I found myself at a Monster Truck Jam. Yes, I bought tickets and everything.
I’ll consider myself a cultural anthropologist for a minute, and report just what I experienced. My sons both like spending Saturdays with me, and in Oklahoma City that means a short list of attractions. Cedar, my youngest one, is an enthusiast for all things mechanical: trains, cars, trucks. So I gritted my teeth, held my nose, and logged on to Ticketmaster.
Let me tell you, a monster truck jam is EXACTLY like you would think. It’s not even something you can parody, because it’s exactly like a parody of a Monster Truck Jam! We made our way to our seats just as the show started, with “Let’s Get It Started!” playing on the loudpseakers. Our seats were in Section 221, Row H...You know, right behind the cowboy hats. And right in front of the cowboy hats. Our seats were in-between the, um...well, you know. The cowboy hats.
So they play all this metal music at super-loud volume, with graphics of waving American flags all over the wall screens, and they introduce the trucks, which emerge onto the dirt floor with the kind of roar that would shock a rocket engine technician. Cedar fastened his hands over his ears and never removed them again. It’s what Chuck Yeager would drive, if he wanted a truck shaped like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and needed to compensate for a small penis.
One by one, the trucks come out and rev their engines. They race toward a row of pre-smashed cars (gyp!), then suddenly brake, then slowly bump up over them and gas the engine to reel skyward and land with a dusty “thud!” The weird thing is that each truck is supposed to be a “character” in the four-truck ensemble, and somehow we’re supposed to know, care about, and become loyal to the truck of our choice. Apparently everyone else knows this, because they all have the same hand signals to cheer on, say, “Blue Thunder” or “Bad Habit” or “The GraveDigger.” They all seemed identical to me.
So the trucks do a demonstration lap around the arena, bumping and trampling over cars at the edges of ramps, and making noise. Then they all stop in formation and the rock music stops.
Queue the soft, sentimental country music. Now the announcer walks out in a lone spotlight and tells us it’s time to honor our special guests. Would the police in the audience please stand? Then the fireman? Then the EMTs? And finally, the most important people in the world, our military...would y’all stand up? (paste in the requisite hyper-patriotism speech here, during which I learned that us Oklahoma-types are the “real Americans of this country” So shut it, all you unpatriotic people who don’t live in the Midwest!). Now we march in the flag (extra credit if you can get which country music song plays here), and I suddenly realize that I’m probably the only one in the whole arena who isn’t a Rush Limbaugh Republican. This is the kind of place where Sarah Palin is a goddess. This is the place that launched a dozen episodes of “Squidbillies” (Google it if you don’t know).
Now, see, this is how clueless I am about monster jams. I thought the first couple of “demo laps” around the arena were just mild exhibitions, and that once the event starts all sorts of wild, different new stuff would be happening-- Silly me! As it turns out, we could have left after the first two “demo laps” and still seen everything, because here’s what happens for the next...two...hours:
They have a “Qualifying round”. All four trucks are timed driving laps around the arena, bumping jumps over the same ramps and pre-smashed cars, while the event organizers burn through enough royalty fees for Metallica, AC/DC, various “Nu-rock” bands, “Bad to the Bone”, and more Metallica, to finance their own national stimulus package.
Adhering to the charade that this is somehow a competition, the exact same four trucks—having ALL “qualified” (whoa!)—now enter the contest. And you know what the contest is? Well by golly, it’s DRIVING AROUND THE SAME @#$%^ING ARENA, DOING THE SAME !@#ING THINGS AGAIN!
We’re watching all of this in-between various cowboys and cowgirls coming and going across our row to the bar and snack vendors, returning with plenty of Budweiser and what seems to be nacho chips drenched in what can only be molten earwax. And this brings up a technical question: why is it that a subculture that adores its gigantic belts still hasn’t conquered the feat of keeping pants above butt-crack level, let alone wearing underpants? (this goes for the women, too!).
Two moments of excitement did occur: a plain-clothes cop busted the entire two rows in front of us for buying beers for the teen-age girls (in the denim miniskirts and cowboy boots), resulting in $750 tickets each (how much more hillbilly can you get than “I got busted buying my 14-year old daughter beer at the Monster Truck Jam!“?). And the stunt riding by motocross bikes was amazing—even if there were only three riders and it lasted 5 minutes. Now, back to the same four trucks doing the same things for another hour.
Apparently, the organizers think we have the short-term memory of goldfish, because their idea of “mixing it up” is to have the trucks - (hang on to your cowboy hats) - turn around and GO THE OTHER DIRECTION around the arena! Shazam! The crowd goes NUTS for this!
Through all of it, the masquerade that this is a tournament is never abandoned (see Engels, Freidrich; “False Consciousness“). The incessant strolling vendors hawking “Grave Digger” shirts and “Grave Digger” flying discs and “Grave Digger” cotton candy was in NO WAY a hint that that the winner would be (gasp!) Grave Digger. Autograph session for kids after the show.
Cedar loved the motorcycles, and bounced in his seat and made the “Rock on!” devil’s horn sign with his hands. River sat there as if the whole two hours was as scintillating as a math lecture. His only glimmer of excitement consisted of,
“Ooh, cotton candy!”
Oh, and they sell a 2-DVD set! Too bad this was all happening AFTER Valentine’s Day. I never know what to get Tonya.