street machine blog

A belated welcome to Simon Telford, the deputy editor of Street Machine Magazine, who has fired up his blog (again?).

Street Machine came into existence in 1981. It ermerged from another title called Van Wheels, which in turn emerged from one fot he first enthusiast publications in Australia, the Australian Hot Rodding Review. I trace some of this history in my dissertation, and it will be a large part of the book proposal I am now preparing.

Abstract, second draft

Here is another abstract, this time organised around the ‘thesis’ of my dissertation (previous chapter by chapter summary version here). It is too long and contains too many ‘glenisms’. I am posting it here because it is a very good summary of my argument for those who have been wondering wtf Glen has been on about since I started developing this line of the research two and a half years ago. I sat on the couch for about half an hour before sending it off just thinking about how much work I have done and feeling a little stunned. But I knew it would be too long. OK, third time lucky…

Modified: Cars, Culture, and Event Mechanics

This thesis investigates the enthusiasm, scenes and cultural industry of contemporary modified-car culture in Australia. Enthusiasm is often thought of as a charismatic relation of durable excitement between the enthusiast subject and the enthusiast object modified cars. This thesis argues that the simple charismatic relation of enthusiasm is a reduction that allows the enthusiasm of a given scene to become a resource for cultural industries servicing that scene. Instead of a simple charismatic relation, enthusiasm is understood as the event of a singular complex of affects that exists on transversal scales from the personal to the scene and beyond.

The affects of enthusiasm may be felt in the enthusiast body, but this thesis argues that affects belong to a subjective dimension of the event of enthusiasm. The event of enthusiasm is defined by the subjectively experienced impersonal affects that circulate across bodies and which are actualised in the capacities of enthusiasts, the objects engaged with, and practices performed. The movement of affect is controlled through the different consistencies of organisation at the level of the cultural events of modified-car culture. The cultural events include cruising, working on cars, racing, showing, and consuming or participating in the enthusiast media. Enthusiasts deploy a social ‘know how’ of the different cultural events of the scene to navigate their various capacities for action. These cultural events serve as the locus for the differential repetition of the event of enthusiasm, which is rendered durable through the bodies of enthusiasts and the infrastructure of the scene.

The scene is defined by the character of the cultural events which populate it and the enthusiasts that participate in the events. The cultural industries and social institutions enable the enthusiasm by investing in the infrastructure of the scene and facilitating the existence of cultural events through sponsoring or practical support. The power relations between enthusiasts and various dimensions of the infrastructure constitute the dispositif of the scene. Archival research of enthusiast magazines allows me to map the transformations to these power relations between the state (governmental regulatory bodies), social institutions (online and offline car clubs, and federations), cultural industries (magazines, event promoters, and later importers) and different populations of enthusiasts (from interested public to highly skilled and devoted enthusiasts). The periods roughly delineated are the street rodding era (the 1970s), the street machining era (1980s through to the present) and the import era (mid-1990s through to the present).

Transformations to the scene arguably occurred in the context of broader social changes exemplified by the processes of globalisation. National automotive industries and markets have been transformed over the last 30 years and these transformations have been felt through correlating transformations to the cultural identity of scenes and enthusiasms. The historical example of Australian street machining saw the emergence of a reactionary nationalism in the mid-1980s linked to the technology of the V8 engine. This thesis maps some aspects of the relation between culture and technology of this reactionary enthusiasm and that belonging to the ‘rise of the imports’. The event of enthusiasm is repeated in different ways across the transversal scales connecting the subjectively experienced affects of cultural events to effects on the scene by the global-scale transformations of the automotive industry.

For enthusiasm to become a resource, the event of enthusiasm has to be reduced to the simple charismatic relation between subject and object. The cultural industries and social institutions attempt to control this relation by controlling the cultural events of enthusiasm. I contrast the scene dispositif of the three eras of contemporary modified-car culture in Australia: the militancy of the street rodders, the emergence of the synergistic spectacle of the street machiners, and the immanent online-based sociality of current enthusiasts. This thesis argues that the militant representational social structure of the street rodders was displaced by the spectacle of the street machining era; yet, the rise in popularity of online clubs and forums serves as a new and different form of social infrastructure that complements the spectacle.

