Decoder Ring: Truck Nutz

Automatic TRANSCRIPT

Podcast contains explicit language. In nineteen Ninety-seven Jay was sitting in a hot tub with some buddies when he hadn't a pithy we were talking about trucks, and you know, the whole euphemism. You gotta have some balls to go through that. That was like oh mine has more falls than years. And as soon as I said, it I pictured it for whatever reason, I guess I was drunk enough. And it would not go away. Which was picturing was a pair of plastic testicles that could hang from the back hitch of a pickup truck, Jay van Zandt? And I created truck nuts. Jay is not the only person who came up with the idea for truck nuts at around this time. But he is the one who gave them their name which is truck nuts with Z at the end. Kicked around bumper balls and things like that. But it was like our target market is not for anyone. But, you know, basically funny rid nex. Right. So it's got to say struck. You know, the nuts sounded great in the whole time. I didn't wanna be ultra groups, right? This was more about just pure comedy for the laugh of it. And so that's why through the and the name as well. Jay was only twenty two at the time and had no experience in manufacturing. But he was committed to making truck. That's a reality. I created like a clay model out of child's clay that you would buy at a a hobby lobby or or whatever and would sit on the back porch, and you know, shape them file them down. But I knew I just had this. This feeling everybody else would think this was funny as I did he put a small ask for them in the back of a bunch of national truck magazines, and then I also stood up an eight hundred number eight six six hot nuts. And so we we put the ads in in that phone never stopped ringing. Eight six six hot nuts is blowing up. This is the coda rang a show about cracking cultural mysteries. I'm willing Paskhin every month. We take on a cultural question habit or idea crack it open and try to figure out what it means. And why it matters. Truck. Nuts are simple object. An injection molded piece of plastic. The comes in bright colors in chrome. They've permeated American culture as a polarizing signifier addict joke with political implications. A provocation of the pious and uptight the Dushi accessory of would be macho man before working on this episode truck enough that struck me as being at fast Italy ridiculous. And at worst, a painfully obvious expression of a kind of toxic anxious masculinity. Blurting about the people who make and by truck nuts softened beyond them in order to explain how this happened to explain how I came to not totally hate the truck. Not I want you to come with me on a journey through the weird world of testicle related novelty items in the hopes that when it's done you too. We'll see plastic testicles in the new light. So today undercoating what's so funny about truck now? When you hear about truck nuts? It's usually because someone is joking about them. It is really freaking cold in the midwest. It is so cold truck nuts on the back of pickups. Have moved up inside the truck and jokes are fitting response. I mean, they're para plastic balls, but the butt of most jokes about truck. Nuts isn't truck nuts themselves. It's the people who own them. Drug numbers have been made fun of by late night. Talk show hosts big truck nuts here. Come on back. I want every free shaker coal book and wiggle wagon out there to roll on. They've been parodied in psalm. Playmates and other subject of countless pranks jokes and skits. Well, I'll tell you the problem. The problem is just because you wanna make a buck. My your old granddaughter has to look at big dangling cow balls every time I drive at a fucking Cracker Barrel. When you search truck nuts on Twitter. Most of the tweets you, come across aren't making fun of people who actually have truck nuts. There are some of those. They're making fun of the people. They imagine have truck nuts. And that imagined person is basically always the same particularly tacky member of the white working class so threatened by so-called, PC culture. He is slapped a pair of brightly colored plastic balls onto his beloved truck to prove he's got real big ones while triggering the libs truck nuts. Don't just defend personal sensibilities though, they've also managed to offend the thirties. Between two thousand seven and two thousand nine legislation was proposed in Maryland, Virginia and Florida by Republicans and Democrats to ban or fine views of truck dots because they were offensive to children in two thousand eleven in South Carolina, where there's a law against obscene, bumper stickers. A grandmother was written a ticket for having truck nuts on her truck. It was actually her grandsons. In case that's still slated to go before. A jury truck nuts, then offend different kinds of people in different parts of the country for different reasons. All while communicating to all of these people that whoever owns them is a jerk and the sense of jerky. It comes from somewhere. I mean, what do, you know about a guy with truck nuts, except that he doesn't care or isn't worried about what anyone else thinks about the very controversial item. Here's a fixed the back of his vehicle. Here's a question. You're