I've done the research. I'm having the nightmares.

4y ago

I’ve been to a few car shows now in America, and these have caught my eye a few times. The creepy little child ‘time out’ dolls leaning up against American cars, most often vehicles associated with Detroit and displayed by the older enthusiasts.

I’ve seen lots of things, and this thing I have only seen in America. I did ask a couple of people at a show but never found a very convincing answer. So I’ve spent some time on the internet researching this purely national phenomenon.
I started by sifting through forums and messaging boards and saw a lot of people asking the same question. But again, no real answers. The threads following the question rarely helped as most people seem to get the urge to kick them or set them on fire rather than understand why they exist. That’s fair enough, but I stuck with it and drilled deeper into research looking for the most plausible explanation.

I hope the week of messed up weird nightmares I’m in store for are going to be worth it.

This child has no face. Sleep well.

This child has no face. Sleep well.

One explanation that comes up is based around kids hating car shows. The doll is a pre-emptive strike against someones brat leaning against the owners pride and joy to sulk, cry, whine or throw a general tantrum. However, I’ve learned something from American car shows. I’ve learned that older American car enthusiasts generally like their Hawaiian shirts, a bit of gold jewelry and telling you what they think; Loudly. So when you take that into account, the idea sounds a little too passive aggressive for cigar smoking, revolver packin’ Tommy Bahama Man.

The other common theory is of parents with kids that have grown up and left the nest. The owner is making a status statement of years and years of car show dues paid. A symbolic declaration that they always get to car shows early, and will still be there at the end of the day – whether kids have a tantrum or not.

That’s plausible I guess. I suspect more people would know about it though, as the basis of the theory is telling people about status.
There is also a theory that it’s a guy way of bringing his wife’s hobby into things, and time out dolls do have a history outside of car shows. They are made by, or for, the kind of people that think having a kid in permanent time out in the corner, or up against the furniture, brightens up a house. Or they are appreciated people that think its funny to fool a guest with a fully dressed human shaped faceless doll with two unfinished hands stitched over where the eyes should be.
We’ve all experienced our own, or someone else’s, crazy weird aunt, so it’s plausible.

However, the one I do buy is that the time out dolls were co-opted from the nut-jobs, and started popping up in the 90’s at Hot Rod shows as the enthusiasts equivalent of the “Retired And Spending My Kids Inheritance” bumper sticker. The statement here being a bit more specific: all inheritance money has been spent on the car and kid is crying over it. It does make sense psychologically as a statement of mid life crisis rebellion. It is the kind of in-joke a niche enthusiast joke would make. And twenty something years is long enough for the origin of something like that to become cloudy and start to become forgotten.
I think that’s most likely, but It makes time out dolls no less creepy at all though. I’m going with that, and will just try to resist the urge to kick the damn things.

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Comments (4)

  • I attended many car shows with my dad growing up, mostly in Ohio. I've raised the very same question to my dad when i was young and his answer was this, like the old times kids would play hide in seek in the neighborhood and hide around or under cars. mostly in the 50's 60's and for most of the older people at car shows, its a past time there replicating.

      2 years ago
    • You know I have seen so many variations of answers as to the why we put Time Out Dolls on , in or around our cars. But this is as varied as there are people.

      For my wife and I we have a bear with a cloth on the hood cleaning the windshield as we spend a...

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        1 year ago
  • I am not sure I agree with any of those by themselves, but I also have no clue either. Seeing them probably on one or a two vehicles a month, I have the same reaction now as I did when I saw them the first time; I go to the next car. I think bringing the wife into it might be the most sound reason since it has lasted so long. I am sure it started off and caught on as a fad gaining attention, but I find them bizarre and creepy too. Perhaps, I will start asking, if I am brave enough.

      4 years ago