The absolutely wonderful “What Were They Thinking?” exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum is a testament to missing the mark. It’s a strange collection of bad ideas that were allowed to go too far and, perhaps, a cautionary tale for all of us.
One of the most bizarre vehicles of the display is a mock-up of a car that was never produced: the nuclear powered 1957 Studebaker-Packard Astral.
As if being atomic-powered is not odd enough, consider this -- the car has no windshield. After all, according to description, the nuclear core of the vehicle was designed to provide a “protective curtain of energy” to shield the driver from harm (I could hear the call now: “GEICO, I won’t be needing a policy anymore…the smashing of atoms is the only insurance I need”). Like I said, never produced.
In 2009, we look at something like a windshield-less, force field-protected, nuclear car and scratch our heads. Hell, we even put it in a museum exhibit. But, at some point in time (not that long ago), some big-ass corporate cheese thought this was brilliant. There were investor meetings. Promotions. Advertising brainstorms. Three martini lunches (maybe a few too many of those). All of which lead up to the big unveiling of the Astral. I can close my eyes and envision it: the auto show models dressed in silver jumpsuits gesture as the crowd whispers…“It’s atomic!”
Every day we are confronted by ideas that we don’t understand. Sometimes an idea is so profound that we can’t understand it, sometimes it’s just so stupid that we can’t understand it (or, more accurately, can’t understand the reasoning behind it). I hear these profound ideas are being carried out all over the place. Somewhere, people are creating/solving/curing. The stupid shit, well that’s what rolls down to me -- and to most of us.
Why? The sad fact is that we are so easily dazzled by the big-ass corporate cheeses, auto show models and buzzwords (then, “atomic”/now, “search engine optimization”) that we begin to believe the garbage that is being presented to us.
We willingly go along, repeatedly missing the mark, because we care more about doing the “right thing” in terms of climbing the career ladder, providing for our families, and just being “yes” people so we don’t get labeled as boat-rockers.
We willingly go along, because no one wants to think that the “next big thing” we devote most of our life to is really just a gimmick: something that promises us a protective curtain but, like the Astral, only serves to throw us from the drivers’ seat and blow us all up.
The folks at the Petersen did a fantastic job with the exhibit. Though, I can’t help but to see the irony in recognizing failure and short-sightedness in a museum exhibit. That seems to imply it’s a thing of the past...