4x4s: urban penis substitutes

Article published on April 16, 2008
Article published on April 16, 2008
As night falls across cities in Europe, including here in Lyon, 'eco-guerillas' deflate four-wheeler car tyres in a revolt against a lifestyle which they find scandalous

In recent decades the city dweller, faced with the 'urban jungle', wants out of the grey trinity of '9 to 5' and becomes a true adventurer by taking flight in their sparkling four by four (4x4). This type of machine has a powerful engine, and its four wheels adhere well to all roads, especially those which are rugged. The obvious problem is that they pollute significantly more than other vehicles.

According to Ademe, the French environmental agency of energy control, a 4x4 consumes 33% more than any traditional car. France benefits from one of the best road networks in the whole world. There are a few potholes on urban roads, but does this mean they're rugged? And does that suffice the legitimisation of 4 x 4 overconsumption? In face of these paradoxes, there's been a roaring revolt in Europe since 2000.

’Deflators’ soften tyres across Europe

'Les Dégonflés' deflate tyres in France (Photo: chris_lori/ Flickr)

Armed with their ecological consciences, action groups are seizing the day. From the ‘Deflators’ (les dégonflés) in France, les Flagadas in Belgium and the ‘Indians of the concrete jungle’ in Sweden, all of these groups aim to bring awareness to the ecological meaninglessness of driving 4x4's in cities. They wait until night falls in the posh neighbourhoods before they attack, where ironically enough, there are more 4x4s, despite the fact that they have the smoothest roads. A Cherokee won't escape these masked upholders of the law, nor will the Land Rover, on which their objective is symbolically stamped - a caustic message for the owners who, in the morning, wake up to find their tyres flattened.

Jérémie used to be a ‘Deflator’ in Lyon. 'A 4x4 isn't anything but a substitute for a penis!’ he laughs. ‘A car which consumes a lot, a luxury, an accessory, a privilege for a well-off population which brings nothing else into the city. They could be satisfied with a much smaller and more ecologically friendly car. For the ‘Deflators’, the 4x4 is the quintessential symbol of a certain lifestyle worth denouncing.'

These underground action groups organise themselves orally. ‘We arrange meet-ups just as if we were going to the cinema. We choose a long road where there isn't too much traffic, where someone stands guard, whilst others unscrew the tyre valves.' The aim is to provoke a debate on allowing these vehicles in cities. ‘After these events, people are talking more about ecology everyday. It only takes a dozen deflated 4x4s in Lyon for the media to pay attention!' Jérémie continues.

Urban legend and eco-freak

The 'Deflators' in Paris (Photo: chris_lori/ Flickr)

But media hype could actually endanger the mythification of these 'eco-guerillas', by creating a real paranoia for those who own 4x4s. Even if the movement is no longer active in Lyon, its spirit has become an 'urban legend' by bringing a real ecological concern to life. If deflating tyres wasn't punishable by law (seeing as there was no violence), after the emotions generated by their actions of 'liberating oxygen', justice changed its weapon of choice and has started doling out fines to the ‘Deflators’. This new reality has held back the movement’s phenomenon in Lyon. 'In any case, the movement won't be held back by that alone,’ disagrees Jérémie. ‘This kind of ecological movement will never stop, but will often change its course of action.' The young eco-freak emphasises the link between all acts of civil disobediences: the Déboulonneurs (who are against huge adverts in cities), the Eteigneurs de neon (‘Neon-light switcher-offers’) or those who paint bicycle lanes on the street (10% of bicycle lanes in Lyon exist thanks to their work!) Different targets for a common message: the denunciation of a society that over consumes and pollutes without ever worrying itself.

4x4 owners maintain that they don't pollute more than any other car. The fight against their (misjudged) beliefs is not over! But the principal of decline is difficult to accept in society: weigh the consequences of our purchases – 4x4 or other – and simplify our needs. A new idea for progress which we can think about.

The author is a member of cafebabel.com Lyon