A Middle Eastern friend of mine recently told me a story about cigarette warning labels. She told me that, throughout the Arabic-speaking world, warnings which threatened cancer, birth defects, etc. had been completely ignored for years. Eventually, somebody had the idea to change the warnings to say that cigarettes caused impotence, and tobacco sales plummeted. Even those who knew better were too embarrassed to buy cigarettes with such a warning.
This story popped into my head last week when I saw a Hummer H2 with "I have a small penis" written in the dirt on the rear windshield, presumably done by someone other than the owner. Cars have become politicized, and vehicles which get poor mileage have become objects of hate, but the idea that a man's car can also be a window into his trousers is much older than the term "carbon footprint". It all started with the Jaguar E-Type, the shape of which was, to be fair, somewhat phallic. Not Joe Camel phallic, but still phallic.
Jokes were made that the reason why someone would want to own something that looked like a giant penis was because their own wasn't quite as giant as they would like. There is a logic, in strict Freudian terms, to such a statement, but people quickly lost sight of why such jokes were being made. The joke was obviously too good (dick jokes are funny) to be applied to just the E-Type, so the desire to overcompensate soon became associated with the E-Type's sporting nature, rather than its shape. This allowed assumptions to be made about millions more men, and I'd bet that you've even heard such a joke told by purported enthusiasts.
It's hardly surprising that the joke has made the jump to SUV's (note: if your penis looks like an H2, go to a doctor). The idea that someone would buy something big (even if it lacks the requisite shape) to compensate for something else being small is the kind of logic which works well with stupid people. I've never owned an SUV or any of the often-mocked sports cars (just so we're clear that this isn't simply me feeling defensive), but I've driven quite a lot of both, enough of both to know that the whole idea is completely absurd. It is simply an infantile joke which has been repeated so many times that people think they should take it seriously.
At the height of the SUV trend, the percentage of big high-riders being bought by women was higher than any other vehicle type; but the same people who will tell you that a man buying such a vehicle is overcompensating will usually backtrack when asked if the same Freudian principal could be applied to women. The idea that a large or powerful thing is being used to compensate is a principal applied only to vehicles and only if their owners are male. Logic would dictate that, since there is no actual relation between our genitals and our cars, the same system must be applied to determine our reason for buying anything.
That would be difficult though, and cars are always an easy target. Snide comments about small penises are something you hear quite a bit more often in recent years, thanks to the hatred generated by SUV's, but it doesn't even seem to be as well thought out as being hack pop psychology. These comments seem to have a lot more in common with those Arabic cigarette warning labels. If you want someone to stop doing something, just say that activity says something bad about their penis.