January 28, 2011

Deviant While Driving?

todd_S_2010aBy Todd Schoepflin

A few years ago while walking through my neighborhood I was surprised by a vehicle I noticed in somebody’s driveway. It was a hearse that was meant for personal use. How did I know that it wasn’t being used in a professional way? The words “Keep Honking, You’re Next” were painted on the hearse. Because this is a family-friendly website, I doctored the picture to eliminate an expletive, but I’m sure you can guess what it is. I was fascinated by the notion of someone driving around a hearse for everyday transportation. It got me thinking: Can the car you drive make you deviant? clip_image002

I like to show this picture to my students and ask whether they would drive the hearse. I ask this knowing that not all of my students have cars, and one might think that a student would take any car they could get. I even ask if they would drive it if it was given to them for free. Typically, in a roomful of forty students, two or three say they would drive it. Then I ask them to consider what their parents and friends would say. I do this to get them thinking about the reactions they would receive. It’s essential to take reactions into account when trying to determine if something is deviant.

Even if offered a free hearse, I think most people would refuse, partly because they’d be afraid of the reactions they would encounter. Put me in that group. If I couldn’t afford a “normal” car and someone offered me a free hearse, I’d decline. I couldn’t deal with the stares I’d receive.

I don’t know how common it is for people to drive a hearse as their daily mode of transportation, but I actually happened upon another hearse during a recent visit to my parents’ house. Parked on my parents’ street was a hearse with a Ghostbusters magnet! Who in the world was driving a hearse in my old neighborhood, I wondered?

My father, who knows everybody’s business on the street, told me it belonged to my friend Bill. I grew up next door to Bill, and I’ve known him since I was five-years-old. I don’t see him much anymore because he lives a few hours from where we grew up. So I caught him by e-mail to inquire about his hearse. I told him I wanted to write about his hearse as a possible example of deviant behavior. I explained that sociologists generally don’t use the word “deviant” as an insult. Rather, we use it to indicate unconventional behavior that may generate negative reactions. I asked him several questions:

1. Of all the vehicles to drive, why a hearse?

2. Have you encountered any negative reactions while driving it? For example, a stare or a dirty look?

3. What would happen if you picked up someone for a date in the hearse? Has this happened? What was the reaction of your date?

4. What do friends and family members say about your hearse?
5. Have you driven it to work? What were some reactions you received?

Bill replied that he was looking for a car to use in the winter. He has a Camaro that doesn’t handle the ice and snow. His plan to buy a “regular” vehicle (a Subaru) fell through. So, with a $1,000 budget, he searched Craigslist and found the hearse. He liked that it was a Buick LeSabre—he once owned one so it brought back fond memories. When he mentioned to his parents that he was thinking about purchasing a hearse, his mother said “Oh honey, don’t buy a hearse.” But the bottom line was that the car ran well and he could afford it, so the deal was done.

clip_image002[5]Bill acknowledged that the thought occurred to him that it was a weird vehicle to drive. But he likes the space it has to offer—he described it as a pickup truck with a cab on it, just a little creepier. He’s already thinking ahead to funny things that he can do for Halloween next year.

And, as a friend suggested to him, it would make for an awesome tailgating vehicle at a Buffalo Bills game (Trust me when I tell you that people bring all kinds of unique vehicles to the parking lots outside the Bills stadium. There’s a huge party scene in the parking lots before every Bills game). Overall, Bill views it as a practical multi-use vehicle; easy to move stuff and perfect to have during mountain-biking season. “The fact that it was used to transport corpses does not bother me,” Bill said, “I once dated a girl who became a mortician.”

As far as reactions, Bill did notice a woman stop in her tracks and stare the first time he drove it to work. While driving, two people have given him thumbs up. Several people have stopped him in parking lots to chat with him and quote lines from Ghostbusters. Three people have actually offered to buy the hearse (One of them likes to purchase unusual vehicles, including an old school bus). Two friends have made comments like “Every guy wants to own a car like this. And you can certainly pull it off.” One of his brothers loves it, his mother is now okay with it, and his father likes it. His nieces and nephews like it too (That doesn’t surprise me considering that children are less confined by convention compared with adults). In answer to my question about dating, he said that a woman he’s dating has friends who think its “cool as hell” that he drives a hearse.

