Home » CNN’s Anti-Manual-Transmission Article Is Just Total Garbage

CNN’s Anti-Manual-Transmission Article Is Just Total Garbage

Manual Opinion Paul Hockenos Cnn
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You know what I’ve never done? I’ve never written an op-ed for CNN about how I think people who appreciate wine are a pack of pretentious numbnuts who think they can taste leather and oak and plums in something made exclusively out of grapes. I’ve never done that because, while I am fully capable of drinking wine, both the maroon kind of wine they call “red” and the golden kind they call “white” I don’t really give a shit about wine, and I don’t know jack shit about wine, and as a result, have no business at all telling my opinions about wine to anyone. CNN should definitely not hire me to write a wine op-ed because it would be terrible. I also think this same logic should have been applied to Paul Hockenos, whom CNN paid (presumably; this could be part of some charity work for all I know) to write an op-ed bitching about cars with manual transmissions, and manuals’ decline, which Hockenos is happy about. But the problem is that it does not seem like Hockenos really ever understood the appeal of driving stick, nor does he seem to care about manual transmissions, at least beyond the fact that they annoy him, somehow. Which is probably why his op-ed, charitably, sucks, and, even worse, is strangely and needlessly sexist.

I don’t really know anything about Paul Hockenos, other than he does know how to drive stick, which isn’t surprising since he’s based in Berlin, where manual transmission cars have been much more common than here in America. But as soon as he starts to talk about driving manual transmissions, things start to go wrong, fast. This is from the very beginning of the op-ed:

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“For old-school connoisseurs of the automobile — usually men — driving means operating a beloved vehicle by touch, with three pedals underfoot and a shift stick at hand.

In Europe, this clientele is responsible for a good deal of the moaning about manual transmission’s demise. And perhaps nowhere is it louder than in Germany, the home of Porsche, BMW, Volkswagen and Mercedes Benz.

Take for example the German automotive writer for the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung who waxed melancholy in a heartfelt “homage to the good old days of the clutch and gear stick.”

“What could be a greater pleasure… than tooling along winding roads in a sports car at high speeds? Accelerate, downshift before the bend, turn in, roll, upshift again, and ‘fly away,’” he wrote.

He affectionately describes the stick shift’s smooth knob nestled in his palm. (Sigmund Freud would have had no trouble deducing the grounds for this allure.)

Okay, two big things are worth pointing out here: the “usually men” part is the first. There’s no citation for this and while sure, maybe you can find surveys or studies or confident ex-recto guesses from experts that more men drive stick, who gives a shit? Plenty of women drive stick, and enjoy driving stick, and it’s frankly just stupid to try to cast the enjoyment of a manual transmission as anything related to gender. I’m not having it. It goes against everything we believe here at the Autopian, which is that cars and their enjoyment are for everyone, and I’m pretty sure penises are not required for the shifting process, and if you find you are using yours for that, well, I wish you well on your sexual journey, but it’s not really part of driving.

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Speaking of penises, I was also deeply disappointed to see that incredibly tired, century-old Freud reference there. I mean, come on already: How long do we have to endure that lame-ass joke that stopped being funny around the Great Depression? Yes, automobile shifters, much like salamis or rocket ships or some fire hydrants or a variety of squashes or any number of other things roughly tube-shaped sort of resemble penises. I get it. Everyone gets it. Children get it. I bet most dogs get it.

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I also get that when you feel the shift knob in your hand it doesn’t mean you’re imagining it’s your dick, if you have a dick. Or even if you don’t. If you want to touch a dick and have one, I can’t think of a more achievable dream. I managed it at least twice today before lunch.

The point is, the whole Freudian thing about stick shifts and dicks is stupid and tired and lazy, and it’s decades past its retirement age. Grow up, Paul.

So, what’s the point of this op-ed? It’s not really clear. Hockenos seems put out that there are still groups of people in Europe and America that genuinely seem to enjoy shifting their own gears, and he likens this predilection to the famous book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenancebut only does so in the most superficial and dismissive way, with no effort taken to dig into any reasons why someone might appreciate understanding and appreciating how the machines in their lives work. Instead, we get this:

“It’s not just that I cringe at the grating screech of a botched downshift, that high-pitched sequel [sic] worse than fingernails across a chalkboard. The sound upbraids and shames me for having wronged the drivetrain. But this obviously never happens to alpha men, the kind who love their engines and coax them to purr.”

