15 September 2012

James May on: monster trucks

The monster truck, like TB, must be eradicated for the good of us all

James May
Car image

Richard Hammond I’m not sure about, but I have to admit to liking Total Wipeout.

Maybe this is wrong, and I obviously wouldn’t take part myself, but there is something enduringly satisfying about watching people who are hell-bent on achieving fame, riches and glory falling over in an undignified way into a massive pool of mud. What better illustration is there of the folly of human conceit?

What more comprehensive leveller of society, with its constructs of status and respectability, than Hammond’s Big Balls? It’s just funny, and it has me on the floor every time. Maybe this is what telly is really all about. It’s an amazing medium, a technology that can bring the whole world into a haunted box in the corner of the room (or on the wall, if you’re trendy), but what do we use it for most of the time? Selling washing powder and humiliating the naive.

This got me thinking the other week. Television is bookended at one extreme by someone like Cox or Fry or Palin expanding our minds, and at the other by some fatuous reality show reducing our heads to mush, the opium of the people. Total Wipeout is somewhere in the middle, along with Cash in the Attic.

But what of the bigger picture? What of humankind’s ambition as a whole? I’m not yet sure what is at the right-hand end, our loftiest achievement, but at the other end is a monster truck. I hate monster trucks.

The monster truck: what is it good for? Absolutely nuttin’. The Lamborghini Aventador is ultimately pointless, but at least it and its kind sprang from a perfectly reasonable pursuit, that of better performance.

The monster truck takes all that is handy about a pickup truck and renders it useless. It’s too high to climb into, it’s impossible to put stuff in the back, you can’t see where you’re going and it makes you look like a Neanderthal. All a monster truck can do is run over old cars, and that was only mildly amusing once.

But still people are at it: build a monster truck – which is dead funny, because it’s got massive wheels – take it to a mud arena, run over some old cars. It’s so bloody banal, it makes me think The Bomb wasn’t such a bad thing after all. I became very exercised about the futility of monster trucks and tried to turn the subject into a debate on Twitter. What is at the other end? What of our legacy offers the greatest contrast with the monster truck? I thought it might be Bach’s St Matthew Passion, and invited suggestions.

The response was a bit lacklustre. Jeremy thought it might be the contented gurgling of a newborn infant, which was a good call, but I ruled it out. That same infant might become a monster-truck enthusiast or a Total Wipeout contestant.

Monster trucks – I’ll go on. There’s one in TopGear Live, called the Red Dragon, and it has a million horsepower, and I hate it. It runs over a car. Maybe small children still get excited about this sort of thing, but it fills me with dread for our future as a species.

Its owner is keen to advertise that the Red Dragon was conceived and built in Wales. So is this to be the ambassador for the land of daffodils, with its poets and sportsmen? A monster truck?

If I were Welsh, I’d be angry that a man with a juvenile pickup had presumed to represent me. For what is an observer to make of the Welsh people on contemplating their monster truck? It’s not good, is it?

I’ve examined it, and, at a technical level, it’s quite impressive. Simply extracting two million horsepower from an old Yank V8 is worthy of respect. But all that engineering effort could have been put into something for the furtherance of our lot, such as a better baggage carousel or a robotic exoskeleton for people with severe disabilities. Not a giant radiocontrolled novelty.

Look: television was a great idea and improved the world, but we can easily betray it,and turn it into a pedlar of cheap highs for the unwary. The car was a great idea, too, and liberated peoples, but, if we’re not careful, we will debase the original vision, and it will be remembered as a monster truck.

Visitors from Mars in the distant future will pick through the charred remnants of civilisation, find the fossil of the Red Dragon and be unsurprised that we screwed it up.

The monster truck, like tuberculosis, must be eradicated for the good of us all. If you’re not against the monster truck, you’re with the monster truck. And then we will be undone.

Tags: james may, monster truck



We make a trip to the north-eastern end of the country to meet a real Jeep, in one that keeps it real from the current crop