driving down the road. Ellie miss stall is the executive editor of above the law a legal website back. Back in two thousand seven well writing about the first amendment issues surrounding the grandmother in South Carolina whose given a ticket. He got really interested in truck nuts. You're bad driver. Asshole driver, you cut people off, right? Yeah. You find yourself behind truck nuttier. Do you see the most definitely not or do you give them a wide berth wide birth? Right. It is a luxury. It is part of white privilege to be able to live in a world where you'll have to care about other people's feelings. And that's I think one of the reasons why you don't see at least in my research a lot of black truck nutters, right? You don't see a lot of gay truckers. They don't have the luxury to pretend that the entire concept of of political correctness reducing is a farce. And again, this is part of the reason that truck nuts feel inherently provocative, but I wanted to figure out if there were reasons other than being provocative that someone might own these things to answer that I need to start by giving you a sense of the truck nuts. Landscape. The very earliest homemade versions of truck not seem to appeared in the nineteen eighties. But in the late nineteen ninety three commercial versions all popped up around the same time. In addition to truck nuts. The company started by j m Zandt there's bowls balls which makes a product modeled on well bulls balls and also the far more vain variation offered up by the company your nuts, which also makes a monster truck, not here's an ad on YouTube for that very product truck much approximately sixteen inches in size and weight just over a pill. They feature the veins on the talk which synonymous with your crimes. In two thousand two j van Zandt the founder of truck nuts who is working sixty to eighty hours a week at another job and had a growing family decided to sell his company term to grow up. You know? You know, do what other Stu or I'm going to sell much the rest of my life and in that tough decision. Hey, let's get out. Now day was making money on truck nuts at the time. He didn't think it would last. Meanwhile, a man from Florida named Wilson camp had just retired from his job as a college administrator. And he was looking for something to do with his free time shoulders funky little business being advertised on EBay called puck nuts. We ended up striking the deal and bought it. From Wilson his own truck nuts for the last seventeen years. He does wife from the whole operation themselves twelve years ago for three years, right? So that excess is three hundred thousand dollars a year worth of these things. And that's crazy twelve years ago two thousand seven there are a number of other popular products that like truck nuts seem to knowingly tease the rural white audience. That was also the products target demo. The very successful blue collar comedy tour, which featured Larry the cable guy, and Jeff foxworthy famous for his you might be a redneck jokes had just wrapped up country music songs like redneck woman redneck yacht club and hick town and recently been released and trucker hats wild and weird cultural signifier in their own right were enjoying a moment as the accessory of the rich and famous. These products like truck nuts could be seen as a funny. Self deprecating way. To celebrate an off maligned cultural identity but truck nuts. Popularity didn't last. Fewer does most of these things. Now, those sales are largely coming through Wilson's website truck nuts dot com, which has a joking but also jingoistic and lascivious tone. In addition to selling truck nuts and biker balls which are truck nuts for your motorcycle. The site sells a t shirt with a picture on it of a squirrel that has giant low hanging testicles. It tells bumper stickers slogans like these colors, don't run, and hey bin Laden lick my nuts on another page. They say they're running a contest quote looking for twelve hot ladies to model for the truck nuts calendar. But it turns out Wilson's not exactly the type of guy his website is marketed towards when you I saw the truck about like on. What did you think of them thought, it was humorous, and that's the way we look at it. And we intend to just some targeting cheek Huber. What's funny about it food, like a macho thing, I think is humorous that guys do that just like? People flouting their tattoos, or whatever it is. I think that's as a sign of my show, or that's the reason people would put him on frogs and parade them around. So Wilson the owner of truck nuts. Things are funny because anyone who'd by them to demonstrate how Manley they are is hilarious. He's laughing at the sincere truck netter. Do you have a truck nut on your car? Like, would you put them out? Would you ever put them on your car? Shea doesn't is. Eighty five year old. Wilson's attitudes towards truck. Not is easier to understand when you consider that. Most of his customers are not exactly sincere about truck. That's either. Don't get me wrong. Some of them are insincere a toxic way. Wilson was recently asked to send a pair of truck nuts to Senator Jeff flake after flake insisted there'd be an FBI investigation into Brett Kavanagh. The message