The fuck are you talking about, Paul? Okay, you missed a downshift, big deal, it happens to everyone. There’s no reason to go into a shame spiral here. If so, though, the shame you’re feeling is on you, and this whole “alpha men” thing – what? Loving one’s engine and “coaxing them to purr” has precisely one metric fuck-all to do with any “alpha male” bullshit. Again, driving stick has nothing to do with gender – it’s about how it feels and the fact that it’s just fun to be able to have that level of control of your car, and people who really enjoy driving very often – though even then not always – like the experience of shifting their own gears.

[Mercedes’ Note: I have to agree with Torch, here. At the bare minimum, Paul is ignorant. At worst, he’s no better than the men he wants to admonish. There are a whole lot of women, non-binary folks, and everyone in between who like cars and yes, also prefer their cars with manual transmissions. I’m pretty sure those enthusiasts aren’t trying to be “alpha men.” Yes, men are the most visible in the car world, but that doesn’t mean women don’t exist! I’ll take a stick any day of the week, sorry, Paul.

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Stop trying to gender the joy of driving or turn it into some toxic thing only meant for people who hate the world. The truth is that anyone can love cars and they very much do. -MS]

That’s it.

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This whole thing is as free of a point as a basketball, or perhaps a coconut. Hockenos attempts to steer the narrative to point out that in modern cars, automatics are actually faster and more efficient than manuals, and yes, that’s true. In fact, it’s been true for a couple of decades now, and the reasons Hockenos gives are generally right: modern automatics have more gear ratios than manuals – 10-speed automatics are common – and the computers that manage the shifting tend to do it better and faster than a human can. But don’t feel bad; that’s the transmission computer’s only job! You, on the other hand, have all kinds of other things to do beyond shifting gears, and you’re more fun to grab a drink with.

There are also CVT transmissions that have effectively infinite gears, and while those often feel like crap, they’re extremely efficient. That’s all true, but also has nothing to do with why people want to shift their own gears. I mean, maybe back in 1979 efficiency was a big reason, but now? Now it’s because people want to.

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Remember, cars aren’t rational things, and they never will be, and wanting to shift your own gears isn’t rational, but who cares? If cars were rational there would be only a few basic models and everything would have interchangeable parts and they’d really be appliances and it would be an entirely different industry from what actually exists right here in our reality. I mean, think about the car industry; do you really need a car with 700 horsepower? Of course not, but there are many you can pick from with that much power. Do you need turn indicators that move like the signs on the Vegas strip? No, but they’re fun! Do you really need a car with massaging seats or a removable roof or one that can corner like a panther on speed? No, but all of those things are thankfully available to anyone with the money or a willingness to take a terrible loan.

Whatshisname knows this, I think, and I think knows that his arguments about how much more efficient modern automatics are don’t really make a case for the demise of manuals, because the percentage of manual cars being sold is so tiny as it is. As he says in the op-ed:

These are among the reasons why it’s ever harder to buy a new manual-transmission model of any kind in many countries. In the US, less than 1% of new models have stick shifts (compared to 35% in 1980), according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s really only sports cars, off-road truck SUVs and a handful of small pickups that still have clutches.

Less than 1%! That’s nothing! People who still choose to drive a manual car are not causing any real environmental harm because the numbers are so low. It’s just not a factor, and certainly not a reason to advocate for the wholesale elimination of manual transmissions.

I mean, I’m not even sure that’s his goal here. I have no idea what the goal is. He later champions EVs as a sort of savior for, I guess, environmental issues with all combustion cars, manual or otherwise, which further shows he just simply does not understand why people drive manual transmissions. This is made clear in the final lines of this inane piece:

But for those aficionados who really can’t go without a clutch and gear shifter, Toyota is planning a realistic-feeling fake manual transmission for some EV models.

It serves no purpose whatsoever — save to comfort bruised egos.

Egos? Bruised or otherwise, what do egos have to do with wanting to shift your own gears? There’s some kind of unpleasant insecurity going on here, or something. Did someone shitty tease Paul about not driving stick well at some point? If so, I’m sorry, but that is not why people want to drive a stick shift. It’s just something I and many others enjoy, and for fuck’s sake, why is this guy even writing about it at all?

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Tt Shift

He doesn’t want to drive stick — fantastic, pretty much every car out there now is available with an automatic. Absolutely no one is forcing him to drive stick. His screed against manual transmissions feels like someone looking up a band they don’t like, driving a couple hours to the venue where they’re playing, then setting up a table and handing out pamphlets stating that they don’t like the band. It’s fine not to like the band. It’s fine to tell people you don’t like them. But, at some point, when you’re going through all this effort to let people know you don’t like something, for reasons that really only apply to you, it gets weird.

This is all just a protracted effort to yuck other people’s yum, a cardinal sin around here, and an absolutely useless endeavor. No one cares that you don’t like driving stick, Paul. No one understands why you’ve somehow conflated it with this idiotic idea of masculinity in your head, and no one really thinks the tiny number of people driving manuals is causing environmental collapses.

