In her spare time, she'd been actively insulting the owners of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) with an inspired piece of performance art. This past spring she wrote about her one-woman campaign in our sister publication in Los Angeles. The column ignited a firestorm of letters. She was interviewed by English newspapers, contacted by fans from Japan, linked on numerous Web sites, and listened to on more than 100 radio stations.
Last June her wonky paper on the stunt and her subsequent column were accepted for presentation at the Rutgers University gathering of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society.
"I decided to turn to the principles of evolutionary psychology and signaling theory to create a meme [author Richard Dawkins' term for ideas that spread rapidly across cultures] that would leap out from the background and spread like lice through an elementary school," Alkon informed the assembled anthropologists, primatologists and evolutionary psychologists at Rutgers.
She did not tell the academics, or her readers, that she drives a $3,500, 1970 Mercedes-Benz that gets "zero miles per gallon."
Her original column is answered here by Robert Nelson, who believes firmly that Rutgers has a sissy football team.
Her nasty little cards get quite a reaction from gas-guzzlers.
By Amy Alkon
If you have a small penis, I can feel quietly sorry for you. If, however, you have a small penis and compensate by driving an SUV the size of the USS Nimitz, I loathe you and I want you to know. I printed up a small card to put on the windshields of aircraft-carrier-size new SUVs around Venice, where I live and write a syndicated advice column. In case I missed yours, here it is:
"Road-Hogging, Gas-Guzzling, Air-Fouling Vulgarian! Clearly you have an extremely small penis, or you wouldn't drive such a monstrosity. For the adequately endowed, there are hybrids or electrics. 310-798-1817."
The abuse continues at the phone number on the card. There's a recording. Some crazy woman (that would be me) is talking very fast:
"Piggy, piggy, piggy. If you can afford one of those huge new SUVs, you can afford something that doesn't suck all of the air out of the planet and spit it back black. Um, even if you don't drive an electric car, you can get some stylish little sports car that doesn't just chew up the planet. Um, it's really creepy that you drive that thing and I just wanted to let you know."
As you might expect, I got a lot of messages letting me know what I could do with my little cards. Many callers berated me for being wrong about their SUV. Many more berated me for being wrong about their penis.
Man No. 1: You're a freak.
Man No. 2: That is so funny. You are such a loser. I had to call to hear what you were about. (He laughs.)
Man No. 3: I just want you to know that my penis is huge. It is really, really, really big. And I bitterly resent that insult to my precious manhood.
Man No. 4: I have this strange card on my very large automobile. I don't have an extremely small penis. I mean, currently my penis is extremely small because it's not in your fucking mouth. I'm sure that won't be hard to do since you have such a big fucking mouth. You should be able to fit my extremely small penis in there.
If it isn't Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Man No. 5: What about all the women and the single mothers, especially the single mothers, that drive SUVs and haul all the children around? I guess if we were to interpret this for them, we would have to say you felt that they had small, dry, inadequate vaginas. Give me a break.
No, I would imagine that they have big, dry, inadequate vaginas. The penis on the card -- it's a metaphorical small penis. Sadly, the card wasn't big enough for me to be genitally inclusive. Now that we've covered my tendency toward genital discrimination, what do you have against single mothers? (Apart from their big, dry, inadequate vaginas.)
Woman No. 1: Hi, my name is Kimberly and I have four children. And I can't drive a sports car because that just doesn't work for a big family. And I think that you are absolutely vulgar and disgusting . . . that you exercise your right to free speech by trying to make other people feel bad. What is wrong with you? I have no penis. I have a luscious vagina. And I think you should, like, shove all these cute little cards up your ass, okay? Have a nice day. (Kimberly squeals with delight.)