unmistakably being that flake should grow a pair. But most of orders come from people who either truck nuts are bit of tongue in cheek self lamb poontang. So funny, they have to have them on their car or so ridiculous. The absolutely do not want them on their car. Wheels of let's say somebody in an office somewhere. We want to give a gag gift. Wilson's assessment of his audience is born out by reviews of truck nuts on Amazon and Facebook of which this is a Representative example, the look feel emotion of these nuts hanging from my friend's truck. Made it look as though his worc- truck had a real set of nuts dangling from it. The only downside was that. My prank ended up making him. Look more manly. Driving down the road would buy these nuts for a prank again. That's our cast review was left by a real estate agent in Michigan named Matt Zahn. I'm involved in the prank war with a neighbor. Cross the lake and we've been kind of going back and forth doing pranks Matt's. Prank war has involved. Among other things wiring afraid shot and drawing a giant penis on a lawn in the middle of the night. You know, it'd be pretty funny. If I were to get some truck nuts and put him on his truck and. If he, you know days he would drive around town with them hanging there. He's a loan officer. So you had to actually go to acquaint house and your loan application that day, so he like pulled him their driveway. They're like out there talking, and I'm sure that the clients show them on the back of his truck. So it's supposed to be funny about this prank. Is that if you saw Matt's friend driving down the street, you would think he was sincere about his truck nuts. You'd assume that he was the type of guy who had truck nuts on his car because he wanted them there, even though he's not typically when you see somebody that has struck nuts. You're like, oh that guy's. Yes. Probably do Spag. What about it communicates? Someone who really have it is a douchebag think that if you have a pair of nuts on your truck. I mean, this is a certain personality type that would have that. And not have as a joke. Matt is not alone into the way. He's using truck nuts. Poking fun at Dushi rednecks, basically is different from how they're meant to be used an off brand usage of the product. But Matt and his friend are not outlier truck. Nuts consumers pranksters jokers and people sending up the people who they think the product is supposed to be four are part of the products core constituency. I was not expecting that going into the story. I was under the impression that truck not still thing because the people who were sincerely into truck knots. But it starting to look like truck nuts might still be a thing. Because people who are insincerely into truck nuts was the ironic macho truck not are real or was he a kind of figment of the imagination the answer to that. It turns out is a little bit of both. Now's the time that we talk about a sponsor this episode is brought to you by plug into the present a campaign raising awareness about electric vehicles. More and more people are discovering how electric cars can fit into their lifestyle with the days electric vehicles limited to your work commute, more and more models of a range of over two hundred miles per charge. So you can drive just about anywhere. We can road trips out of town errands. You name it. Driving electric is just like driving a conventional car. And there are a lot of fun to drive to have you ever experienced instant tour. Learn more about electric vehicles at plug into the present dot com. That's plug into the present dot com. Okay. Back to the show. As we were investigating truck nuts. We kept coming across other testicle based access re's. I was so flummoxed at this point about who truck nuts customer base was that. I thought it might be clarified to speak with some of these other companies in the hopes that they could shed some light on this particular question. One product in particular stood out. It's been mocked almost as much as truck nuts. It's called noodles Nichols. Or Justice killer implants for dogs cats horses bulls any animal that is altered. Good Miller is the owner and inventor of noodles, which over five hundred thousand have been sold a musical were thought of in nineteen ninety three with the trauma that I went through neutering bloodhound they buck. Buck was a hundred eighty seven pound bloodhound. It was a dominant feature of his, you know. Being and I was opposed to neutering because buck would no longer be bucked. It's really it's for the owners. It's not really for the pets 'cause they don't care, right. Cure pets, do know that they've been neutered. But it's, you know, basically pet owners wanting their male dog to maintain its God, given look and what's wrong with that. I mean, if you don't like it don't buy it whether or not the animals, actually know or care about their testicles is not something I'm going to get into. But the question what's wrong with that? Is that the heart not just of noodles but of truck nuts too? And my most easygoing open-minded self things Scher. That's right. If you don't like them, just don't buy them. But my instincts really action is just like can we not be so hung up on balls masculine really