by Stephen Ross
First Published: Waikato Times, Feb 25, 2009
In the 1960s, if you were a young man and wanted to be considered dangerous, you grew your hair long and attempted as much facial fur as possible. You wore black, you cultivated a walk that resembled a sneer, and you spoke in the deepest register your larynx would allow. Dangerous was cool in the 1960s. It was an era when long hair on a young man was viewed with contempt and suspicion – a decade earlier, it was almost grounds for a prison sentence.
Today, people still want to be cool, only the benchmark for being dangerous no longer centres on personal appearance. Hair no longer figures in the discussion – even old men have ponytails now. Appearing dangerous today is evoked by actually being dangerous – principally, by endangering the health and well-being of anybody who happens to be in the vicinity.
Which brings me to boy racers. Boy racers do what they do because they want to look cool. I’ve no doubt they derive an aspect of titillation from spinning their tires and driving like maniacs, but the point of boy racing is to be seen to be doing it, which is why they congregate in groups – the larger the better. A boy racer seldom races alone. I am cool, see me donut.
There is a call to get rid of boy racers, and frankly, we can start by getting rid of the knob who invented the term. Prior to being labelled boy racers, they were simply reckless and irresponsible drivers, and the law dealt them with promptly. End of story.
No, now they have a name, they are Boy Racers. They are a group. They are an entity – one replete with spokespersons. They decry their harsh treatment by the police and the media. They are unfairly being picked upon. They have rights. They are the victims in this. Stone me, they are mere days away from issuing membership cards and filing papers for incorporation.
Catching boy racers is apparently not that difficult. They drive automobiles, not Spitfires. However, fining them for “incorrect driving” has little effect – it’s just money. They mostly have jobs, they’ll get more. Impounding, or flattening their cars down to the dimensions of a refrigerator will have little effect – they’ll just buy another, or steal yours. And revoking their driver’s license will make no difference whatsoever – that’s like taking the glass from the alcoholic, but leaving him with the bottle.
If you really want to get rid of boy racers, then upon conviction, enforce one simple condition for their future driving: that the convicted driver must have his mother with him, sitting in the front passenger seat, at all times, when he is behind the wheel of a car.
No offence, mum, but no male driver in the history of the automobile has ever looked cool tooling about town with his mum in the front passenger seat.
And if the driver’s mum is unavailable, then his grandmother will be called upon. And if his mum is busy, and his gran is on vacation on the Gold Coast, an even better idea will be to use an elderly volunteer from the nearest old pensioners’ home. And while the two of them are driving sedately about town, and she’s knitting a cardy for her great-great granddaughter, she can tell the former boy racer about how people went about being cool back in her day, and how they didn’t kill or maim anybody in the process.
Back in the day, back even before long hair came and went as an issue, there were no boy racers. There were men drivers. Someone driving carelessly and endangering the lives of others would have been considered an idiot. No cute appellation. No debate.
Back in the day, being cool was a completely different thing. Being seen to be honest and of integrity; being good at your job, a sport, or an artistic endeavour; these all put you in high esteem, and they won you other people’s respect.
Once upon a time, to be cool was to be respected. Boy racers are neither.