will be followed by others.


Copyright: 1972 Car and Driver