The semiotics of a 1999 Toyota Corolla

The semiotics of a 1999 Toyota Corolla

Despite the ever-growing might of the South Korean auto industry, it’s a boring place for the car connoisseur. The occasional Ferrari or Lamborghini still looks freshly delivered in the loud yet basic color schemes beloved of the nouveau riche Gangnam. More stylish but rarer are the domestic survivors of the scrappy 1980s: the Kia Pride, for example, a mass-produced symbol of modernity marketed in the West as the Ford Festiva, or the Daewoo Maepsy, Korea’s last branded car. a true Korean-sounding Name. For the most part, the streets of Seoul offer a breathless parade of generic vehicles this side of local automakers (in addition to the city’s signature orange cabs) in black, white and gray, none of the designs likely to stand out. quicken the pulse of anyone but a development economist.

Most of the passenger cars circulating on Korean roads are of recent era, mostly dating from the last ten to fifteen years. Even Kia’s trusty Spectra, Kia’s economy compact, has become a rare sight in its homeland since it was discontinued in 2003. Test drive of a model from that year, my favorite car review channel on YouTube once abstract the Spectra’s lack of distinctiveness by comparing it to “the fictional idea of ​​an ordinary car, a completely made-up symptom of the ridiculousness of the human condition”. The channel host also didn’t praise other Korean automobiles much more effusively: Hyundai’s somewhat avant-garde design Veloster Turbo 2013 is “a budget car in a men’s tuxedo”; hip chintzily 2016 Kia Soul 6MT is “the official car to wear fake Gucci to a deposition.” From the Hyundai Sleeper 2020 Elantra GT N Linehe declares, “Good: the very definition of it.”

The channel is Regular Car Reviews, which I discovered after moving to South Korea in 2015. I was from Los Angeles, a city reflexively associated with a car culture I’ve never been part of. The same transportation dissident impulse that kept me from driving in Southern California now forces me, in Seoul — a city whose subway system is as good as car tracking is bad — to watch videos on the Chevrolet Camaro, the Dodge Neon, and even the Ford Pinto. It could simply be a way of ensuring a hoped-for benefit from expatriation: a new look at my homeland, the United States of America. Each of the more than five hundred episodes of Regular Car Reviews assesses an automobile’s design and performance, but also reflects on that automobile’s sociological importance, triggers on non-sequential comic riffs ranging from light-hearted to beastly vulgarity, and unfailingly delivers a shot of pure 21st century America.

See how the host, the flippant alias of Mr. Regular, who films and produces his videos from his home in central Pennsylvania, pronounces the name Hyundai. His review Veloster alone features variations ranging from “hon-day” to “hoon-day” to “hay-oon-day”, none of which sound much like the word as it is pronounced in Korean. This is obviously a deliberate satire of Americans’ notorious apathy towards foreign languages ​​- he does something similar with Peugeot – but only to a certain extent: Mr. Regular presents himself as both parodist and participant , even when taking photos, as he frequently does, to the obsession with the posture of more conventional YouTube car channels. He and his collaborator, a writer and musician known as Roman, are clearly reducers, and they betray little remorse at falling into dumpsites of technical knowledge. But the genius of their business lies in the way it discourages their colleagues.

It starts with its title, Regular Car Reviews, which promises something less than the ride of a lifetime. the first video of the series, posted online in 2012, reviews a then ten-year-old Toyota Echo that was as ordinary as a car, that is, as ordinary as a car. The explosion in popularity that would eventually turn Regular Car Reviews into a full-time job occurred the following year, sparked by a video about the 1995 Mazda Miata MX-5. Ostensibly advocating the affordability and reliability of the Miata over other sports cars, it also parodied the headstrong enthusiasm of the impecunious young weekend racer likely to buy one. (The hypnotically repeated exhortation of “Track day, bro! some of them not ordinary at all.

As well as brands synonymous with high performance and big spending – Ferrari and Lamborghini, but also McLaren, Lotus and Tesla – Regular Car Reviews also reviewed these non-regular cars as a school busa fire trucka DeLorean DMC-12and a replica of KIT from “Knight Rider”. These last two attract the attention of any American of the same generation as the forty-year-old Mr. Regular, myself included. (The same goes for the equivalent generation in other countries, like South Korea, which have long been saturated with American popular culture.) 1999 Toyota Corolla EC“your car for a sixty-year-old mum wearing a visor caring for her eighty-five-year-old mother, while helping her twenty-seven-year-old daughter plan her wedding.”

Regular Car Reviews also reviewed non-regular cars, including this school bus.Photograph by Brian Reider / Courtesy Regular Car Reviews

Driving a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am 1985Mr. Regular envisions “another desperate, angry dreamer” who “imagines himself flying into battle, taking down evil regional managers and double-talking owners”. the 1999 Chevy Blazer is powered by General Motors’ Vortec, an engine designed for “the guy who follows the McRib, raves about Mountain Dew Code Red and quotes ‘Boondock Saints,’ whether the conversation calls for it or not.” the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon is “a car for rich uncle Christopher who loves ‘muscle cars'” and whose voiced opinions go unquestioned because he “owns an aluminum extrusion plant and employs two-thirds of his your family”. While some reviews imagine the ideal driver for a car, others personify the vehicle itself. The Miata has “respect for the classics, but also an exaggerated sense of its own importance – it’s the Kanye West of cars”.

Some models come with a wider variety of combinations. Less powerful than a car but very charged as a socio-political statement, the Toyota Prius is “the ultimate avatar.” This is the ultimate emoticon. It’s the ultimate selfie. the 1994 Acura NSX is billed as a representation of this year, one of those rare times when “car culture, pop culture, and the public perception of what’s good align.” (Cited in support of this notion are “Pulp Fiction,” “True Lies,” Oasis’ debut album, the Beastie Boys music video “Sabotage,” and Sony’s PlayStation.) 1995BMW E36 M3 is “a trendy, fun little distraction, like funnel cake season, or Mondays at TGI Friday’s with your American Literature professor—you know, that restless sixty-something whose favorite cocktail is a Tequila Mockingbird.” One detects a real-life inspiration from Mr. Regular: Since YouTube success allowed him to quit his day job, he revealed in interviews not only his real name, Brian Reider, but also his possession of a graduate degree in English literature.