Friday, April 12, 2013

Bumper Stickers

I don’t drive very much. I have tried to arrange my life so I can walk, or bike, to almost everything I need. So maybe I just never noticed them.

Last week I flew to Raleigh North Carolina, rented a car, and drove to Asheville to see the Olmsted designed grounds at Biltmore. Although I would never drive through the Carolinas with New York plates (I’ve heard far too many horror stories) I figured I’d be all right with my rented NC car. It was a 4 hour drive.

You would think I would focus on the lovely backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. But no. Mostly I noticed bumper stickers. Seems like it is common practice to wear your politics and labels and opinions on your car there.* Some cars were literally papered in stickers. And nice cars too - not just stickers to cover a rust spot, like we did in our teens. (Do they get rust spots in the south? )

I saw a lot of Obama and Romney campaign stickers. No comments, just their names. Many similar stickers that I assumed were for local politicians. A lot of peace signs and fish symbols. And quite a few supporting a sport’s teams. Generally labels rather than opinions.

What really did surprise me though was the open vileness of some of the messages:

Gay rights? Gays have the right to die. (with bible verse I couldn’t read)

I sunk down lower in my seat

If I had known this I would have picked my own cotton (along with a picture of the Confederate flag)

I learned everything I need to know about evolution from the Holocaust

and on one truck -

The Bro and his Ho have got to go
Don’t Re-Nig in 2012

Seriously? People place these statements on their vehicles? Of course, I realized that if someone had said those things in a conversation, I would have been able to question them on their views. But a bumper sticker does not allow for public debate. And maybe that’s why people do it.

In fairness to North Carolinians, I also saw more liberal leaning stickers:
Why are Republicans so afraid of women?
I’m too poor to vote Republican.
And a many I support marriage equality slogans

So when I got home I started looking for bumper stickers around where I live. Not a one. Literally. A couple of NY Yankees decals. Window decals from colleges. But not one sticker that announced a political position or any other opinion. So I started to research the use of bumper stickers and found this:

Colorado State University researchers have recently concluded a study on driver behavior revealing something that may or may not be surprising to you: drivers who personalize their cars with bumper stickers, custom plates and other such markings are likely to be more aggressive and confrontational out on the road. It's all about marking your territory, say the CSU eggheads. When people use their rear bumper to, say, advertise who they voted for in the last three presidential elections (along with every associated platform issue), or brag about how smart their precious kids are, it's really the adhesive-based equivalent of what that next-door-neighbor's dog does when he lifts his leg on your gardenias.

As a side note, I was driving once with my sister who noted a window sticker that said:
My child is an honor student at...
Which she then interpreted as:  "My child is an effing nerd and will probably never laid."
Her equivalent of pissing back, I suppose.

I have such an issue when people have no scruples about publicly shaming, insulting and anonymously calling other people names via social media.  I suppose that bumper stickers were the precursor to the present day anonymous media that gives anyone a bully pulpit.   I should probably not be surprised that folks seem to have no reservations about sharing their opinions on their vehicles.  Bumper stickers, like all labels, are about declaration, not dialogue.

One writer observed, rather tongue in cheek:

"This topic isn't so important to me that I'm unwilling to sum up my views and air them to strangers in one sentence or less."

Which made me laugh.

Another writer wrote on the use of his bumper sticker:

I want nothing more than to piss off conservatives and this allows me to do so without having to actually, you know, confront anyone face to face.

And I think that comes close to the truth and what I find myself constantly bemoaning in today’s social media age.  I respect anyone’s right to have an opinion.  Even the really ugly opinions.  But at least have the courage to allow dialogue.

I share my politics, religion, position on reproductive rights, opinions on gun control, the death penalty, etc., with friends and family. I might even write an occasional blog post that may generate some controversy. And then conversation ensues. (Often heated around our dinner table). Or people are free to debate it in the comments, which I have never moderated. And each time I learn something about other’s perspectives. I may not agree, I may never agree, but I do become more able to understand why another person has such different view than mine.

But perhaps people are happy to be reduced to labels and stickers. It avoids having to actually do any of the work.  Like another writer observed:

Decorating your car with slogans and images is a lot like decorating your middle school locker. It’s not a reflection of who you are as much as it is a reflection of who you wish you were.

Which reminded me of another sticker I saw -

I am a Christian. My bumper sticker says so.

Unfortunately, just saying it, does not make it so.

* I would really love to know if bumper stickers are a regional thing. If you are so inclined would you drop me a note about the use of bumper stickers where you live?  Do you have any, and why?


  1. I do have a bumper sticker on my car for my hiking club. It is basically an advertisement hoping to draw in new members.

    I went for a walk at lunch and observed cars. You're right - no bumper stickers. Yet New York certainly has a lot of aggressive drivers.

    If that truck were to drive through NY, I think the truck, and the driver, would quietly disappear without a trace. I can't imagine living in a place where that kind of hatred is the norm.

  2. I agree that civil discourse has become extremely uncivil and that much of that has to do with the anonymity of the internet. We do all have much to learn from each other.

    Until people are willing to listen more than they want to yell at each other, I don't see any end to it.

  3. Plenty of bumper stickers out here in the PNW, but (not surprisingly) they are mostly declarations of love for beer, bicyling, natural foods, equal rights, Obama. Well, I should correct myself: here in PDX. When you get a little further afield the opinions and the stickers change.

    I agree with Sue. It's discouraging.

  4. Boston - plenty of bumper stickers - all variations of love the Red Sox/hate the Yankees. Some are funny but many are downright hateful.

  5. People here have bumper stickers - mostly hippie peace freak or Hawaii themed bumper stickers. Possibly to cover rust. Haha I have never seen the kinds of bumper stickers you saw on your drive. I don't have any bumper stickers, though I have thought of getting a rainbow one. There's a really cool one I've seen on several cars that has all the islands in rainbow colors (if that makes sense).

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  7. I read this post last week and just started to notice the bumper stickers. I live in a very conservative state and saw a few "Protect the Unborn" variations and a couple of "I'm Catholic and I Vote." Also many stickers I didn't know what they meant - just a name or a label. Also a lot of stick figure families on the back windows. Nothing as hateful as what you saw. I would say that maybe 1 out of every 20 vehicles had some kind of logo or slogan.