Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Fandom, Geeks, Nerds, and Roadkill - Guest Post by John Schultz

Guest Post by John Schultz

What is Roadkill?

The remains of an animal killed by a motor vehicle on the road?

A victim of an intense competition?

A decisive win in an away game for a sports team?

A vehicle broken by years of abuse and neglect abandoned for dead on the side of the road?

A means, manner or method of “repairing” something in such the wrong way that it is guaranteed to fail almost immediately? (More on this later)

Neither of these is what I'm here to talk about, except the last. I'm here to talk about Roadkill, The YouTube (and Netflix now) automotive adventure series. It's what TopGear USA should have been. Don't worry if you don't understand half of what I'm on about, I don't understand half of what these guys are on about and it doesn't matter. Why? Here we go.

What is fandom? What is a nerd or a geek? Often the latter two are used as insults or in a demeaning way. Though much less lately. Unless you're a rabid sports enthusiast and your interests only extend thusly. Along with pantsing the skinny glasses wearing, Starwars t-shirt sporting, bookbag full of actual books nerd. If Budweiser and sports are about the only things you can converse about, then nerd and geek are derogatory. Today those terms have lost most of their bite and nerds are celebrated and rule the pop culture landscape. Used to be nerd meant ill fitting unfashionable clothing and good grades (and most importantly you were BAD at sports (the most important thing ever)). Now it seems to mean that you have a lot of knowledge about certain topics or lots of them and know how to use it. Geek use to run along the same lines as nerd used to but now seems to represent a disproportionate enthusiasm for a particular thing or genre. So all you armchair quarterback wanna be coach of whatever premier league team... You sir or madam are a Nerd. And probably a Geek too. With a capital N and G respectively. So drink your watered down beer and pants yourself and laugh.

On to my next subject. The petrol head. Motor head. Gear head. Whatever term you want to call the guy always talking ET's, grip, specific output and g's pulled. The guy with the clapped out barely running automotive conveyance puking oil and coolant in the parking lot. Where does he fit. He speaks what seems like a foreign language. None of the names he mentions are familiar. Don Garlits? Is he on the Sopranos? Ken Block? A Southpark character? Tanner Foust? Is he on Game of Thrones? Max Chilton? Is he that one guy on that one sportsball team? Jezza, Hamster and Slow? WTF are they talking about? Nerd or Geek?

Automotive Chaos Theory

So what is Roadkill and what is it about? So first you take two automotive journalists that happen to currently work for a TEN:The Enthusiast Network property, ie: Motortrend, HotRod Magazine etc. Second one of them is the chief editor or HotRod Magazine the other an employee/editor of said magazine that just happen to get along like a lit match and fuel soaked rags and give them a small budget to pursue this little idea they game up with. The result: RoadKill.

The entire show is built around massive failure. And drama. Lots of drama. But not your typical reality TV drama of putting some people in a tenuous relationship deliberately into situations sure to cause tension and the ultimate deterioration of the relationship and filming the destruction and calling it entertainment. Bah. It's thrashing on builds and Cannonballing across the country before the paint drys. This drama is built purely on the demands placed on the hosts by their obligations at the magazine and their families and finishing the project and obtaining their goal. Later as the show gained popularity and views some of the drama became about not disappointing their fans because the garbage they hashed together to road trip across three states kept breaking and they showed up to an event a day late.

So what's the deal? I'm doing minimal research here and going from memory. My first encounter was seeing these two dorks (uh oh, are we going to have to define that too?) pitting a rented $400,000 Lamborghini against a ratrod that had been built for Sailor Jerry (yes, that Sailor Jerry) and completely getting it wrong about the Lambo. In my humble opinion. This was on YouTube and I've no idea how I stumbled across it. You know how it is with falling down a YouTube rabbit hole. I know I'm not the only one. Somehow a year or so later I came across these guys again. Stuffing 5 leaf blowers under the hatch of a clapped out Monza to add forced induction and go after a standing mile speed record. Somehow I was hooked.

The premise, as it appears to me is: take a discarded pile of automotive junk, get it running, maybe throw some speed parts at it and then road trip that garbage. Oh and film it and post it on YouTube and very quickly for some reason get a whole lot of views.

“...This is the show where we play with cars and you point and laugh. We call it Roadkill.” So it's a show about failure and things not making it across alive. Where's the allure? Point and laugh. Just about everything the hosts David Freiburger and Mike Finnegan put together fails. And not even in a spectacular way. With each episode there is a challenge or goal. The challenge isn't even much of a challenge. It's not a stunt show, they don't have to build a car to complete an obstacle course full of car crushing machines. They don't even have a Bloody Producer pulling their strings, they are on their own. The very first episode aired featured just two guys deciding (rhetorically) how to spend three grand. Vegas, gambling and strip clubs or a road trip with your best friend. So they threw a dart at a map of the USA (blindfolded by duct tape. You should really have been able to see what kind of show it was going to be within the first 2 minutes because they even cobbled together a blindfold.), went to where the dart roughly landed and had a plan to buy a car, get it running, road trip it home and sell the car when they got home. The result? “El Paso to LA: The Hard Way!” And it resonated. Almost immediately. That episode currently sits at 2.79 million views on YouTube.

