1958 Continental Mark III Front End, Image: AutoEvolution

Mister Steve writes:


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: Autoevolution]

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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