An Alaska man is on trial for his life because he allegedly watched the movie “Road Trip.” Now, I’m sure you’ll agree that while “Road Trip” was a bad movie, viewing it should not be a capital offense. So why the extreme reaction? Are the laws in Alaska so much more strict than they are here in the United States? Not at all: The man was watching “Road Trip” while he was driving, and prosecutors say it’s what caused the car accident that killed two people.
When I saw “Road Trip” in 2000, I said to myself, “This movie is so bad, I’ll bet one day it kills someone.” I hate to be right all the time, but here we are. Prosecutors say 29-year-old Erwin Petterson was watching the film on his dashboard DVD player — he also has a PlayStation 2 and a sweet CD system in his pickup truck — while driving from Kenai to Anchorage in October 2002. They say his distraction, no doubt from staring at the screen agape in horror at the movie’s unfathomable lack of comedy, led to a crash in which the occupants of another vehicle were killed. (Petterson was not seriously injured, though he is, sadly, still a tool who drives a pickup truck with a DVD player and a PS2 in it.)
The trial, which began last week, is the first of its kind in America or Alaska. Common sense dictates that more toys and gadgets in automobiles will mean more distraction, and that’s why DVD players are usually installed either so they’re only visible from the back seat, or, if they’re in the front, so they only work if the car is in park. (Why you would want to sit in a parked car and watch a movie on a tiny screen is beyond me.) But if you install the system yourself, those precautions are easily bypassed. (Well, “easily” in the sense that if you’re capable of installing the thing at all, you’re probably capable of bypassing the safety measures. I doubt I, personally, could install anything in a car, being barely capable of even driving one.)
Petterson is part of a rising trend wherein people spend fabulous sums of money to equip their vehicles with all manner of bling and gewgaws and frou-frou. I can’t relate to this. If I ever owned a really nice car, or put a lot of time and expense into turning an average car into something cool, I would never drive it. I’d be afraid of wrecking it, or having it vandalized. It’s the same philosophy that prevents me from ever spending more than about $30 for shoes: Why pay a fortune for something you’re just going to WALK on?
But devotion to cars is a common trait among men who are not me. I see it often in parking lots, where people straddle two spaces because their car is soooo much more precious than the rest of ours that they can’t run the risk of it getting scratched or dinged, which would surely happen if they let other cars park near it. Well guess what, Hector? You take your car out in public, you take the chance that something will happen to it. That’s the danger of living in a world that contains other people. If you don’t want to assume that risk, then leave the car in the garage — or better yet, find something more worthwhile to obsess over than the condition of your car. You know, like maybe ANYTHING. At the very least, quit hogging two spots. I often fire bullets into those cars, even if I don’t need the spot.
As with most cultural trends that I don’t like, MTV is doing its part to make it worse. The network has a show called “Pimp My Ride,” a sort of makeover show in which people’s beat-up cars are given the royal treatment and emerge, er, pimped.
(“Pimp” is an interesting word, by the way. It’s always been a noun, of course, as well as an intransitive verb, as in, “Dave acquires most of his income via pimping.” But at some point in the past few years, it became a transitive verb as well, meaning in addition to just pimping, now you can also pimp something, like a car, or even a “ride,” which is what the kids call cars nowadays.)
“Pimp My Ride” is a silly, harmless show, hosted by a person called Xzibit, who was a rapper before he chose to devote his life to ride-pimping. Xzibit and a team of ride-pimpers review the applications sent in by urban males with unpimped rides and select the rides most in need of pimping. (I am trying to say “pimp” and “ride” as often as they say them on the show, but believe me, I’m not even close.) Then they take the ride back to ride-pimping headquarters, fix whatever’s actually wrong with it, and then add luxury items like PlayStations, DVD players, waterbeds, dishwashers, barbecues, laundromats, and massage parlors — anything they think the average urban male might need in his ride. Of course, the average urban male’s ride is likely to be stolen, especially if it’s been pimped, but that is none of Xzibit’s concern.
I suppose the ride-pimping trend, both MTV-assisted and independently done, will continue as our society becomes increasingly mobile. Fifteen years ago, it was a pretentious luxury to have a phone in your car; now, you’re pretentious if you brag about NOT having a cell phone. No one is home anymore; everyone is always out. So it makes a certain kind of sense to have the amenities of home lodged in your automobile. But where will it end? How many Alaskans have to die before stricter safety measures are enforced? And why doesn’t “Road Trip” come with a warning label?
I like pretending not to know that Alaska is part of the United States. In fact, I like pretending not to know stuff in general.
I hadn't seen "Pimp My Ride" before this week, when I decided I might want to reference it in the column. So I told TiVo to find me an episode, and of course like most MTV shows, it's on 33 times a day, so it was pretty easy. Then I had to let TiVo know, in no uncertain terms, that I do NOT want it to find me any subsequent episodes of "Pimp My Ride," that it was just a one-time fling. I think TiVo understood.
Petterson was eventually acquitted of the charges and is now a free man, roaming the Alaskan wilderness, watching "Road Trip" in his truck.