The Manly Scent of the Hummer
I know a young lady in Chicago who has a curious reaction whenever she sees a HUMMER while driving in the city: she raises her middle finger and screams "go to Hell you rich gas-guzzling imperialist pig" at the top of her lungs. She's about 5 foot 3 and has curly blond hair and gets to do this. Some Hummer drivers laugh at her and try to get her phone number when she flips them off.
I just avert my eyes from Hummers. Can't look at em.
The stylish, ecocidal, Toyota-crushing and Arab-killing High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, you recall, entered the upscale US consumer market sometime after the first "Persian Gulf War" (Dessert Storm), cashing in on its reputed role in helping George Bush I celebrate the end of the Cold War by slaughtering tens of thousands of Iraqis.
I know something the young lady's husband (who comes from France...that must explain her "anti-American" response to the noble Hummer) won't be receiving for Christmas: Hummer Eau deToilette Spray.
A Hummer fragrance is on the market? But of course, just like special perfumes named after various celebrities, like Donald Trump, who was in Chicago last week to sell Donald Trump The Fragrance.
"It is aspirational just like any celebrity or designer fragrance. A lot of people can't afford a Hummer or a Jaguar, but they can buy the fragrance. So it's buying into the whole luxury thing."
That's how Mary Ellen Lapsansky, Executive Director of the New York-based "Fragrance Foundation," explained it all recently to Chicago Tribune reporter Mark Caro for a clever article that appeared in that newspaper's officially feminine and therefore somewhat (by sexist dictates) trivial "Tempo" section today ( Mark Caro, "Can't Afford a Hummer? You Can, At Least, Smell Like One," Chicago Tribune [15 December, 2004)
A reader who saw an earlier version of this essay wrote me to ask "do you think they have that in 90' Astro Van with 271 thousand miles?" I think not. Personally, I'm in the market for some Eau deBradley Fighting Vehicle. Or Cluster Bomb The Fragrance. Or Cruise Missile or Stealth Bomber No.5.
And what, you ask, does a Hummer smell like, in the world of the perfume industry? According to the distributor of the new fragrance, which is sold in a small bottle shaped like the vehicle and topped by a compact pritzer, "the Hummer adventure begins with a fresh and exhilarating burst of freshness comprised of green foliage, cardamom, thyme and peppercorns that capture the essence of the outdoors. These lively notes are then melded with a warm, rugged, masculine, adrenaline rush of leather, patchouli, amber and sandalwood. The smooth richness of tonka bean act[s] as the 'axle' that links and balances the fresh and warm notes, creating an olfactory sensation that can only be Hummer."
I happened upon this item after reading a very different article in the same Tribune, a disturbing front-page piece about the proportionately larger number of GIs who now survive combat injuries thanks to new battlefield medical techniques. "The flight from Baghdad to the snow-dusted forests of southwest Germany," this article begins, "takes about six hours. The planes arrive every day, bearing broken soldiers from the battlefields of Iraq. Some are walking, others, heavily sedated, are on stretchers. In the most severe cases, ghastly abdominal wounds have been left open, covered only with a clear plastic bag."
Read on and you learn about one survivor who would not have made it out from previous wars. This soldier, we learn, "lost one leg above the knee, the other in a hip disarticulation, his right hand, and part of his face" (Tom Hundley, "More GIs Surviving Battlefield Injuries," Chicago Tribune, 15 December 2004, sec. 1, p.1). I wonder where Ms. Lapansky puts that on her scale of the "aspirational."
Whether this survivor was injured while riding in a military Hummer (with or without proper armour, however relevant) I have no idea, but it all makes me wonder if the technical staff of the Fragrance Foundation should have visited the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the biggest American military hospital in Europe,in their quest to capture the scent of the Hummer. The foundation could also visit one of the remaining hospitals that US authorities allowed to stand in the ravaged city of Fallujah, where Hummers and other tools of occupation helped America kill thousands of Iraqis, including a large number of noncombatants.
Might I suggest the not-so "freshening" smell of blood and rotting or burning human flesh? The distinctive odors of surgical gloves, anaesthetic, bandages, and disinfectant? The stale after-scent of a deadly gun-battle in Fallujah? The putrid smell of an open admoninal wound? The stench of George W. Bush's arrogant imperial malevolence?
Eau deRumsfeld anyone?
Paul Street is a writer and researcher in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2004). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.