While reading Plato’s writings of Socrates as of late (for school, not soul searching), I’ve seen the times haven’t changed a whole lot from 400B.C. to the modern day. We still have those who go about their day to day lives aspiring to be a little more like the ideal view of society (beige mobiles), and there are still those who claim to know something but don’t necessarily know so much as talk a lot, but don’t get questioned enough for others to see otherwise. Enter the “Sophists.”
Sophists are those who make claims of knowledge and have lots of talk, which Socrates openly discounted and showed everyone that indeed this was the case, and he did so for the sake of finding someone wiser than he. For anyone who hasn’t read “The Apology,” he was held in trial for the actions. His reasoning was he couldn’t believe himself to be the wisest of the land, according to one of the gods, so he went to prove the god wrong). This can be said about car guys for sure: there are those who know, don’t know, and those who think they know and make huge claims to such.
With limits on what I do and don’t know about the inner workings of gear ratios, spark temperatures, how to tune a suspension, or cam lobe profiles, I’m no Socrates nor a Sophist. But like Socrates I will ask this: what is all this “Illest” plastered on cars– and across their drivers– supposed to symbolize?
Ill is based upon the term “sick.” First coming upon this years ago in high school auto shop, my classmates and I were having a slow day. Being me, I was glued to an issue of Motor Trend, which begets the usual bench-racing high school boys will do. Showing one of my slow-talking California “duuuuude” type classmates, he pointed out that– well, some car– was “sick.” I inquired what was so gross about it. This is when I learned that “sick” had replaced “cool” for some people. Personally I refuse to call something cool by the same word in which the British refer to vomit.
Of all things, IIlest is an actual brand which I now shall probably piss off a little bit. In any case, the term “illest” bows from this epidemic of “sick” being cool. By stating oneself and their car “illest,” is of course to claim they are coolest. Does anyone see Socrates versus the sophists here? How can so many be the top-dog of cool? Let us also define what “cool” had been for so long, and still (technically) is.
“Cool” was always that silent guy at the end of the bar or table, minding their own business, only to suddenly do something brilliant. After doing that something brilliant, they go back to their corner or just walk out of the room without having to sit there rubbing everyone elses nose in it… there was humility. Steve McQueen and Paul Newman didn’t have to stand up and wave their dingle around about being cooler than one another– they simply went about their own way (though McQueen didn’t like his rival). If someone is a braggart, I’m willing to bet you might see them as a bit of a jerk. By that logic, that jerk isn’t going to be “cool,” but indeed a bit of an ass.
By needing to proclaim themselves the coolest, that should logically rule them out. Mind you, this isn’t a personal attack on those who may have indeed stuck these crookedly across their back window like the other five Nissan 240SX’s around the parking lot. Instead, consider this a wake up call to what one might be portraying by doing so. Yes, it’s a trend, a style, a sense of community among peers who love the Illest brand… but the thought is boggling. The “Metal Mellisha” stickers appeal to a very similar crowd which is yet another branding piece, and shows what they as enthusiasts consider to be the utmost in cool. Again, it’s not the fault of Illest, or an attack of their company. The name happens to logically contradict itself by appealing to a more crass and, dare I say, selfish concept. Dare achievement unlocked.
For the sake of personal recognition as one guilty of brand/self-shoutiness, I am going to remove my “Enthusiast: Be a Better Driver” license plate frames because my actions and automotive attention should say I’m an enthusiast (quirky or not), and not a sticker or frame (I will still wear the shirts saying “Enthusiast” and “Heel Toe Hero” since my car won’t actually be around to show my automotive love).
Like with the license plate frames, I avoid the boldly branded stickers and shirts from the Gearhead Apparel company (now Gearheart Apparel due to an annoying copyright fiasco) for this very reason: I’m not a true gearhead, and would never intend to say otherwise. That’s not to say I don’t have shirts and stickers from them (I sport the “Inside Outside Inside” and “Petrosexual” shirts regularly, and will soon rock the “Save the Stick” stickers on my quarter windows to match the shirt I have). Were I to have the big logo plastered below, it’s not because I don’t support Gearheart Apparel, but because I’d be doing myself a disservice for advertising myself as something I’m not. Hell, this is a shameless/free plug for them– it’s a small company that seems more fun and homey than the more corporate two above.
I’m also trying to avoid being one of those guys who claim their car has a “belt-driven” turbo which is actually their water-pump, or talking about their BMW V6 or replacing any four-cylinder with being a “V4.” Yes, V4’s exist, but they are relegated to a very small majority of vehicles if you leave out motorcycles. I myself wouldn’t be able to tell if a car has a limited-slip diff or not by driving it, nor could I open a hood/creep under an undercarriage and tell immediately what all had been done besides the more obvious (a K&N cone, Civic turbo or Rotary Mustang would pop out). Changing the transaxle out, or looking at a rear-end and seeing it’s a 9″ and not the 7″ wouldn’t pop out at all.
If there’s anything to take away from this blog post, it’s to not be so sure of yourself or your knowledge (this entire site is likely filled with mis-truths and assumptions, I’m sure– take me with a grain of salt). Regardless, I can honestly state there will always be someone smarter, faster, or conversely dumber and slower that can put all us enthusiasts in a bad light. The best way to make the aftermarket world for us car enthusiasts better is to educate rather than deride and confuse. Be willing to not so much insult those who are clueless about their water-pump turbo, but help them know better, encourage better truth rather than making it a penis contest. All this backhanded hatred and cockiness does for the automotive enthusiast market is make us appear to be big jerks and elitists looking to mock or pose (we’ve all been there at some point). Things won’t get any better unless we set out to help each other and ourselves out of that mess. Now go shave those Illest stickers off.
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Normally MSS is published Sunday’s around 4pm Pacific, 1pm Eastern. In light of the Super Bowl, I’m posting now.