The spectacular cultural event is organised around enthusiasm reduced to a charismatic relation. In the context of 1980s street machining, I examine the way elite level vehicles built by highly skilled enthusiasts following spectacular ‘head turning’ styles of modification are used by event promoters and magazines to collectively individuate a population of the interested public. The head turner is a singularity within modified-car culture. It organises the social space of the street, of car shows, and of the discursive space of magazines. Through the example of Street Machine magazine and the Summernats festival, I argue that the emergent synergistic relation between magazines and event promoters is organised around the labour of skilled enthusiasts and the capacity of ‘head turners’ to mediate relations between different populations of enthusiasts.

This thesis draws on fieldwork research with an online-based car club – where I participated as an enthusiast – and archival research of 30 years of enthusiast magazines and other texts. I develop a post-Kantian event-based conception of enthusiasm by drawing on the limited amount of previous scholarship on modified-car culture, including the exemplary work of Bert Moorhouse, read through post-structuralist theories of the ‘event’ and ‘affect’, and with reworkings of other notions such as the ‘scene’ and ‘cultural capital’. The oeuvre of Gilles Deleuze is a key theoretical influence on this work, which also draws on the historical method and philosophy of Michel Foucault, a ‘practical’ reading of Pierre Bourdieu’s cultural capital, the problematisation of the social by Bruno Latour. It develops Theodor Adorno’s work on the cultural industry by examining its biopolitical dimension. The conclusion surveys the broader cultural context of enthusiasm and the utility of the concepts of ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘scene’ interrogating how the cultural industry invests in various scenes to cultivate enthusiasm as a material and cultural resource.

Supercharged essay

Here is my essay that shall appear in the “Supercharged” exhibition catalogue.

Supercharged Essay (pdf)

I am very happy with it as it is the first (and only) piece of work to come out of my PhD thinking and research. I am quite proud of it. Plus I am honoured to have been asked to write the essay by Vanessa McRae (Exhibitions Manager, Institute of Modern Art) who I met at the Cruising Country conference a few years ago.

There are some images that appear in between the pages of my essay that are not part of the PDF. One is a photo of a motor show that includes the banners ‘Passion’ and ‘Obsession’ and the other is a scanned advertisement for the Holden V8 from a 1984 Street Machine magazine.

(The only hiccup is the bio line which seems to have been compressed from the few sentences I sent off. It was meant to say ‘He has had work published in…’ and I tought the course at UTS not UWS, but minor in the scheme of things!)

Street Machine 25th Anniversary Issue

Street Machine magazine has its 25th Anniversary issue on the stands. It has a six page history article. Finally I have an official historical account of the 30 year period of which I am writing about in my dissertation.

There has been absolutely no history of ‘contemporary’ modified-car culture in Australia until now. I have wondered in the past if I was going to have to construct a ‘sacrificial history’ just so I could write a ‘genealogical account’. Actually through my blog you can trace how long I have been working on this chapter, over a bloody year!!! Yeah, going through 30 years of magazines and constructing an account of the relation between magazines and the scene via enthusiast discourse is huge amount of work.

The timing of this issue is almost unbelievable. I really can’t quite get a grip on what this means for my dissertation. I don’t have to stuff around explaining why I need to construct an official historical account from over three decades of snippets and brief comments culled from magazines. Not only that but combined with a massive injection of my intuition. Everything has just been made so much easier!

When I first heard about this issue I predicted there would be no mention of the ASMF, the Street Machine Nationals or the role of Street Machining clubs in general, and secondly no mention of Paradise’s attempt to catalyse a progressive program in Street Machining by focusing on automotive performance technologies beyond the V8. A properly engaged account of the history should not overlook either.

The ‘alternative technologies’ point is largely irrelevant now because those technologies (turbos, fuel injection, sports car handling, etc) have been absorbed into the cultural formation of Street Machining, but largely in an assimilative colonising fashion. That is, the technologies have lost their transformative potential as ‘other’ technologies. The absence in this official history of the ASMF and Street Machine Nationals remains is pure ideology; arguably the ideology is built into the institutional structure and relation of the magazine to the scene.

