Artifact: Muffled Morph


When the Indian to the left was young, he wasn't an Indian at all, and he held an automotive part in those colossal outstretched arms. He was a Muffler Man, a giant built in the early '60s to advertise a service station. The Muffler Men were mass-produced, but over the years they've started showing more individuality: Different businesses in different places have bought the things from their initial owners, giving them new clothes, new faces, new items to hold.

Roadside America, an online bestiary of the nation's unsung highway attractions, has devoted a special page to recording the Men in their many avatars. Scan it, and you'll find reports of a Muffler Spaceman, a Muffler Frankenstein, a Muffler Pookah, and several Muffler Lumberjacks, at least one of which has had its head replaced with that of Mad mascot Alfred E. Neuman. You'll find a chart denoting the different species of Muffler Man and telling you in which towns each can be found. You'll even find a map of the country, with Muffler Man sightings marked for your traveling convenience.

There's a prominent school of thought that fears for the future of "difference," worrying that every local or eccentric variation will one day be swallowed by a creeping corporate monoculture. But to judge from the growing band of customized Colossuses—and every other mass commodity whose form and purpose has been adapted and changed—often as not it's those local and eccentric variations that are doing the co-opting. The fears of sameness may prove to be as oversized as the Muffler Men themselves.