Given that Bill has received many positive reactions, I had to question my assumption that driving a hearse is deviant behavior. Maybe driving a hearse isn’t as deviant as I initially thought it was. After all, if one’s behavior is met with approval rather than disapproval, then we are not in the deviance arena. I offered Bill a theory about some of the positive reactions he received: maybe it’s the case that some people actually respect the choice of an unconventional vehicle. Could it be that conformists have a certain amount of respect for nonconformists? That’s where I fit, anyway. For the most part I’m a “play by the norms” guy who likes it when someone else steps out of line (within reason, which is a subjective judgment).

With a few days to think things through, Bill sent me a message with an example of a negative reaction. He called a repair shop to make an appointment for a 1987 Buick LeSabre but didn’t mention it was a hearse. When he arrived for the appointment, the guy said “You didn’t tell me it was a dead person machine.” Also, when one of Bill’s friends takes the hearse to do some maintenance to it, he drives on back roads so that no one sees him.

Hmmm, I guess it’s a matter of mixed reactions, a lot of which are positive. I would conclude that driving a hearse is mildly deviant. It’s certainly a

long way from serious forms of deviance. I’d have to interview a lot more hearse drivers in order to learn about their experiences and to form a stronger opinion. I still think most people would be reluctant to drive a hearse and those who do will eventually encounter disapproval from others. Let’s put it this way. Suppose there was a deviance scale, with 1 being barely deviant and 10 being extremely deviant. I’d score driving a hearse as a 3. How about you?

I want to restate that sociologists don’t use the term “deviant” as a pejorative. Although “deviant” has a negative connotation in common usage, that’s not what sociologists intend when they apply the term. Both as a sociologist and as Bill’s friend, I don’t think he’s a “freak” for driving a hearse. But I bet some people do (for instance, strangers who might think that but don’t say anything to him, in which case he’s not aware of their reactions). Well, what do you think? Would you drive a hearse?


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Driving a Hearse seems very strange to me and seems like it would get more attention brought to it then i would like. I perfer to stay out of the spot light so i would not drive a hearse. I do though know some people that i think would like owning one. Its an interesting thought but to out there for me.

A kid who went to my high school drove a hearse. Funny site to see in the school parking lot everyday.

I think this is a great example of something that might be deviant to some people, and completely normal for others. It's interesting to me that most of the people which he encountered while driving the hearse had a positive reaction to it. I guess you don't really know what is considered deviant until someone actually does it.

I have never seen anyone driving a hearse, and I never expected to. Maybe that person was looking to get attention from driving that vehicle; why else are people deviant if it isn't for attention?

I do not think the car you drive should define who you are. Considering an individual a deviant for driving a hearse is a huge stretch. But I am curious if it has anything to do with the individual driving the vehicle, who would you consider more of a deviant. A middle-aged man driving a hearse or an elderly women?

I belong to a club of Halloween enthusiasts, and as you might guess, owning a hearse is the dream for most members of that sub-culture... although most would prefer an older model, say from the fifties or sixties.

I'm not sure how many use their hearses as daily drivers. I don't think I'd be bothered by sociological implications so much as practical ones, like gas mileage, massive blind spots in the rear-view, and cramped parking structures.

This post was very interesting, I agree with all the things that were said about people who drive hearses get stares, I even do it myself!

This was a very interesting article! I had a thought. Maybe it's your motive behind buying the hearse that determines your ranking on the deviant scale. If you were buying it out of pure need for an affordable vehicle that runs well (like your friend), then maybe you wouldn't necessarily be that high on the deviant scale. On the contrary, if you bought the hearse to stand out and make a statement, then your deviant rating could be higher. Something to think about I suppose. Thanks for sharing this story!