has pride of place in our culture. Can we leave the dog balls out of it? Greg doesn't just make replacement testicles. He also makes them other cosmetic products, including replacement years, and is or is not a word in the world has ever been said, but noodles will just bring out the craziness and people it's encouraging people to neuter that would not neuter before that's reducing pet overpopulation. This made me wonder am I being super uptight about testicles, I wouldn't begrudge someone replacing their dogs mangled ear or I even if it wasn't medically necessary. So what's my issue with this particular body part? I like to think my feelings about noodles or affliction of my values. Maybe they're also just a reflection of my taste. And you know, that's cuter than seeing him. You know, why will up the street with his little things between and the idea of neutering him and eliminating that is just you know. Thank you. Especially so funny because when I was going to say his like instead of the cute like every the dog with just like waddling along with that looks so like Masty. Yeah, there's really in your face like, but you obviously feel about on your attitude towards the product. And I mean, I'll admit noodles or as controversial as religion and politics noodles adjust acknowledging a reality that some people really care about balls, and that's true across the political spectrum as a second product on our tour of testicle related excess Sary's bike balls demonstrates bike balls are Kickstarter funded bicycle lights in the shape of testicles. They give off a pink light and hang low from underneath a bike seat right below where a male cyclist genitals would rest like it takes grit and balls to ride on the roads, Heather lamb is an industrial designer based in Toronto who's one of the co creators of bike balls. It reminds other. Drivers that you are human too because. A part of your flushes cyclists and pickup truck drivers are imagined to be a very different demographic, politically speaking. But apparently some members of both groups would like to trick out there ride with a pair of nuts, though, bike balls are not gilding the lily the way that truck nuts are they're not trying to make the most powerful vehicle on the road seem even more macho they are evidence. If you needed it that ball jokes and ball appreciation more generally cross the aisle. I've heard people will tend to yell. Nice. Both. That they've seen you. So that like latest keeping safe. And you're getting a couple of. Yes. The bipartisan nature of testicle related accessories. Was further underscored to me by the conversation. I had about the most provocative accessory of all gonna calls. Plastic testicles that clip onto the barrel of gun. Are we shut against goals via the company's Facebook page. I was pretty sure known is gonna respond to me slate. His written a lot about the need for gun control and a reputation as liberal site. Made me assume they would be very reticent to speak with us. And to my surprise, the owner Anthony Melles rope saying no worries on political orientation LL Gunston does have a wacky audience. My initial vision for the product was this is something that gun owners will by kind of as a goof to make your friends laugh at the range, and so the packaging and most of the marketing is geared towards image a gun accessory, look serious, thus the gun schools marketing features and animated sporty woman who smiles holding a gun, and it has the tagline the pants down leader in tactical testicles the product it was a fishery released in two thousand seventeen good dental some some play in the gun, you know, blog sphere had some. Had some immediately success that I thought. Oh, wow. This is incredible. You know? So like you wake up to like fifty orders for them. And you're like, oh, I can retire now. But after that first burst sales slowed down Anthony found it was hard to market the product magazine advertising was too expensive sporting goods stores were turned off by the whole testicle thing. And it wasn't getting much traction on Amazon he was getting ready to abandon the whole thing. And then this past Christmas happened hold a lot of guns. Two goals if because it sounded audience and its audience is not gun owners. It is people in locking gun owners. It's for the person that knows a gun owning person that wants to be fun to them. You know, I tell people also like five percent over beyond a gun. You know, maybe ten percent of Don Rickles over leave the box. Yeah. So he has it has found its audience as an awful to gift. So despite appearing to be a company that appeals to people who love guns gun cicles is still in business because people who want to tease people who love guns. It's customers are not the people that it's marketed towards it's the people ribbing the people it's marketed towards, but unless you talk with Anthony, there's no way to know, this the gun sickles website is completely convincingly serious. And looking this way it actually helps themself? Gun schools and truck nuts are not exactly the same. For one thing truck owners. Unlike gun owners already have a long history of fixing provocative feisty rude. Crude joking items like bumper stickers and mud flaps onto their trucks. An