No one is making you drive a stick-shift car. You can relax. And maybe next time you decide you don’t like something you have nothing to do with, don’t know much about, and about which you have nothing substantive to add, maybe consider not writing a time-wasting article about it for CNN?

That’s exactly what I’m doing with my wine article! See, I’m actively not writing it right now, as we speak! Because, like you and driving stick, I have nothing of value to add. And I might say something really stupid, like how wine is just for Alpha Females, and that would be deeply embarrassing.

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Top photo: Paul-Hockenos.com (modified)

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Here’s Exactly When Automatic Transmissions Became More Efficient Than Manuals

When Did We Get So Weird About Tall Shifters?

The ‘Quantum Leap’ Reboot Has The Worst Fake Manual Shifter Ever Seen On TV

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The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
25 days ago

The weirdest thing about this tempest in a teapot is… Who gives a shit? Most people don’t have a real choice. They buy what’s available that they can afford. Millions of people drive manuals because that’s what’s available and they can afford it. Millions drive automatics because, well, it’s what’s available. I’d drive a wagon except there aren’t any here, so I drive something else. Some people drive sticks who would prefer autos, and vice versa. In most cases it’s not a choice.

And when it is a choice, who gives a shit?

Paul needs to get laid.

Last edited 25 days ago by The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
Thatguyinphilly
Thatguyinphilly
26 days ago

I’m going to chalk his general crankiness up to being German, with apologies to my grandmother and every Volkswagen I’ve ever owned. But he’s not alone globally. 

These are the kind of people who claim there’s no reason for cursive and analog clocks, and get weirdly emotional about the fact that older technologies persist where technological advances have been made that could render them obsolete. What he’s advocating for is convenience culture, and it’s every bit a threat to human society as climate change is to our planet. 

You see, mein Paul, humans were not meant to live in a stasis of pragmatic functionality, and convenience culture is threatening to create just that: one where we live in unadorned aluminum apartment blocks existing only to work for the credits to purchase bare necessities back from our employer in some sort of dystopian perpetual motion machine. 

We exist to live. We exist to strain. 

Fiction isn’t necessary, but we read it because it stimulates our minds. We lift weights to stimulate our bodies. The reason some of us still use analog cameras isn’t because they’re convenient or produce better images than digital cameras and computer editing. It’s because the strenuous process that went into producing a chemical photograph stimulates an appreciation that accounts for what went into making it. 

This is why many people prefer the original Beetlejuice to what we’ll likely be delivered in September. Practical effects like green egg crates used for grass and cardboard simulating dirt stimulate our suspension of disbelief, while movies trafficking in an abusive onslaught of CGI amount to little more than colorful noise. 

Analog clocks have not been necessary for 75 years but we still use them because Big Ben or Philadelphia’s City Hall would not be nearly as beautiful if their towers had been replaced with a blinking “12:00” every time the Hunchback took a sick day. 

Cursive came along long after standard writing, but some still use it because it’s simply beautiful. This is why art class is still mandatory for elementary school students. 

We enjoy manual transmissions for the same reason we jog through the park instead of on a treadmill. It’s why we climb Mount Washington instead of driving to the parking lot at the top. It’s why we sail boats instead of riding jet skis. 

I’m not sure Paul Hockenos really understands the breadth of what he’s calling for behind his angst. He’s probably the kind of guy who cooks, who hikes, and who enjoys the museums in his hometown, all activities as unnecessary as enjoying a stick shift. I’m sure he’s also the kind of guy who doesn’t enjoy certain sports, certain musicians, and certain authors, though looks beyond them all without a begrudging second thought or an op-ed about his disdain for baseball.

Unless he can provide a functional reason for his opposition to manual transmissions – and he hasn’t provided any good one I can see – he’s just ranting on behalf of convenience culture, and I hope I can doubt he’d want that if he knew what he was saying. Realistically though, I’m pretty sure he was just tasked with writing an op-ed piece that would drive engagement and stir up the comments, and the manual transmission is always a goldmine. 

Joe
Joe
26 days ago

Yes! Get rid of your economical stick shift and buy an SUV like everyone else. SAVE THE PLANET!

Matt Garratt
Matt Garratt
26 days ago

I read Hockenos’s article yesterday and couldn’t believe anyone would be so brave to write and post something so stupid. Thank you CNN for confirming what I already knew about you.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
26 days ago

Next up: Only guys like topless cars. Or maybe bottomless for David Tracy.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
26 days ago

Hockenos‘s next article: “painting is stupid. Just take a picture!”

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