Make America Super Again

Folks get the wrong idea about me. Because my online dating profiles usually contained the 1968 Kinks lyric “I’m the last of the good old-fashioned steam-powered trains,” and I tend to surround myself with machinery old enough to collect Social Security, and I pronounce “#” as “pound,” I must be a certifiable codger, a stone-assed Conservative, bemoaning the curse of being born in le wrong generation, who would tell children to vacate his tract of grass-covered land if children had any desire to trespass upon a yard full of squirrel-nibbled oranges and stray cats.

Horse hockey. Just because I think Morse code still ought to be taught in the schools doesn’t mean I think society needs to “go back” to any place other than the place that it’s in at this very moment. You can’t do that. Things might be stultifying and horrid, but forward ever, backward never. Progress is inevitable. Despite certain alarming global trends and an unnerving foundational loss of what is fact and what is Facebook fiction, I still believe in the arc of the Moral Universe bending towards justice, and in science and technology—when implemented in prudent, sound ways—helping all of us. Bring on the electric airplanes and nuclear fusion. But if there’s one thing we’d do well to return to, it’s naming things properly.

This came to me the other night at an Al-Anon meeting. A young woman with hair redder than a Van Pelt pumper got up to speak. I always notice a fellow redhead. But this was a super redhead–a Super Redhead! I flashed back. Bass guitarists may know of what I speak. The SWR Super Redhead was a bass amplifier from the Clinton and Bush eras, popular among the melodic musos and tight-strapped jazz cats of the time for its hi-fi tone. The bad (that’s bad in the jazz sense of bad, meaning good) bassist in one of my college bands had one. The amp itself wasn’t an icon or a watershed design, but the name had clearly stuck with me. Super Redhead. Super Redhead. I wanted one even though I couldn’t play a lick of the bass. I’m sure the standard Redhead was a fine box, but who cares? Was there ever such a stirring and evocative modifier placed before a marque as Super?

It makes the hair stand on end in anticipation. Good and evil dance with one another. What was once staid was now sexy. Even when attached to something otherwise pedestrian or merely warmed over, Super made it feel special. Souped-up. Boy-howdy. The Oldsmobile Super 88, not quite the top of the Olds line, had its Rocket V-8 that would be recounted in story and song. Even though the Hudson Hornet’s mighty flathead six bested it on the stock car circuit, the Super was the one that sold.

Speaking of Hornets, foes of freedom should steer clear of the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet. If you couldn’t afford a Hammond organ but were sufficiently aspirational in 1967, you might have skipped over the regular Vox Continental and picked up a double-manual Super Continental. Guitar players with a Fender Super Reverb never had to turn up much past “2”. And to climb aboard a Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation in 1951 was to step into the graceful, streamlined acme of piston and propeller flight that would soon give way to turbines and eventually Spirit. “Dreamliner” is nice, but Super Constellation–you could just hear the roar and see the flame of the great Wright radials. You were Howard Hughes himself. I’d buy a one-way ticket to Palookaville on a plane called that. Even its engines were well-named: the Duplex-Cyclone. Jesus!

With an Instagrammed economy that makes so sacred the notion of branding, we’re really dropping the ball. Things may be better, cleaner, faster and safer than they were in old times, but what does it matter when they don’t grab our hearts and minds? What is a Venza? Will there be rock ‘n’ roll songs about Elantras? What sort of cultural legacy are we leaving behind with the Ford EcoSport? Christ. If the products themselves are going to be safe, anodyne appliances, at least make us feel cool, evoke something in us. We should be excited by the things we’re surrounded by. We deserve great names again. Now more than ever, we need something Super.

Author: Bunny Butler

I'm the last of the good old-fashioned steam-powered trains.