It could be argued by a man cleverer than I that capitalism breeds cynicism. I, for one, am pleased as punch that "Pimp My Ride" - an MTV programme given a whole weekend of themed programming this week by cable channel TMF - refutes this accusation strongly.
In writing this review, I must inform you that I am staving off the urge to make Dickensian analogies with regards to the premise of the show. A down-at-heel eccentric introduces us to their car, which is in desperate need of repair. Often, these people work in the community, and do not have money to spend on car repairs. The rapper Xzibit then meets the car-owner, who is generally overjoyed to see Xzibit. Hands are slapped, rappers are hugged. Xzibit says some funny things - he lambasts America for using duct tape to hold its cars together, and tells Americans to leave bodywork repairs to the professionals. He is full of attitude and charm.
He takes the car to West Coast Customs, a repair and customisation workshop. Here, a team of lovable car mechanics puts the car back together, repairing damaged bodywork, replacing missing parts, and restoring classic cars to their former glory.
But they do a bit more than that.
"Needless ostentation" is the name of the game here, people, and these mechanics add literally thousands of pounds worth of gold, bling, leather interiors, electrics, LCD-screens, and speakers to the car. Of particular note is the loving attention given to tyres and "rims" (hubcaps); things you only hear about when they get namechecked in rap lyrics. Also, as part of the customisation, personal information about the car owner is transmogrified into... well, into complete lunacy. A man who likes bowling has a bowling ball cleaner and automated shoe rack installed in his boot. A man who is training to be a mechanic has a TV put underneath his car, so he can watch TV whilst repairing it. Someone - I forget who - has a log fire put in the back of their car - I forget why. A student has an espresso machine installed in their armrest. It's very silly.
Whilst the customisation process is going on, we get to meet and learn to love the mechanics, including my favourite, Ish, who mumbles in a Latino accent and does a lot of work with fabrics. There is also a man called Big Dane, whose job is "Accessories". At one point, whilst customising a bowling ball for the bowling guy, he yells at the camera "You'll be KILLING THEM!" in a way that is hilarious, and not at all threatening.
Finally, the car owner is brought in, their car is revealed, they scream, they leap about, hands are slapped, rappers are hugged. They are shown around their car and then they drive it away.
Their "ride" has been "pimped".
Now, I generally loathe cars. I can't drive, I know nothing about them; I once watched an episode of "Top Gear" and nearly slipped into an anaphylactic coma. However, this show takes something really boring and ugly - car repairs - and raises it to not only excellent TV, but also amazing creations; turning old and decrepit, to new. MTV's "Cribs", where we get to see around rich people's houses, offers only a voyeuristic view of the "bling" lifestyle, whereas "Pimp My Ride" says "This life of ridiculous wastefulness can be yours, too".
The reason I find this show so affecting is that it is so rare that altruism has been celebrated so joyously. The premise of the show, at its most fundamental level, is that people get given presents. Everyone loves to see people get presents, and this show is like watching someone give thousands of pounds out to complete strangers.
One episode I watched had a suitably manipulative viewpoint. The car owner was a community youth leader. His car was horrible. He said that if the kids on the street saw him in a bad car, and then saw a drug dealer with a good car, then he was fighting a losing battle. At the end of the show, he said "This is proof that if you are good, good things happen to you". And, I must admit, my cynicism was defeated by that.
Now, there are deeper concerns here, not least how much insurance MTV pay so that when these "pimped rides" return to the scuzzy neighbourhoods they aren't propped up on a pile of bricks within half an hour. The show is a reflection of a certain America - a nation where a person is judged by the car they drive, where hope comes in a golden ticket, where money is there to be wasted, where the way to happiness lies in expenditure. However, in terms of raw exuberance, intelligent artistry and a lot of stupidity, "Pimp My Ride" is an entertaining half-hour.*
* Or, thanks to TMF, an entertaining two-and-a-half hours of back-to-back "Pimp My Ride". Sweet.
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