Once threatened by shattering divorce statistics, TV dinners, sperm donors, single-parent-headed households and still (let us not forget) under major threat from militant homosexuals demanding equal rights, the nuclear family has made a huge collective comeback.
Well, at least on the rear windows of suburban cars across the middle-class world.
Surely you have noticed them?
Those cheerful, little “My Family” cartoon decals that have become a de rigueur outward expression of middle-class domesticity? And isn’t it deeply comforting that the concept of “family” clearly also extends now to a range of pets, including birds, rodents and horses?
You can always spot people who like to go the extra mile or push limits. Their rear windows are pimped up with a few other clues about their prosperity and happiness – a smiling dad on a bicycle, a mom shopping on the internet with her laptop, a boy on a skateboard and a baby happily sucking its dummy.
Some of the decals have grown more elaborate, little girls wearing ballet tutus, fathers with stethoscopes draped around their necks or mowing the lawn, moms doing yoga.
These ubiquitous stickers (well, at least in Cape Town) are the modern, mobile equivalent of the picket fence, that 1950s symbol of the ideal white, middle-class suburban family.
Of course, as the reality of the “traditional” family was gradually exposed it became a little more difficult to defend and the picket fence lost its cachet and in fact became an ironic expression of the ideal.
It was only a matter of time before the sheen needed to be restored.
Hey presto…enter the global trend of the rear-window decal.
The precise origin of the phenomenon is lost in the deluge of useless information that clogs up the Internet. Some have speculated that it started in Mexico in 2001 and spread like a yeast infection in Hugh Hefner’s Jacuzzi.
We could, of course, add loads of new twists locally. Imagine the rear window of President Jacob Zuma’s family vehicle?
It was only a matter of time before an “anti-My Family Stickers” movement sparked. In Australia a lovely, young misanthrope, Dean Templeman, designed a dark range to counteract the suburban propaganda.
His stick figures have sons with guns shooting their fathers and various others depicting the underlying tensions in ordinary families. Yes, in Australia.
Other less angry designs by other subversives feature mothers as pole dancers, fathers out with their mistresses, teenagers smoking a doob or a row of tombstones.
A few days ago I laughed out loud at one display I found myself parked behind in traffic in Cape Town.
There was a solitary stick figure on the rear window; a horse.
Despite their tweeness, the decals are an intriguing global phenomenon, well at least in countries were people need to show off their family life to strangers in public.
Are they perhaps a desperate display of prosperity and materialism in a world where most economies are being mercilessly squeezed by recession? Are they meant to be a sort of suburban mating call? A portable status symbol you hope the beggar scrounging in the bin will look up, see and envy?
It’s time for a few more cryptic offerings to amuse those stuck in traffic methinks. Maybe a food processor or a desk lamp.