Friday, September 15, 2006

Myths and Names

Has it ever struck anyone as odd that the 3-wheeled vehicle used by the Berkeley Police Dep't is called the "Interceptor"? And that that name is so prominently written, in white on the black bumper area of the car? It seems at odds with the usual phrases that are visible on police vehicles that try to appeal to the public, mitigating any notion of 'encorcement': "Serving our community," "To protect and to serve," etc. Only rarely do the catchy names that are given to vehicles--Explorer, Legend, Ranger, Sonata, Armada, you name it (!)--have anything to do with what purpose the vehicle actually serves. But there it is: "Interceptor," the actual social and political function of the vehicle highlighted all the more by its rather wimpy 3-wheel stature, which couldn't possibly intercept on a road full of SUVs, trucks, etc. Why should it seem striking, though, that a name should actually state what a vehicle does, or at least one version of it? This example directs my attention back to all the other 'normal' car names, product names that then seem to be nothing if not empty signifiers, partially at least loaded with mythological meaning, made banal by their profusion but constantly draining the life out of language. Too Barthesian?

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