Gregory Paul: See NASCAR Shrink – With its GOP Base
NASCAR is in trouble. And that’s a good thing. For multiple reasons.
Used to be that NASCAR was all the rage. Watching high power cars loosely based on conventional autos go around and around and around the track in enormous stadiums until one of them managed to beat out the others – usually after a few crashes to liven things up – garnered the big crowds, and bigger TV audiences.
Not so much these days. Loyal fans bemoan partly empty stadiums as ratings have slipped over 40%, and major sports broadcasters have declined to sign big money contracts with NASCAR.
The decline of NASCAR is of greater cultural and political import because it is part of a greater withering. The withering of the reactionary old Confederacy that has captured the magically shrinking GOP – the party of Lincoln that used to be the enemy of the Confederacy.
Stock car racing got its start in the bootlegging culture of the south. The Scots-Irish hill people were not at all happy at government regulations and taxation of alcohol products they produced – their libertarian discontent led to the Whiskey Rebellion suppressed by President Washington -- and many were illicitly distilling and selling high proof booze in the early 1900s. Needing the ability to outrun the law while transporting moonshine, they boosted the performance of the most powerful street autos they could get their hands on between the world wars. Soon enough they were racing the high horsepower cars in contests that became increasingly commercialized as NASCAR made it into a big, nationwide entertainment business. One that reached its height about the turn of the century. Things have been going downhill since.
The core NASCAR audience is pretty much the same folks who make up the Republican Party – and the drivers of the stock cars. Heterosexual whites, largely but by no means solely males, predominantly aging baby boomers, centered in the south, plus the midwest. Economically libertarian, socially conservative, and politically anti-government; except when it comes to controlling women’s reproduction, law enforcement including drug control (excluding alcohol of course, and maybe pot), and the military-industrial complex. And as we all know, that demographic is a shrinking portion of the American population.
The Repubs have been making a lot of noise about expanding their base. Same with NASCAR. The corporate suits can comprehend the demographics as well as anyone, and they have long known that to maintain their lucrative success they have to bring in viewers that are not white and old and don’t hale from the section of the country that thought it was a good idea to stage a rebellion in the defense of slavery. But knowing that one has to do something, and being able to do it are not the same thing.
Reality is that Hispanics that are far and away the fastest ballooning ethnic cohort are not big on watching autos drive in circles, and are not likely to change their minds on the matter. Same for blacks. Or those in the northeast or west coast.
Worse of all is the young folks. Could hardly care less when it comes to auto racing. Just not their thing.
The automobile had its run as the icon of Americanism from the 1920s until the turn of the century. The allure is gone. The “freedom of the road” has a bogus aspect to it when so many roads are jammed so much time. The horsepower fixation lost considerable allure with the pollution problem, and global warming via the CO2 spewing out of tail pipes. Oil shortages and rising prices are not helping. Nor is how automobiles have become computerized commodities that all look pretty much alike in order to achieve the gumdrop streamlining necessary for fuel economy to keep down fuel consumption. Can’t even fix them up in the driveway the way folks used to before they were so hi-tech. Add to all that how social digital media is making it less necessary for teens and twentysomethings to actually meet one another, and the horseless carriage looks sort of old fashioned. So 20th century.
The American right cannot stand how -- despite all their efforts from the megachurches to FoxNews to Rush to Ann Coulter -- America is continuing to change away from the “traditional” norms that conservatives think are the ideal. Church attendance is waning, as are Bible literalism and bigotry against gays and atheists who are the faster growing cohort as Obamacare comes on line and households with guns retract, and it becomes increasingly difficult for a Repub to be elected president as minorities are on their way to be the minority.
Being an American invention, the mass produced automobile has come to be seen by Amerocons as an exemplar of their version of the American Way. That’s why the right is so opposed to public transport. To them that’s collectivist, egalitarian transportation of the socialistic sort those entitlement addicted Euros and Canucks and Japanese opt for, while all true blue, freedom loving Americans put the pedal to the metal on the American highways --and never you mind how those are largely government built and maintained. To see the auto culture that NASCAR is the most southern oriented expression of go into decline is yet another sign that the right is losing the culture war it has no effective idea how to reverse, as the very capitalism that the right promotes produces the new technologies that are helping radicalize and secularize the nation. That they are losing and cannot figure out what to do about it is a reason the right is so furious and obstructionist. Why next thing you know gays will be able to get married in a growing number of states.
NASCAR is by no means dead, it still is the second most popular spectator sport after football. And the GOP controls the House and (too) many state governments. But the demographic writing is on the wall, and NASCAR is constricting like the sociopolitical right that it is part and parcel of. Considering the moral, social, economic and political dysfunctions associated with reactionary theoconservatism, that is a good thing indeed.