unlike gun cycles when truck nuts refers on the market. They were a big hit with our target demo the quote funny, rednecks that truck nuts were originally conceived for but constable still feel like a kind of Rosetta Stone for truck nuts to me an object. That makes sense of what our reporting about truck. Matt's had already told us the truck nuts are at this point largely novelty item. And that the people keeping truck nuts in business are just as likely to be buying them as a gag gift. Then the art of putting them on the back of their truck. Okay. So now that we have all of this context for truck nuts. I wanna talk about another kind of truck netter the kind who actually puts truck nuts on his truck by choice. I got them as a gift use ago. So they've been equal for eight years. Though, tether, Sherman is a twenty eight year old from Maine. He's got a green pickup truck named Helga. And her truck nuts are green to match. All you get a lot of 'em designated a lot. I always got a good laugh out of them. When I was I kind of revel in the trashing of it that that's part of the humor of it. Like, I'll come to stop at a stop light in just here's something clinging around in the back. Then I'll remember there there, you know, I'll get a little chuckled myself about it is it only a joke for you. Where do you think there's something macho about it kind of? I think it's really go for my part. I feel like if if you spot so you probably don't need to put a pair of nuts on the back of. I mean, I guess. Some people think they're impressive. But I feel I yeah. Hey community. Hera plastic bowl. I don't know how you could take seriously Tyler is saying the things that I think most truck nutters do that. He doesn't take that seriously that isn't it makes him that macho are super trashy. And that's part of what's funny about them. In fact, Tyler sounds pretty similar to that prankster. We spoke with earlier, Matt Zahn. They're both guys who think truck nuts are kind of Dushi and trashy. Tyler like, Matt makes his truck not sound kind of like a private joke that he laughs about when he's by himself giggling and the cab of his truck, but the thing about truck nuts is not a private joke. They're not a pair of plastic balls. You have like in a room in your house. We're only your friends can see them friends with whom you share a sense of humor and sensibility there a public joke. Something that you take out into the world. Does anybody ever have a strong negative reaction to them? Knowle's over. But I'm pretty guy twos. Or maybe they wouldn't. When you see a pair of truck nuts on the road. You can't tell exactly what the driver is trying to say with them. I think that if I saw Tyler's car without ever having talked to Tyler. And I saw a green pickup truck nuts driven by a big white guy with stickers on the back for extreme sports, and the NRA which truck has would suggested earlier in this episode. Give the truck a wide berth as far as car accessories. Go truck nuts are just one signifier among many and these signifier 's bumper stickers flags mudflats to say nothing of the make and model of the car itself can amplify and reinforce each other to convey, a clear political message, but it's worth keeping in mind. The compared to many other such signifier 's truck nuts in and of themselves are relatively ambiguous. Here's Elliot doll. The executive editor of above the law again, I don't wanna get too philosophical with it. But let's get those. The truck nutter. When you see them are driving away from you. Right there moving they're they're they're it's it's the kind of opposite of coming at you. Right. You don't see them when they're coming at you only. See the nuts when the vehicle is moving past. You write a benighted truck is Jess is not kind of aggressively messing with your life. It's a symbol. But it's but but that's what I'm saying. It's it's a it's more symbolic of a person trying to have some fun with you at your expense as opposed to really kind of aggressively getting your face in like ruining your life. It's also worth keeping in mind. Something I touched on earlier in this episode about how whatever else they are truck. Nuts are also away for rural white Americans to send up what other people already think about them. I want to go back to something Tyler said, I kinda revel in the trashing of it that that's part of the humor of it. There's a kind of self irons Asian going on. Here the way someone might put truck nuts on their car to embody a stereotype to revel in it to be the trashy person. Everyone already assumes that you are you can see this type of self satire in lots of other contexts things that I actually think about when phenomenal lights riser things like camping kit, the come out of stuff like gay and lesbian culture. Colin Johnson is an associate professor in the department of gender studies at Indiana University. When I think of like gay men like fetish ising, Judy Garland, and you know, people putting testicles on their cars very much somebody on the surface, but they are kind of our stories about, you know, like cosmic unfairness, or sort of predictable and fairness of you know, the sort of underdog position like leaning, Judy Garland is like leaning into truck. No, look