Bumper Stickers and Decals: What Are They Actually Saying?
It happened again. I was slowly making my way through afternoon traffic when, out of the blue, somebody started yelling at me. They admonished me for my choices and screamed out their preferences. "Why," I thought, "why must people cover the back of their cars with bumper stickers?" Okay, so, I should clarify. No one was actually yelling at me but, forced to drive behind this person for several miles in bumper to bumper traffic, it certainly seemed like they were. When I see these kind of vehicles, I wonder: Are people who use bumper stickers passive-aggressive or are they just plain aggressive?
Bumper Stickers as Expression
Putting bumper stickers on your vehicle doesn't make a person obnoxious by default. In fact, many are a humorous expression of who the driver is. I asked my friends to send me some of their favorite stickers and received quite a few.
- "You Just Got Passed By a Girl." This sticker was submitted by a friend from New Mexico. "Love passing guys, hot rodding in my Mini Cooper," she added.
- "I would tell you to go to Hell but I work there and I don't want to see you everyday!" A high school friend shared that one with me. I like it. It's funny and to the point.
- Everyone has seen the vehicles sporting the "My kid is an honor student at (insert school name)." To me, it seems like they're bragging. So it's no surprise that I often follow vehicles sporting this bumper sticker: "My dog is smarter than your honor student." Of course there are variations on the theme. My cousin likes one that says "My kid beat up your honor student." "I know it's wrong, but I still laugh about it," she said.
- Two funny ones seen around the Seattle Area: "Jesus is coming. Look busy" and "You're just jealous the voices only talk to me".
Here's a response to those stick figure family decals you see everywhere.
Political and Social Statements
Very often, people express their political and social views on the back of their vehicles. And the side. And the other side. So, hurray for us. We get to view their opinions from every angle. Some of these are funny and some are supportive of a political cause. Funny and supportive don't usually irritate other drivers. At some point, though, people tend to cross the line.
Some folks cross the line with aggressive statements. If they support a presidential candidate, they may place a decal with the candidate's name. That's good. It's America. We all have the right to express ourselves. Others, however, can't stop at just a support a certain candidate sticker. They have to add negative jabs about their opponents. Throw on some hot button issue stickers, making sure to cover every inch of the back of the vehicle, and you now have a bonafide Verbal Assault Vehicle. Of course it's still the driver's privilege to be able to say whatever they want but, it's also a privilege of others to think that driver is kind of a jerk. One of my favorite comedians, Demetri Martin, said it best: "A lot of people don't like bumper stickers. I don't mind bumper stickers. To me a bumper sticker is a shortcut. It's like a little sign that says, hey, let's never hang out."
Coating an entire vehicle with polarizing stickers is like pestering or nagging someone. Here's an example of a typical conversation I have with cars in my area:
Car: "Obama 2012"
Me: "Okay. Thanks for letting me know who you want elected."
Car: "Tea Party sounds so much nicer than 'Mob of racists and homophobes'."
Me: "Well, that's extreme. And inaccurate. Why do you have to be so mean?"
Car: "Palin: Like an idiot only DUMBER."
Me: "Sheesh. Now, that is really unkind. Name-calling. I'm starting to think you are really not a nice person."
Car: "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention....Abortions send babies to God faster...Don't pray in my school and I won't think in your church."
Me: "Gah! I just need to get to the grocery store to buy some milk and eggs, but thank you for letting me know ahead of time that we should not be friends."
The conversation can go in the opposite direction, too. There are a lot of extreme conservative cars that have some not-so-nice things to say. I rarely see them in my area, though. Quite frankly, I don't want anyone yelling at me with their stickers, regardless of the message. Nagging doesn't make people change their minds about issues. If anything, it causes drivers to put up a wall. For me personally, my motto is "You're not the boss of me," so when someone tries to force an agenda on me I dig in my heels. After all, if it was such a wonderful agenda, then everyone would see it as such and there would be no need for nagging.
Aggressive for a cause?
It's shocking how very nice people can become aggressive and nasty when they are arguing for a cause. The cause can be religious, political, environmental, or anything else but for some reason, people tend to get mean when supporting these causes. So that leads me to question: Is it okay to be confrontational and aggressive if it's for a cause? A lot of people think it is, but I do not. How many people do you know who would change their mind if someone yelled at them and called them names? Would they suddenly say, "Oh. You are right. I am an idiot. Thanks for saving me." Many bumper sticker fans venture into that territory. They get overly aggressive for their causes.
Political bumper stickers. Humor with a bit of a bite to it.
Stickers with personal meaning.
Not all bumper stickers are humorous or inflammatory. Some have deep, personal meaning to drivers. Sadly, I often see custom decals placed in memory of a child or family member who were killed in motor vehicle accidents. These heart-wrenching expressions often serve as a reminder to other drivers to not drink and drive, run stop lights, or speed through neighborhood streets. Life is precious and we must all be responsible when operating a motor vehicle. Other stickers may say things like "Breast Cancer Survivor". They serve as a reminder to women to get their mammograms.
A friend of mine has a very personal sticker on his motorcycle: "Crime Victims Say Catch & Release Is For Fish Not Felons". His very good friend was murdered by a felon. The Department of Corrections had identified this felon as someone likely to commit violence but they still released him. The bumper sticker is from a support group my friend now needs to attend in an attempt to move beyond the feelings of anger he harbors towards this killer and the justice system that didn't stop him. The crime victim on this sticker is not just the young man who was gunned down, but the people who loved him and were left behind to wonder why such a heinous act was allowed to happen. He doesn't coat his bike with long-winded diatribes. There's just one simple message. In that context, it has to make people think.
Political preferences expressed via sticking things on an automobile.
What are they actually saying?
What are bumper stickers actually saying? Many things. They reflect a person's sense of humor, their pain, their anger and their frustration. The purpose of some is to deliver a message. The purpose of others is to cause controversy or they are a passive way to express their aggressive feelings. For some, the purpose is that they just enjoy collecting bumper stickers. Whatever the stickers are saying, it is a reflection of who the driver is. A statement of their individuality. I appreciate everybody's individuality. Just as long as they don't yell at me about it while I'm on my way to the grocery store.
©Denise Mai, April 4, 2012. All rights reserved.
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