The Stick Figure Family Window Decal Conjectures

Subject: Stick-figure family window decals (SFFWDs) appear in automobile rear windows all over Losanjealous. Fig. 1 (below) provides an archetypal illustration. SFFWDs invariably depict a series of stick figures arrayed from left to right in descending order of size. They bear identifying features and names that indicate either their family role (e.g., “Dad”, “Mom”); their actual name (e.g., “Roxy”); or some affectionately demeaning sobriquet (e.g., “Boogers”, “Alecheetos”). Some bear the legend “Our Family” over the stick figures in case the relationship between the figures was not obvious. A few include pets such as dogs in the grouping. Single-parent family variants are either nonexistent or so vanishingly rare that DF has yet to espy one.

Figure 1: An archetypal SFFWD

Background: The back of the car is a popular situs of self-expression, as the longstanding ubiquity of the bumper sticker attests. Bumper stickers achieve expression through language’s denotative function. If you want to tell the wide world what you brake for, or how members of your profession “do it” (viz., fornicate), or about your antipathy for fat chicks, the bumper sticker provides a means of expressing these views with unparalleled parsimony.

The rear window of automobiles is a less frequent locus for self-identificatory novelties. On occasion, though, a particular tchotchke will seize the popular imagination and proliferate on rear windows like Pneumocystis jirovecii in an immunosupressed lung. The first, and likely still the most popular, such novelty was the yellow caution sign reading “Baby on Board”. In the mid- to late-1980s, who knows on how many occasions motorists were deterred from intentionally ramming vehicles upon learning that the targeted car housed an infant? The 1990s saw plush Garfields with suction-cup feet affixed to rear windows across America. This provided a way of telling your fellow man, “Look, here is the cartoon cat Garfield, right here in my rear window! Perhaps he thinks there is lasagna in the car!” In the early 2000s, cars began to sport demi-baseballs in their rear windows, with surrounding shatter decals suggesting (wrongly, one assumes) that a baseball had hit their car’s rear window, became embedded in it, and that the owner had left the carnage there for all to see (perhaps as cautionary example to drivers contemplating outdoor parking near sporting venues).

The SFFWD is thus not sui generis, but rather part of a proud tradition of adorning one’s vehicle with items that express one’s character or cultural preferences. Yet in contrast to the above examples, the mind balks when it seeks to parse the social meaning of the SFFWD. Hence:

Inquiry: What possesses the consumer of the SFFWD to acquire and display them? What is it that the SFFWD is meant to express?

Methodology: DF’s utter lack of any inkling in response to the foregoing inquiry requires that he proceed by positing various minimally plausible conjectures rather than asserting a single dominant theory. I do this in the hope that others will join the discussion and that, Wisdom of Crowds-style, we can come to some explicatory consensus. That said, I proffer six conjectures as to what SFFWD users seek to express:

Conjecture #1: “These are the members of my family.” This conjecture may seem a bit too obvious to be plausible; others need no enumeration of your relatives, and you already presumably know who they are. But consider the possibility that one or more family members may suffer from early-onset Alzheimer’s, or that they simply have an unusually faulty memory. In these cases, the SFFWD functions as a failsafe mechanism, a visually evocative checklist so that you don’t leave anyone out when assembling your brood for transport.

Conjecture #2: “I am (we are) fertile.” The pride expressed by octo-mom Nadya Suleman over her litter of drug-induced babies reveals that however horrifically unwise a move it may have been to bring children seven through fourteen into her undercapitalized world, it remains for her an enormous source of pride (and, obv., celebrity). And the relative paucity of SFFWDs featuring a single child suggests that they are favored by those with larger broods. Hence SFFWDs may represent an effort to evidence one’s fecundity to the world.

Conjecture #3: “We are thin.” It bears notice that the families in SFFWDs are stick-figures. In a body-image-obsessed society, this choice of avatar cannot be accidental. In the absence of a single decal featuring a rotund member, it is entirely plausible that these stickers are purchased only by the svelte as a means of lording over others the speed of their metabolisms and the stick-to-it-ive-ness of their dieting skillz. Related, SFFWDs may express an aspiration, as where a family of fatties is reminded of how slim they yearn to be, so there’s a deterrent the next time they try to squeeze into the car for another trip to Sprinkles Cupcakes.

Conjecture #4: “I hate (one of) you.” It is virtually impossible to imagine that the SFFWD in figure #1 was designed and/or acquired by Boogers (or, for that matter, by Alecheetos). More likely, one surmises that it was conceived by Roxy, as a means of humiliating her sibling, either in an uncomplexly mean-spirited way, or in a more subtle but no less cruel spirit of tagging others with playful but demeaning monikers as a way of establishing dominance over them (cf. Bush II’s constant use of locker-room-style nicknames to reporters and even fellow heads of state). This theory would explain only the subset of SFFWDs that feature overtly insulting nicknames.

Conjecture #5: “Keep your distance.” Just as Baby On Board signs were ostensibly aimed at increasing safety (at least for those with infants), perhaps the stick-figure-family decals are a way (and a more understated one) of getting fellow motorists to be cautious in their presence. The phrase “Caution: Nuclear Family On Board” would likely fit on a sign or bumper sticker, but such a clear implication that members of nuclear families merit more automotive caution than all others would be a bit sticky, even in Orange County.

Conjecture #6: “I am like others.” It takes little time living on planet earth to realize that most people would stick a hot poker up their ass if it was the style of the time. This final conjecture is that the SFFWD is explicable through no more than plain, old-fashioned and uncritical groupthink. This is the most testable of the hypotheses; one could, for example, merely tell people that the latest automotive style trend was to replace their hood ornament with a coiled piece of dog defecation and see how long it took before the trend caught fire.

Directions for future research: In contrast to earlier social inquiries, DF finds himself without a bold conclusion. Neither opinions on the preference order of these theories nor the articulation of new ones are unwelcome.

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