By Brian Ladd
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Additional resources for Autophobia: Love and Hate in the Automotive Age
American anti-automobilism in particular had long since ceased to be the province of the resentful and carless poor. More than in the 1920s, in tellectuals and arbiters of taste fretted about the moral fiber of a nation of drivers. If this era of unprecedented mass prosperity saw no fierce re ligious backlash against material excess, it did bring to the fore a genera tion of secular pessimists worried about a leveling of taste. The 1950s was the decade of The Or9anization Man and The Lonely Crowd, among other expressions of a fear that wealth was making Americans either crass or miserable.
The same phenomenon appalled Lewis Mumford, the self-taught American scholar of cities who emerged as midcentury's most prominent car critic. " 7 Detroit's eye-popping and ever-changing cars offered an inexhaust ible topic of conversation. Modernist designers such as Raymond Loewy 46 CHAPTER TWO condemned the bloated shapes and chrome encrustations of 1950s cars (apart from his own designs for Studebaker). Modernism claimed to be grounded in the rational needs of the object: form follows function.
Still, people in many lands shared the vague belief that the country side was the repository of moral virtues under siege in the cities. Urban slums were reputed to be moral sinks that sucked downward the rural people who migrated there. The first cars, too, usually came from the city, and their role was very simple, in the view of some critics: they were get away cars, carrying desperate criminals and their gangs to the country side and enabling them to strike and escape quickly (the theme of early films as well as a 1929 American play).