I picked this post because there is a family in our town that has a hearse as their family car. They have several little kids so I always see the hearse at the schools. I think the family is a little different and the car fits their personality. They all dress in black and look strange. The hearse has skeletons hanging from the windows and it has stange bumper stickers on it. I think they like to be different and that it is deviant in that they like to get a shocked reaction out of people. I think that fits into who they are because almost everything about them is a little odd. I find it interesting that there are more people who drive one too. I would not feel comfortable doing it. A hearse represents death and sadness to me.

In my opinion we can used deviant as one factor in driving, it is just a traditional and custom way of acts. It has nothing to do with driving. Just enjoyed and keep safe when driving!

This is a very interesting topic, especially with the perpetual worry of juvenile delinquency. I feel personally that a car (and the type, thereof) has nothing to do with deviancy, especially among teens - it's what they put on it.

At the beginning of this blog post, I was thinking to myself that there is no way I would ever drive a hearse if someone was to give me one for free, but as I was reading, it came to my realization, it’s just another car. It may not be a Mustang or a Lambo but it’s still just a car. So by the end of the blog post, I decided that if I was offered a free hearse, I would accept it and use it. Can’t really be too picky with the times being so hard. Deviants are what make our lives more exciting. And I am a proud deviant myself, but only to a small degree. On your scale I would be a 3 or a 4.

I never expected to hear about anyone driving a hearse, but thinking about it now, I guess it does make sense. It's just a vehicle, after all, with somewhat negative stereotypes placed on it. As long as it runs fine and the person driving it can live with driving it, I don't see an issue with it. Now, I don't know if I would drive a hearse, but that's more out of personal preference for vehicles, and I don't really like the way it looks.

@ Erin: You said, "I have never seen anyone driving a hearse, and I never expected to. Maybe that person was looking to get attention from driving that vehicle; why else are people deviant if it isn't for attention?"

I don't think all deviant behavior is intended to get attention. Sometimes, it's just how that person defines themselves or how they feel most comfortable. Deviant, in simpler terms means different. My way left liberal leanings would be considered deviant to most, definitely where I live now, but it's not for attention. It's just my belief system.

Dr. Schoepflin, there is no way I would drive a hearse. One, I think it would be difficult for me to park, but mostly because I wouldn't want to embarrass my children when I pick them up from school. I would agree with your assessment that it is mildly deviant, though.

If it were originally meant for something like having a car for the winter that can handle driving on the ice, then I wouldn't call it "weird". Well, at first glance, seeing a hearse does give a gloomy aura. We have to look at its surroundings first, though. If it has people, and/or other cars following it, then the gloomy feel may be valid. Otherwise, it maybe something else.

My friend drives a hearse with a skull and cross bones on the front and an inverted cross on the rearview. He also has animal furs over the seats. I love driving in the hearse with him and I can 100% without a doubt say you definitly get a lot of attention driving it. Mostly people laugh or grin etc, but sometimes people give really dirty looks or stare with their jaws dropped.

A hearse is only another vehicle. The connotations about this vehicle are those of the observer. People from another country where they don't use them wouldn't "get" why we view them differently than all other vehicles. Some young people especially want something different that will draw attention and shock their parents.

If this was the only vehicle available to you for some reason, I bet all of us would drive one in a pinch!

I found this article very interesting. At first when you were talking about it being deviant i was thinking that it definitely is, but when you talked about your friend Bill telling you peoples reaction to it it's almost not deviant at all.

I am a sociology major at the University of Central Florida and would like to thank you for posting this article. I am currently using it has a reference for a paper in my Deviant Behavior Class with Dr. Lynxwiller. Its nice to be able to write something that violates social norms rather something as easy as discussing crime.
-Liz (UCF Senior, GO KNIGHTS!)

@angela anderson
Haha looks like you received a bunch of attention driving yourself there after the bills game..


This is a very interesting article on social deviance! Initially when I read this article, I thought that there would be no way that I would drive a hearse, but after I thought about it, I realized it could be more abnormal and might actually take advantage of a cheap car. However, I feel like close friends and family would be more accepting of the social behavior as opposed to the general public because they would be aware of the personal antics of the individual and excuse the abnormal behavior. I'm sure that the random person in the parking lot of a grocery store who pulls up next to the hearse would be more judgmental of the car.