By and large the ASMF and organisational structure of these early clubs (organised around the Fordist leisure time labour of enthusiasts and correlative sociality) has been replaced by the online forums (organised around the post-Fordist primarily informational labour of enthusiasts and correlative sociality). This doesn’t change the fact that Street Machining or Street Machine magazine would not be where it was today (or where it got to in the late 1980s) without the ASMF. Doesn’t anyone wonder why there was a downturn in Street Machine magazine sales at exactly the same period in the early to mid-1990s when the ASMF began the slow process of properly dissolving after the fatal blow of the Summernats in 1987?

Paradise Lost

An extract from my paper I am writing for a seminar on Friday. I call this the ‘Paradise Lost’ period of Street Machining during the formative years of Street Machine magazine under the editorial control of Geoff Paradise and published by Murray Publishers. The impact of the publishing decision to replace Paradise as editor of Street Machine is yet to be fully understood. I was told by sources at ACP that Paradise is now a ‘grumpy bastard’, and after seeing what happened to him at Street Machine I can understand why. Suffice to say his replacement, Phil Scott, now has an extremely powerful position in the Australian magazine industry as the current ACP Magazines group publisher of men’s and specialist titles.

Anyway, the extract:

In the second issue of the new Street Machine & Van Wheels that the core problem of early-1980s Street Machining was clearly stated:

Now we are faced with the task of turning up more quick cars for future issues and quite frankly, that is easier said than done. What we need are fast, affordable Fords, Holdens and Mitsubishis, but there aren’t any. Not yet anyway.
Both Ford and GM-H are nearing their current model run. In this issue we have the low-down on the new Commodore. It’s interesting to a degree but it sure as hell isn’t going to rotate the earth. We figure the 4.2/4 speed will be the best bet since the 5.0 litre isn’t available with a manual.
We will of course test both cars, maybe even a comparison, but don’t expect any miracles from them because the word ‘performance’ doesn’t exist at the factories anymore. It’s anti-social to have a fast car, the market is too small say the spokesmen, people don’t want fast cars anymore, they want comfortable, economical ones. Bullshit.
We are faced with accepting what the car makers want to sell us and nothing more. Performance cars are antisocial because that’s what the advertising propaganda has us believe. If Ford or GM-H had a fast car to sell – one that they would make money out of – it would suddenly become fashionable because the advertisements would say so. What it boils down to is that the ‘Big Two’ just haven’t got their act together. They have, in essence, put performance cars in the ‘too-hard basket’. 

What emerges over the next 20 issues, up to and including the 1985 February-March issue [Paradise’s last issue], is a popularist, if not paranoid, search for what Paradise calls ‘performance’ above. I’ll assume you know what is meant by ‘performance’ […]. There were three main potential sources of ‘performance’ that I have identified in my reading of these 20 or so issues of Street Machine:

1) Firstly, there were the local car manufacturers of the time, Ford, GM Holden and Mitsubishi. Australia’s big three manufacturers were also combined with other smaller-scale producers, such as car dealers, motorsport race car driver identities, or speed shops that developed particular packages to modify new cars. The focus here was on locally produced new cars, or variations of them

2) The second source was constituted by new cars produced elsewhere, ie not-local. What was very surprising to me when reading these early Street Machine magazine issues is the prominent position in the magazine of performance cars and technologies from Japan. The prominence of the Japanese automotive technologies contradicted what I thought I already knew about Street Machine. The turbocharger is also located in this series, too. ‘Performance’ is configured in terms of what were called ‘micro-cars’, with feature articles on the Mazda SS 323, the Honda City Turbo, and what Street Machine called their own ‘Café Racer’ a modified Mazda 323.

3) Third was a primary focus on late-1960s through to early-1980s Ford, Holden and Chrysler V8 and six-cylinder powered 2- and 4-door sedans or large family cars.

What eventually happens after much to-ing and fro-ing between these three different ways of capturing performance, Street Machine settles on the third type.