How high does the price of gasoline have to get before Batman resorts to the Batbus?
The influence of the car is everywhere in popular culture. But what if we had been forced to rely more on mass transit from the beginning? How might pop culture be different?
Here's some speculation.
The Beach Boys would have sung I Sit Around instead of I Get Around. (I'm getting sore walking up and down the same old strip / I'll be a middle-aged guy with a titanium hip.)
Musicians have long relied on automobiles as metaphors for sex (Baby, you can drive my car). Somehow, you don't get the same level of innuendo with mass transit (Baby, you can join my car pool).
So I'm guessing that lyricists would have relied more on food to get the message across. Prince, who expressed his desires in Little Red Corvette (Baby, you're much too fast) might have tried this instead:
Little crepes suzette
Baby, you're much too hot
Your love's my food for thought
And Wilson Pickett wouldn't have sung Mustang Sally, because Ford would never have built the car.
I imagine that, in a mass-transit world, notions of vehicular sexiness would have had a more European flavor. Perhaps he would have called the song Vespa Vicky.
Tony Soprano would never have lived in New Jersey.
He'd have lived in Brooklyn, and the opening montage would have shown him commuting home by subway after a hard day of whacking rivals.
Likewise, Fred Flintstone and his blue-collar buddies in Bedrock would have foot-powered a bus home.
Instead of driving the fuel-guzzling Gen. Lee (a Dodge Charger), Bo and Luke from The Dukes of Hazzard would have at least downsized to the Cpl. Cooper (a Dodge Dart).
A host of other car-oriented TV shows would have had different titles: My Mother the Streetcar, Knight Walker, Huckleberry (Grey)Hound and Pimp My Hydrogen Fuel Cell.
In a mass-transit world, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper could still have portrayed counterculture heroes, but the movie would have been called Easy Bus Rider.
Hapless Clark Griswold could have gotten into just as much trouble if the movie had been called National Lampoon's Stay-at-Home Vacation. And, instead of going to White Castle, Harold and Kumar might have had a pizza delivered.
I can also envision a movie in which Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd employ a vehicle to transport themselves in time. But in a world less in love with cars, it might have been Amtrak to the Future.
Instead of racing 500 miles to nowhere, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and company would compete to see who could hail a taxi, stuff it with five or six passengers and get to the Daytona airport first. The sport would be called NASCAB.
Come to think of it, the price of getting to the racetrack might soon exceed the cost of getting in.
In that case, we'll all stay home and play a hot new video game: Grand Theft Gasoline.
Joe Blundo is a Dispatch columnist.