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In the spirit of public service for which this periodical has become famous, we bring to your attention a matter of terrible importance. We’ve ignored it for too long already. But frankly, we haven’t been strong enough to come face to face with the hideous truth: There is a disease spreading within our community.

Its devastation reaches nearly every corner of every city and town in this and increasingly every other country on earth. Why, just today, I received fresh evidence of its impact in an email from a multinational conglomerate. Am I to ignore it yet again? Should I look away as I, and so many of us, have done, simply because it makes me retch? And when I say retch, I mean wave after wave of savage retroperistalsis that leaves me physically spent and delirious. Those in neighboring office cubes are unable to snack normally for days. I shall not look away, though. We shall not look away. Not this time.

Gaze, if you’re able, at this picture of the next Genesis G90. I promise you that I have not modified the photo in any way, not even by means of the Facebook Messenger filter that makes your mouth look massive and makes me and my younger daughter cackle with delight. Every. Single. Time. Yes, the company actually intends to sell this vehicle to the public looking like this, grotesquely (and pointlessly) huge grille and all. It’s not easy to tell from the picture below, but precious little of the G90’s grille acreage is actually open to allow air to pass through to the radiator. You will recall that the passage of air for cooling is the purpose of grilles. Or it was. If the new purpose of a grille is almost entirely to define a car as having come from a particular brand, then what does it say about that brand if its front ends just look like sections of chain-link fence?


We’re picking on Genesis only because its release is the most recent in a long line of troublingly absurd grilles. Have you seen a Chevy Camaro lately? Or a Silverado? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, they don’t even have faces anymore! Their grilles have devoured their front ends. They have become mouths without faces, like automotive lampreys.

And it’s not just Asian and American cars that are showing evidence of this. Have a gander at the BMW 7-series sedan and X7 SUV. Their grilles no longer look like kidneys (psst, they never actually did). They now appear to be giant gleaming buckteeth. The company’s designers invariably blame American and Chinese tastes for this ridiculous tastelessness. Well, they do unless American journalists are around, in which case they will simply blame the Chinese market.

Part of the problem is that we—the buyers, designers, and enthusiasts of automobiles—are human. As a species, we’re doomed to see human faces everywhere we look, even where they don’t exist. Seriously, we all walk around with a section of our brain devoted to recognizing faces; it’s called the fusiform gyrus. Automotive designers understand this. It’s why Dodge Chargers have horizontal, canted headlights. It makes them look tough and maybe a little angry, just the image the company wants its neo muscle car to present. And if headlights are the eyes of a car, then the grille is the mouth. You can’t help but see it that way. You’re wired to see it that way. And as insensitive as it might be, we’re also programmed to be uncomfortable when those features are out of whack.

So what’s with all the wrong automotive faces, then? It is my contention that what we’re seeing is the result of widespread prosopometamorphopsia. This disorder (which exists, by the way) causes sufferers to perceive faces in a distorted way. Noses are askew. Teeth look huge. Features are misplaced, cartoonlike. Its cause, in this case, is thought (by me) to result from an art-school overexposure to spray mount, Bestine solvent, clove-cigarette smoke, and angst. Or it could be that China-market thing. I don’t know.

From the January 2020 issue.

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