Take care because we care
Eyeball Cards: The Art Of British CB Radio Culture by William Hogan and David Titlow offers a visual history of a particularly esoteric phenomenon, the production of “eyeball cards” CB radio enthusiasts shared with each other when they met in person.
As the essay that accompanies the book explains, CB radio became a huge activity in the UK in the 1970s. “Breakers” would communicate with one another, sharing news, gossip and generally reaching out to one another.
However, the activity was within a legal grey area – while you could legally own a CB radio set, it was illegal to broadcast on one until 1981. And so a whole subculture developed as breakers looked to protect their identity and location, in order to avoid the police and possible confiscation of their kit.
Breakers took on pseudonyms and developed a slang for their locations. A whole language emerged. They also began to create local clubs (often to help breakers who had encountered the law to get back broadcasting) and then arrange face-to-face meetings. Eyeball cards were produced to share those pseudonyms, so at the meeting everyone could swap cards and have a record of who they had met.
The eyeball cards are not only a relic of a lost subculture, they are also an example of self-publishing, of design from the margins. The cards are sometimes bawdy, sometimes obscure, sometimes wilfully homemade, sometimes rather slick – for a while a whole sub-industry grew for designing and printing eyeball cards.
The book feels like more than an historical document though. It shows there has always been a very human impulse to reinvent oneself, to take on a persona, to create new languages, to be who you want to be rather than who people think you are.
It also illustrates the value of culture(s) outside the mainstream. CB radio lost its vibrancy and relevancy once it was officially sanctioned. The magic was gone.
Sometimes I find the age of transparency in social media a little sad. By publicly being ourselves we risk making ourselves a brand, of presenting a muted, safe version of ourselves.
I wonder if the more “public” we are, the more we actually hold back on who we really are. You are only a Google search away for a potential employer. The social anxieties of the “real” world permeate the online world. The sterility of LinkedIn is a glimpse of the death of social media.
We are more than a bullet-pointed list of attributes to get our next job or a pithy pen-picture on a dating site to attract our next partner.
Anonymity has its challenges, has its obvious downsides. But I also think pseudonyms can give us a greater freedom – to try new things, to be more honest, to be creative in who we are. To experiment.
There are many facets to our personalities anyway – we probably act differently in our workplaces to our home, with old friends or new.
The more we make *insert actual name* an online persona, the more we narrow ourselves, compressing our character into something more palatable but less true.
These eyeball cards are a reminder that you can be whoever you want to be. They are a reminder that this kind of creativity can be a means of reaching out to other human beings, of escaping the fakery of our day-to-day lives through our own artifice – something that we actually have some control over. A fiction that holds a certain truth.
All this talk about CB radios and breakers naturally got me thinking about CW McCall, the singer behind all those novelty trucker hits (which were sometimes adapted into movies) like “Convoy” and “Wolf Creek Pass” from the 1970s.
Interestingly, “CW McCall” is really the pseudonym for two distinct, unique people…one started as an advertising executive and became a politician after McCall’s heyday; the other went on to lead the new agey music ensemble Mannheim Steamroller. I figure they’re all authentic creations in their own way.
Nice story! More and more layers then.
I think those songs and movies, along with TV like the Dukes of Hazzard, made CB Radio appear cool and outlaw. I think here in the UK we often look across the Atlantic for the new and exciting, and this was just one example.
“Authentic” was, I think, the word I was struggling towards. It is an odd and slippery concept, but I think it applies here.
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I thought a lot about this post while I was driving around yesterday and today. You should explore this more!! I’d read it
I’ll see what I can do! I’m going lots of thinking about what to write and where, so will see where this takes me…
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Write drunk, edit sober. Or is is write sober, edit drunk?
I’ll try both and report back!
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