America’s brief heyday was probably the interlude between the big World War and the smaller war nobody is still really allowed to talk about. Maybe the heyday stretched into the golden age of disco. It probably ended with Reagan and it is definitely over now, for sure. But, the ghosts of that time haunt us all.
America’s and the world’s fascination with all things Harley-Davidson and motorcycle outlaw is really nostalgia for the way we were before the current time of benevolent Stalinism. We now live in a world where Michael Bloomberg must be smarter than everybody else because he is a billionaire. And because he is a billionaire and must be smarter than all the non-billionaires it is his duty to ban big gulps, and the Second and Fourth Amendments. Bill Maher has been campaigning recently to have the Second Amendment repealed. After all, he argues, if Swat has guns why would you possibly need one?
Yet there remains a significant subculture of benighted Americans who, against all reason, continue to yearn for just yesterday when jobs were disposable instead of workers.
The Devils Ride and Sons of Anarchy both pay homage to that lost time before it was a felony to punch a cop; when men were the masters of their own fate and when the going got rough you could just get on your bike and escape into the west and make a fresh start. Boys don’t watch The Devils Ride because they are interested in Sandman or White Boi. They watch because they want to be Sandman or White Boi. They don’t want to be Michael Bloomberg or Bill Maher.
Harley has been cashing in on this nostalgia for the last free years since AMF got out of the motorcycle business. The times may have changed but the memory, maybe it is an embellished memory on the cusp of becoming a myth, is undaunted. Some weeks it manifests as a circus. This morning the circus pulled into Rome. This Sunday it will be blessed by the Pope.
Hooray For Harleywood
Harley-Davidson, a company that until recently was so covered in the American flag that sober men would tattoo the company’s name on their arms, has been emphasizing its global market for the last few years. To that end the Motor Company presented the Pope with two of its motorcycles and a leather jacket on Wednesday in honor of Harley’s 110th birthday, One of the bikes was signed by Pope Francis predecessor, the former Pope Benedict XVI. One of them will go into a Vatican museum. The other will be auctioned off for charity. Maybe Michael Bloomberg will buy it.
Thursday the circus pitched its tents in Ostia, a port city near Rome. The event there is expected draw 100,000 visitors over four days. Thirty-five thousand of them are expected to ride in. The event will feature test-rides, beer, bratz, a tattoo booth and lots of Harley tee-shirts.
Sarah Hauer, writing in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, interviewed a 15-year-old Britain named Adey Scammell. Scammell rode in from England with three friends. When he arrived he had a Harley eagle with two pistons tattooed on his back. Scammell told the Journal Sentinel. “Short of us coming to Milwaukee, this is the next best place.” When Hauer asked him what he likes about Harleys he replied, “the noise, the look and everything that goes with it.”
By “everything that goes with it” Scammell was probably referring to what Vladimir Putin, in an address to the Night Wolves a few years ago in Sevastopol, called “the tempting feeling of freedom”.
Blessing Of the Bikes
This Sunday an estimated 1300 Harleys will ride into Saint Peter’s Square for a blessing of the bikes by the Pope. Toronto’s Globe and Mail described the blessing as “nothing short of a marketing triumph.” Of course it is. “It is impossible to imagine rival motorcycle makers getting such attention and privileges,” the Globe and Mail continued. “The blessing of the Hondas or the Suzukis? Forget it.”
John Wheeler, a Harley executive whose job has something to do with international perception management, told the Journal Sentinel, “the brand and its American ideals translate across cultures.”
“Many people already know the Harley brand, even though we don’t sell in their country,” Wheeler continued. “People know that we stand for personal freedom, individualism and boldness.”
Thirty-five percent of Harley’s sales are now outside the United States. After Rome, the Harley-Davidson noise and freedom circus will travel to China, Austria, India, New Zealand, Germany, Australia, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil. Then the circus will return to Milwaukee for Labor Day Weekend.