Is it what their doing? Land speed records in a stupidly powerful Camaro at Bonneville Speed Week. Towing a boat with no engine to a lake with the intent to drag race the boat, pulling the engine from the tow vehicle, stuffing it in the boat, boating around all day, then reversing the process to tow the boat back home. Pitting a Prius against an AMC Gremlin (the Prius lost. Very badly. Crushed by a Challenger tank). Doing an engine swap in a Summit Racing parking lot during a snow storm. Road tripping a '55 Belair with a 535 CUI Hemi on drag slicks in the rain from LA to North Carolina.

Having to take the hood off their supercharged Chevy V8 powered Jaguar AND running it though a car wash every few miles to keep it from overheating. Off roading a 640+ horsepower Dodge Viper. Building a tribute to the class winning Baja 1000 Ford Ranchero that HotRod built back in the '70s and then trying to drive it from LA to Alaska, via Canada and the Al-Can highway to go ice racing. They fail. Badly. In Utah. But then they try again and make it only to fail again once they get there. The best part to me in that episode was the customs agent in Alaska recognizing them and The Guys being just chuffed to bits about it. “We feel the need to tell you that we have un-exploded fireworks.” “Uh. This is America, not California.” Mostly what they do is reach a deadline and realize that they have no show so they just go to a junkyard ,or their yard, or a friends and try to resurrect something and drag race it in the same weekend.

So again, what's the deal? Where's the appeal? It's not the cars. It's not where they go with the cars or what they do with them. Because they fail most of the time. To me, it's the dynamic between the two friends doing their damnedest to achieve a goal and mostly not making it and continuing anyway. Sometimes they're at loggerheads about what to do and either through debate or roe-shan-bo choose a path. The loser is on board like it's his idea to begin with and will do everything he can to make it work. Until it utterly fails and then there might be an: I told ya so. Sometimes it takes a few years but eventually they might make a nugget of gold from a turd and the euphoria of their win is completely contagious (Ie, The General Mayhem). They exult in failure. Most of their wins come in re-evaluating their goals lower and lower and lower still until completing 24 laps at a 24 hours of LeMons race is a huge win for them.

To Roadkill fans it's resulted in a whole new lexicon. If you Roadkill something either you've fixed it with duct tape and zip-ties and it worked. For a bit. Then failed miserably. Or maybe it lives and you drive it every day. “Because Roadkill” meant you didn't have the time or resources to do it the right way so you made so with what you had and it sorta half way works. Or it fails. Then you keep fixing it. Because Roadkill.

To tie it all together. I attended a benefit car show to help out a guy with his expenses fighting cancer. One of the hosts had moved from LA to the Atlanta, he threw his hat in the ring to help out. To be a “draw” so to speak. The impact of this little YouTube show about two guys piecing together junk cars drove a young man to drive his 1960 Ford Falcon from Augusta, Georgia to Gainesville, Georgia (that's 150 miles, no big deal in your modern car but in a 57 year old Ford, holy crap man) just to meet one of the hosts briefly and help out with the cause.

Where's this end? There isn't an ending yet. Finnegan and Freiburger got some big corporate sponsorships and are going nuts with crazy builds that average guys can reasonably do with junkyard parts or some scrimping and saving. The Rotsun (fail, fail, fail and epic fail) comes to mind as does Stubby Bob's Comeback (the most supreme win of them all IMHO). They're tied in with the 24 hours of LeMons (a grassroots motor race) and are even hosting their own events, Roadkill Nights and the upcoming ZipTie Drags. Making wins out of abject failure.

Whether it's spaceships and aliens or wizards and unseen worlds or petrol and tire smoke we're all nerds and or geeks. Fandom is where it all comes together. Are you still a fan despite it's fails or do you hate on it the moment it stumbles? Let it stumble. Let it fall. Let it fail. Then rejoice in the moments where it wins and stands a 67 year old former dump truck on it's trailer hitch and drags it through the asphalt for several feet just because some twonk said that there was no way in hell it would ever even pick the front wheels up.

Because Roadkill.

Images from Google Image searches and myself

John Schultz 2016

If you enjoy geeks, nerds, fandom, or Needless Things, you might enjoy SupportPhantom.com.


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