Piston Slap: A Primer of Automotive Anthropomorphism?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap a primer of automotive anthropomorphism
Mister Steve writes:Sajeev:There seems to be a trend, at least among the younger crop of auto writers, to anthropomorphize an automobile based on its looks. It seems like you can barely get through a review of a new car without mention of automotive anthropomorphism: “angry eyes” or “ugly mouth” to describe styling. Definitely not how I recall descriptions from the likes of David E. Davis, Jr. or Chubby Chedder.My theory for this is that they’re the generation that grew up during the Cars movie franchise. Seeing as I’m one of the “olds” who grew up when this wasn’t a thing, I could be wrong.Sajeev answers:As someone with a love/hate relationship with this profession, whose interaction with David E. Davis proves you should never meet your heroes, I doubt they’d do any better. But I digress…Automotive anthropomorphism has multiple origins, and the Cars movie is valid for the modern era. You might recall how folks in the ’50s (i.e. men) made Dagmar references and comments like “the ‘slant-eye’ face was particularly jarring” that’d now be considered racist.I still use a phrase from my school yard to describe automotive posteriors with terrible visibility and tiny cargo apertures: if I judged, I’d clearly need to look at the man in the mirror.Perhaps this is a vicious cycle?But here’s the thing about styling: it adapts to new technology (like any other industry). Thanks to modern plastics, computer assisted designs, etc., most any grille/headlight shape can pass government standards and conform to a plastic fascia. Cars aren’t architecture-esque any more. The malaise era’s massive chrome bumpers and rectangular headlights are gone, and DIY 3D printed fascia elements aren’t far away.So might as well make cars appear happy to be on the road! Pixar capitalized on these faces but everyone sees it — car designers, too. You could say it’s “by design” (sorry) and I betcha even Mr. Chedder sees it, too. [Image: Shutterstock user topseller]Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model-specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.
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  • JohnTaurus JohnTaurus on Sep 16, 2018

    To me, most cars do have a face, and even those that don't still tend to have a personality regardless. Even relatively bland cars still have something of a look to them. It might not necessarily be pleasant, but its there. I don't see anything wrong with this. And those with a passion for automobiles do tend to personify their cars to a certain extent. I don't mean you name your prized BMW "Sam" or "Charlie", that's rather immature IMO. But when you get attached to it, it does seem to become part of the family. Again, I don't see anything wrong with this. I'm sure that, given a choice, any of us would choose to sacrifice our most beloved vehicle to save a human life. So, its not like we value a machine above flesh and blood, but that doesn't mean we don't care about, or even love, our vehicle(s). I deeply regret getting rid of some of my cars in the past, although some were most definitely not by choice. They became a friend, a trustworthy companion that was/were there for me. They shared the good times, the bad times, and the mundane times, they made life a little better because they were a part of it. But, its not like I sit and cry if I think about them being crushed or whatever. In the end, they were just machines that had no real soul. That doesn't mean they meant nothing, they just made an impression on me that I do miss. I feel more emotion about the death of someone I read about in a news story that I didn't even know. So, what I'm saying is, even if we do personify our cars and think of them as a friend or loved-one, that has its limits. At least, for me.

  • WallMeerkat WallMeerkat on Sep 17, 2018

    I remember reading about the E46 when it was launched, the designer (possibly Bangle?) saying that the front of the car was a face, the headlights were the eyes. If that was bangle, where did it all go wrong? The current breed of crossover SUVs with multiple stacked headlights just look jarring, like a person with 2 pairs of eyes. I grew up, the face of a car was headlight eyes, grille nose, and licenseplate mouth (works better with long european license plates, or a state with front plates). Though the last gen Mazda 3 had that silly smiley emoji mouth.

  • Cprescott Yawn.
  • 28-Cars-Later Wrangler people are crazy.
  • 28-Cars-Later "Transition" to layoffs, this guy is the Bob(s) from Office Space.
  • Vap65689119 As a release engineer I also worked in quality, if they are serious they should look at Toyotas business model which has their suppliers as genuine partners, thats how you get a quality product
  • Mike-NB2 I seem to have landed in an alternate universe. $12,000 for a Jeep that's going on a quarter-century old and with an automatic transmission? Wow.