I was sat in traffic yesterday when something caught my eye on the car in front.
When we both stopped at traffic lights, I took a photo of exactly what I saw out of the windscreen. I’d imagine that what caught my eye will catch your eye also.
Yeah, it’s the sticker.
At first glance, it appears to be a cartoon drawing of a naked man with a very large erect penis chasing a naked lady with a large bottom. One might question why someone would feel the need to put it on their car but people put rubbish things on their car all the time. I grew up in the golden age of bumper stickers – you really don’t see bumper stickers anymore, they have been replaced by internal fake road signs held onto the windows with small suction caps proclaiming such witticisms as ‘Mum’s Taxi’ and ‘Princess on board’. Makes you miss the garish glossy stickers of the 80’s advising us to ‘Start a new movement – eat prunes!’ or ‘My other car’s a Lamborghni!’ and who could forget the multitude of hilarious occupational innuendo – ‘Hairdressers do it with style’, ‘Bartenders do it all night’, ‘Undertakers do it with a quiet sense of dignity and respect’ – that kind of thing. Anyway, I’m not adverse to the use of an automobile as a canvas for bawdy humour, that’s what I’m saying.
At first glance, a cartoon drawing of a naked man with a very large erect penis chasing a naked lady with a large bottom seems like good old-fashioned, borderline offensive Benny Hill-ish fun. Actually, I’ll modify that, not offensive – there is nothing offensive about the naked form, let’s say ‘inappropriate’, any cartoon rendering of stimulated genitalia could lead to awkward discussions for young families or induce a mild state of despair about the state of society amongst the older generation. Maybe it’s on a par with the ruder edge of bumper stickers which would use caustic swearing or undisguised lewd suggestion. Either way, it caught my eye and I was intrigued.
Only when I pulled closer was I confronted with the true enigmatic depth of detail of what I had considered an innocent, albeit saucy, cartoon.
As you will see when we zoom in for closer inspection, that is NOT an erect penis. It is an enormous screw. And what once appeared like a full, rounded bottom on his prey turns out to be a nut. Although it could be argued that the screw appears to merely be drawn over the crotch and anal region of the gentlemen, we can see from the tilted angle of the nut, revealing its inner edge, that it is actually a constituent part of the lady’s anatomy. we must therefore assume that the same anatomical principle can be applied to her would-be suitor. The use of traditional industrial fixings in this image troubles me on a number of levels.
Were this image fixing free and offered at face value, it might be easy to ascertain the intention of the car’s owner – he would be either playfully admitting his sexual urges and intentions or proclaiming his love for a brand of nostalgic seaside humour which was once rampant and populist in this nation. Either of these motivations would elicit a standard response from the casual observer of either ‘Haha! Cheeky!’ or ‘What an idiot’ depending on which side of the class line between working class or middle class the respondent stood. We do not have data at this time as to what a standard upper class response might be. The upper class actually tends to be more in line with an honest working class response – but that would be the true upper class – the landed gentry, rather than the upper-middle-class-made-good who would still resort to a middle-middle class response. I digress.
Never before has an image raised so many questions in my head and I feel this is both an appropriate forum and time for me to share these with you.
There is clearly a metaphor at play here. But which one? The simplistic, almost naive artistic style (that of a serialised comic strip in a tabloid newspaper circa 1971) would suggest that the metaphor is merely, simply, a genital based one – that the erect male member somewhat resembles a screw. This, in turn, would dictate that the vagina would be represented by a nut, even though anatomically it is a far more tenuous physical similarity. The heterosexual logic of a provincial mind would have no problem with this – the penis ‘goes with’ the vagina as a screw goes with a nut. Perhaps this work represents the artist’s first foray into simile. There is no real metaphor on this level. Perhaps it is just an illustration of the slang term ‘screwing’ – the act of copulation – yet there is no copulative enactment on the back of this Ford Fiesta – so this can not be a visual description of the act. There seems to be no easily explained authorial assertion to accompany this image. Were the artist trying to covey the message ‘I LIKE SCREWING’, would it not be more effective to show a cartoon of a man innocently screwing a screw into a piece of wood? That would be rife with innuendo yet innocent on the surface.
