Prefab Freedom

KT Thompson

The New Inquiry


“Five vehicles idled in a huddle. The pitch of their 1000cc engines thwarted my attempts to eavesdrop. But the flexible poles jutting from their cargo holds—called whips in ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle) accessory language—raised the semaphores of May 2020: Confederate, US, Thin Blue Line, and Trump 2020 flags”

“In South Dakota, I grew up among ATVs, not in my family per se, but as accessories of rural life, where they functioned as transportation, as a method to get cattle moving or inspect fence lines, and as reckless recreation”

“As with countless commodities now consumed by the general public, ATVs in the style of the Ranger RZR were developed for military use. RZRs have become the most desirable tactical vehicle for U.S. Army and Marine special operations forces because, as a safety instructor at the Marine training ground at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina puts it, “by using these assets,” the Marine Corps has “fresher boots on the ground.””

“RZRs can be easily transported, dropped from helicopters, and “if things get really bad, they [troops] can turn around, drop a grenade on it and walk away.””

“Polaris also manufactures an electric Ranger for the government and defense industry, and in 2022, began marketing the Ranger EV as the first all-electric utility side-by-side for mass production. It’s “[q]uiet for the hunt and clean for the land.””

“Polaris has amassed billion-dollar profit margins alongside a rural, woodsy, small-town identity. Its global reach and portfolio are indeed well-served by residual white settler fantasies about rural spaces, farming practices, and untouched land”

“ATVs and off-roading belong to a genealogy of overlanding, a residual cultural formation first practiced in settler nations such as Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. to move livestock, prospect for gold, and speculate land”

“As I have come to learn, overlanding is made for narrative. One who overlands tells the stories of when the weather turned, a ferry was missed, a mountain pass threatened to close”

“Stories are made from dangerous and lonely prospects, where narrators maintain the point-of-view of explorers bound for the unseen, and those who inhabit these lands, who know them intimately, are rarely acknowledged unless they are needed to serve as arbiters of local knowledge or as translators”

“Historically and in present-day practice, overlanding is white recreation, where lands are simply open and available, ready to be conquered and thus, known”

“Put another way, OHV recreation, off-roading, and overlanding are the fantasy echoes of originary settler-colonial discourse, like terra nullius and the Doctrine of Discovery, where the quest is to arrive on “no one’s land” and produce forms of erasure, to discover, create a story, to claim and reclaim the narrative again and again”

“Colonialism runs on narrative simplicity and wild fabrication”

“The West is a kind of fashion, and ATVs that crawl and roar over its surfaces are extensions of white recreational illusions: what it means to break the pristine, to reach a spot and see something no one else has”

“There is always something being done in the woods. There is always something being done to the woods. The woods are full of signifiers”

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