When I was a kid, maybe 12 or 13, I had a friend who’d hang out at my house. Our after-school outings mostly revolved around playing Xbox games and browsing mid-‘00s internet, but we were also friends at school. Middle school sucked, and it was nice to have a friend to have inside jokes with. It was great, but like every tween into a teenager, I’m sure we downright insufferable to everyone around us.
Tweens don’t have good developed brains yet, and boy howdy they’ll hold onto a joke long past it’s ever been funny. In eighth grade, my friend and I both noticed that our music teacher had a horrible BO, that he tried to cover up with the smell of hand soap.
“Eew, he smells like BO and soap!” we chirped. Then, our crafty, oh-so-clever tween brains combined the two words into “Boap”. Eighth-grade Kevin thought it was hilarious, at any point of the day one of us would mutter “boap” to the other, and we’d erupt in laughter no matter if it was appropriate or not.
This went on for weeks. “Boap” went from eliciting uproarious hilarity to just a soft chuckle, then to smiling politely. By the end, I would straight-up grimace anytime he mentioned “Boap”. I had gotten tired of hearing our little in-joke, we were going to high school, and that joke about our middle school music teacher had run its course. It wasn’t funny anymore, it was cringe.
Tesla’s “Plaid” moniker feels the same way. I’ll admit, I smirked a little when I learned about the Ludicrous mode, complete with screen warp, in a reference to the 1987 movie Spaceballs. I even thought it was kind of cute to put the faux-Burberry plaid screen on the Roadster prototype’s screen during full-throttle acceleration.
The joke’s over now. We’re on our way to (metaphorical) high school.
I have a little bit of context on Spaceballs– most of my siblings are firmly in Gen X, I’m the lone youngin’ straddling the line between Gen Z and Millenial in the family. Spaceballs is a direct pastiche and satire of the Star Wars movies, from when the OG George Lucas trilogy was still pretty fresh. In 2021 you don’t even have to have seen Star Wars to know the characters or recognize the world, it’s deeply ingrained in pop culture. As a result, Spaceballs still has some life in it and the movie itself is pretty funny. The scene with the tangled lightsabers is hilarious! But, uh, is it something you want to hinge a big part of your car brand on? I’m not making a judgment if Spaceballs is a good or bad movie, but the experiences shared by the people who it really spoke to, or at least were affected enough to name an entire car in reference to it, aren’t universal. I’m not even sure how relevant the movie is to myself; Spaceballs isn’t the first movie I’d think to quote or inform my views on comedy or, weirdly, cars.
Terms like “N” or “AMG” or “SS” or “Type-R” have dubious meanings, but we all know that those letters usually mean something – sportiness. What kind of cachet does “Plaid” hold? If you go up to someone and say “I drive a Tesla Model S Plaid” are you really going to stand there with a straight face and talk about memes and stonks a three-decade old movie reference?
If you have to explain a joke, it’s not really funny anymore. And if the joke’s part of the car, you have to live with it every time you drive.
I’m not going to write and say that “Ludicrous” and “Plaid” ruin Tesla’s brand identity, or whatever else that’s been leveled at Tesla because the company likes to act like it doesn’t take itself seriously. Like the $69,420 (former) price on the Model S, I just don’t think the joke is funny. Not because it might be considered offensive, but because it’s so esoteric that when you research to understand the reference, and then finally reach the in-crowd, you realize it’s not that clever and involves nostalgia for a piece of culture you probably don’t care about.
Can we please call Plaid something else? Anything else?