if everybody already thinks, you're kind of older and trashing tasteless. Then why not just go whole hog, you know, and kind of like, you know, it'd be kind of campy send up of of of that yourself like kind of take control of it Collins, not saying rural white guys truck knots are discriminated against minority. But it is saying that they too are self aware. Self-awareness? It's a big part of the most delightful and genuinely funny use of truck nuts that I came across while reporting this story, it was a pair of pink truck nuts. Dangling from the rear of a black matte pickup which had written on the back and bright green lettering. Austin the Secta me dot com. I hope nobody helped offended by it. But we thought it was funny, and it all grab you tension. Donna McBride drives a truck and works for any you urology specialists, Austin Austin-based medical practice devoted to men's health. A lot of the misconception about the second. Is that the balls are cut off? And I've heard that on reality shows, and it drives me crazy, and they you specialists, no all jokes and things that people have about the sect Amies, and they're using truck nuts to counter them. They're using balls to make people worry less about their balls. And we have had a lot of people. Call and say, I'm sitting behind this truck. It says Austin perspective dot com, call now. So I'm calling out one of the to me. Surprisingly, good marketing. So here we are at the end of our journey through the titular accessory landscape. And I wanna be clear I'm not saying there aren't men out there who are completely serious about their truck. Nuts men who hue to the stereotype lev regressive. Politics want to intimidate and provoke people who aren't like them. Here's Jay van Zandt. The original owner of truck nuts again for q guy. He did exist. I met him right met him several times through owning it. But I think we could stand to expand our understanding of truck nutters to admit a wider range of motivations for owning them motivations that include novelty, and gag gifting jokes and pranks self satire and thoughtlessness. That's not quite the same as malice and doing. This isn't just for the truck netter is for everyone else to who should take some comfort in the fact that in this specific instance, anyway, we aren't actually sharing the country with a bunch of horrifying crass stereotypes, just other people. We started working on the story. I thought it was going to be a story about a cultural object something that people in different side of America's political divide saw completely differently. And it is a story about a cultural object. The object in question is not truck nuts. The object is humor itself truck nuts makes some people laugh, but the people who find them gross or crass or stupid or the bleeding edge of all sorts of odious ideological positions. Don't quite believe that anyone could be buying truck nuts as just a joke. We imagine that they are on some levels sincere. And this makes us laugh. Meanwhile, truck understood people who don't find truck nuts. Funny who don't get why. They're funny who don't the irony in them are up tight, and they in turn get a kick out of that people actually find funny about truck nuts, then has very little to do with being a pair of balls and everything to do with them being apparent evidence that other Americans have a bad sense of humor. Well, you're seeing happened with truck nuts. Like what happens to an unhappy? Couple that ends up fighting about the same thing. No matter what the cause in this case, the cause is a pair of plastic testicles, but the fight devolve into what it always does everyone talking past each other and projecting the worse things onto the other side, including the idea that the other side isn't funny at all a shared sense of humor. Of course is a really important thing to a functioning relationship without one. There's no pressure release. There's just endless conflict, and that's pretty much where we are. Right now about things way more important than truck nuts. What's crazy about this fight in particular? Is it Americans of every political persuasion, find balls funny instead of being something that divides us, I can imagine a world in which truck nuts? United us or United those people who are really tickled by extremely basic dick jokes because that's the world were actually living in a world in which truck nuts. Customer base supply. Sizing -ly partisan. This is the coda ring I'm willa passed, and you can find me on Twitter at willow Paskhin, and you have any cultural mysteries you want us to code. You can Email us at Dakota rang at slate dot com. If you haven't yet subscribe and rate are feed in apple podcasts or ever you. Get your podcasts and even better tell your friends this podcast was written by willa Pasquin and was reduced at edited by Benjamin fresh who also does 'lustration for every episode. Thanks does Acharya Blair Tonia Senda, Dan Perot. Barbara chang. Scott bischoff. Franko Fuda Selena Allah, Phil Edwards. Macklemore? Oh, Christina rucci forest. Whitman Jennifer, s Barranca, Cleo Levin, June Thomas, and everyone else give us help and feedback along the way. Thanks for listening.

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