Wednesday, 28 March 2007

The chauffeur

There's an anecdote connected to Dylan Thomas, that as a child he boasted to a friend "my Dad's got a chauffeur", to which the friend retorted "What's he want a chauffeur for? He hasn't got a car." I like this, because it expresses the sense that the exchange-value (the cultural or social-heirarchical exchange-value) of cars has always been more important than their use value. First, we consider the car as expressive of our status; secondarily, we consider the car as a means of getting about.

So I wonder about the future of the chauffeur. There's has, it's true, been a tension between cars as symbols and status and cars as symbols of our control and power (our seven league boots, our Sleipnir, our magic carpet). Hence the advertisers stress us in the driving seat, as if the car is an extension of our muscles and sinews. But driving is also work; and para-driving activities--locating parking, servicing the machine, filling it with petrol and changing its tires--is especially onerous. As the breach between wealthy and poor gapes ever wider, and as the wealthy gets relatively richer and richer, it's hard to believe that we won't contract this labour to others, as the wealthy tend to do with all the labour they find even mildly onerous. The chauffer will return.

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