One must, however, question if there is a deeper message at play here. It can not be ignored that the girl is clearly running away. Her brow furrowed, her arms outreached to whatever might represent safety and hr mouth open in protest. It would be fair to say that she is not receptive to the amorous intentions of her would-be suitor. But why? As ‘keeper of the nut’ she is presumably well-versed in the problems a ‘quick screw’ might present. For, unlike the act of copulation, the act of ‘screwing’ – physically twisting a screw into a nut is an act of bonding. Once screwed, the couple will be stuck tight together. Perhaps she is advocating a little restraint before they rush into something hasty. Could this be an anti-promiscuity statement on the part of the artist? I think not. And I’ll tell you why. The subjects’ expressions. These are not the expressions of weariness and naivety. The woman is clearly scared and distressed. The man appears intoxicated. Small pupils, tongue sticking out of his mouth, manic raised eyebrows. He is crazed and predatory. But what can this mean? How can we interpret this? Is there such a thing as an innocent cartoon of a potential sexual assault? Even if the participants have industrial fixings rather than copulatory and defaecatory (I made this word up) organs?
Where is the message? You can’t just do a cartoon of a naked man chasing a distressed woman without making SOME kind of a point. ESPECIALLY if you decide to replace their genitals with screws and nuts! Is this supposed to be surrealist? Is it Dada? Is it satire? Is it devoid of any kind of thought? IT FUCKING CAN’T BE. You want to know why? Because IT’S ON A CAR. Not only did someone have to sit down and draw a cartoon of a naked man with a screw instead of an erect penis chasing a distressed semi-naked woman (she still has her bikini top and shoes on – is there a story there????) with a nut instead of a vagina or anus but someone had to decide ‘THIS WOULD MAKE A GOOD STICKER’ Not just that, in fact – ‘THIS WOULD MAKE A GOOD *CAR* STICKER’. Presumably this was a commercial decision – somebody actually thought ‘This is an image I could manufacture into a car sticker and enough people would appreciate, engage with or even understand AND buy it that I could turn a profit’. And nobody at this person’s company said ‘But what does it mean? Is he trying to sexually assualt her? Why has he got a screw instead of a penis? Why is this relevant to cars? Who’s going to buy it?’ So he manufactured it. And then, I can only assume, someone at some kind of retail outlet was flicking through a catalogue and said to themselves ‘You know what’ll be a great seller? This set of two stickers of an inebriated naked man with a screw instead of an erect penis chasing a clearly distressed semi-naked woman who has a nut instead of a vagina! Why, this could be as popular a seller as the windscreen sunshade which features the cartoon of the naked man with a monkey wrench instead of a willy tying up a crying semi-naked girl who has a tub of industrial sealant where her vagina should be!’ AND THEN the owner of the red Ford Fiesta would have had to see the sticker set in the shop and thought ‘You know where this cartoon of a naked inebriated man with a screw instead of an erect penis trying to sexually molest the semi-naked girl with the nut instead of a vagina or anus would look great? ON THE BACK OF MY CAR!’
AM I SO OUT OF TOUCH WITH THE WORLD THAT EVERY STEP OF THIS PROCESS BLOWS MY MIND?
And then he’d have to have positioned them on his car. And, yes, I said THEM as they are clearly two separate stickers meaning that the car’s owner is the one who got to decide the exact level of peril to place the nut-fannied girl in! And you know what he decided? LOTS OF PERIL! He could have put one sticker either side of the boot handle to give her some kind of sporting chance. He could have put the girl on the other side of the guy to imply some kind of crazy early-70’s cartoon conga line or at the very least that they were both fleeing the same not-yet-visible foe – maybe the mad scientist who mutated their genitals – that would turn the screw-penised man’s expression from homicidal lust into the immeasurable joy of freedom. Could this have been the artist’s original intention? Is it the sinister mind of the red Ford Fiesta owner who has perverted the meaning of an innocent cartoon into an automobile galleried advocacy of wrong-doing?
Maybe I’m just thinking too hard about it and the simple fact is that the world is just full enough of idiots to sustain a cottage industry of industrial fixing centred rapey car stickers.