Driving a herse around is a deviant behavior. Most people in our society don't choose to drive around a herse which means this behavior is breaking a societal norm making it deviant.

The important thing when buying a hearse is making sure that the body is in good condition.

I drive a hearse to high school everyday. They are usually cheap, well maintained by funeral homes, and low mileage.
I actually bought it with the purpose of starting a small business. "Fun Earl's Ice Cream." It is actually a fully operational ice cream truck in the summer, and my regular transportation all year. It has more storage space than the pickup truck I sold to buy it, and it has some nice features that you wouldn't get on anything other than a Cadillac, (for the year). It's a 1992 Fleetwood up front, and it has a digital dash and nice leather seats. I couldn't be happier with a different vehicle. Most of my friends like the idea. I go to a high school with a lot of kids who got brand new vehicles from their parents, but I'm glad I was able to save up money for my cars.

My headmates and I recently got a hearse.
We're already considered weird, and we wanted a car with enough room to use as a little camper. Also, it was Julie's turn to pick a car and she's goth, so... we have a hearse.
Is it "devient"? I suppose so, but F normal. I see so many people who are all so similar, and some not so normal people who pretend to be normal and are devastated when others find out they're "strange". Us... No, we wear our strangeness like a damn pride flag! Enjoying life is more important to us than fitting in. Besides... the car repels boring people, and judgy people. We don't like boring or judgy people.

I don't think that driving a hearse id deviant simply because you are driving it. I doesn't matter what type of car it is, it is learned behavior that is sufficient to everyday life. Also it could be your typical occupation.

In regards to the rhetorical situation presented in this article, I don't understand why turning down a running vehicle (a luxury car like a Cadillac with loads of practical trunk space, especially) and opting to rely on walking, freeloading off family and friends for rides, or unclean, expensive, unpleasant public transportation that's often not available when you may need it, all because of negative reactions you may get, is the logical decision. Maybe you should psychoanalyze people who think like that.

Driving a herse around is a degenerate conduct. A great many people in our general public don't decide to drive around a herse which implies this conduct is breaking a cultural standard creation it deviant.The significant thing when purchasing a funeral wagon is ensuring that the body is in acceptable condition.

Recently an ambulance driver invited a girl for a ride and she refused. Did she take the driver to be a deviant?

I drive a Hearse and have for over 10. My friends and family all love it even my grandparents, and nobody treats me different. I have never even been pulled over. It is my daily driver and two other people in this small city have them as daily drivers. This sounds awfully close minded. It is a huge waste to just junk low mileage cars because they used to transport bodies. They are nice well built cars and no one judges me differently. My Doctor even loves to discus it every time i visit. People who have a problem with this car would have to be superstitious or close minded. It isn't like dead people just got tossed in the back. They were in caskets or urns. My favorite thing to do is to take my kids to a drive inn movie and sit in the back on the mattress. This reminds me of that poor dissabled college student that bought this car simple for the space in the back that isn't allowed to park at Her own apartment because the landlord is a stuperstisaus jerk. If we bought them and made them look like a station wagon no one would even know. I don't want to have to remodel my car just to make idiots happy.

Oh and my last comment is when i was a kid i say a hearse drive through a fast food drive thru and I asked my Mom "can you drive a retired Hearse like a regular car?" She said "Of course! This is America isn't it?" I said "Wow i know what car i am getting.

My Mom died recently and her last wishes was to have me carry her in my Hearse to the cemetery. Yesterday was her birthday and her burial. I was so proud to lead Her funeral prosesion!

P.s. Coroners do not transport bodies in Hearses. They use station wagons and Vans. The bodies are also only in body bags and could be old and decayed. How many people drive these retired vehicles and no one knows the morbid past? You could have even rode in one without your knowledge.

Did she take the driver to be a deviant?Recently an ambulance driver invited a girl for a ride and she refused.

A new term for me for driving. Glad to know this :P

I appreciate you for sharing this valuable information.

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