Modern-day time machines

Modern-day time machines

People have their own versions of time machines:

If you are a fan of the 1960 movie version of H. G. Wells’s classic novel, it would be a steampunk sled with a red velvet chair, flashing lights, and a giant spinning wheel on the back. For those whose notions of time travel were formed in the 1980s, it would be a souped-up stainless steel sports car. Details of operation vary from model to model, but they all have one thing in common: When someone actually travels through time, the machine ostentatiously dematerializes, only to reappear many years in the past or future. And most people could tell you that such a time machine would never work, even if it looked like a DeLorean.

The hood ornament, or mascot, seems to be the modern-day signifier of a time machine. Or at least a culture’s outward expression of one.

I used to accompany my father to antique car shows. A bit disinterested in things like the Studebaker Avanti at the time (I had no idea what I was missing!), I eventually started seeing a pattern: hood ornaments.

What I began to notice was that hood ornaments — starting with the early 1900s through the 1960s (when they fell out of fashion) — signified cultural, social, and economic definitions of what the future looked like at the time. In the ‘00s and ’10s, for instance, it was foot and wing power. Hood ornaments were, quite simply, people and birds. The ’20s, still wing, and steam power — the ornament and the entire grill really took on ship-like qualities. The ’30s brought air power and so on. Each decade seemed to place its own definition of future action at the bow of its automobile, a vehicle itself that represented a trajectory forward.

The automobile, then, puts the human in the very driver’s seat of possible future actions. Our very own time machine.