Thursday, July 25, 2002

Visualized Whirled Peas

In general, I’m not a fan of bumper stickers. I like to read snarky ones on the mall kiosk, because I find snarkiness funny. But on the highway, I don’t care that you’re pro-choice and you vote. After all, I’m pro-life and a reckless driver. The fact that your college has a better sports program than mine is jim-dandy with me, but the 23 other school stickers that represent every place ever visited by you, your spouse, your kids and enough cousins to staff good size wedding in certain parts of Vermont, tells me a lot more about you than where you went to school.

“Free Tibet!” is a great idea, I suppose, but I keep looking on the side panels of the cars for an explanation of how to accomplish it. And if Richard Gere weren’t such a big fan of the Dalai Lama’s, would the People’s Republic of Cambridge even know where Tibet is? “Question Authority” is really kind of ironic as a bumper sticker, printed in batches of 10,000. And, anyway, if it’s “supposed” to be on upside down, who’s the real rebel, the one who puts it on that way, or the one who puts it on right side up?

“I brake for” anything stickers are essentially a way of communicating to other commuters that, if the highway were high school, the chess club would be meeting in that lane. “I heart my dog or cat" says you have no children and desperately regret it, and also that you spend waaaaaaaay too much on pet care products.

“My child is an honor student at Pompous Windbag Middle School” is kind of annoying, but I mostly let those slide, since the school sends those home, and what parent can refuse to put it on the car once it comes out of the backpack with an enormous grin. “My child was citizen of the month,” however, is kind of like the statuette of the kid with the bowling ball from “Everybody Gets a Trophy Night” at Penny Lanes bowling alley.

“Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty” is just one of those ideas that in theory I should have no problem with, but every time I meet the person with that sticker on the car I wind up working extraordinarily hard at not punching the self-righteous twit in the mouth. Repeatedly.

“This car climbed Mount Washington!” Whoop-de-damn-do. Did you get a good cardio workout pumping the gas? “Follow me to [Restaurant]!” Why? So you can call the police to report a stalker?

“Got Jesus?” and other associated Christian stickers likewise give me the creeps, for the same reason people who announce their salvation do. “Do you know why I drive a Lexus ES 300? Jesus got it for me. Seriously. Until I found the Lord, I couldn’t afford anything better than an Impala.” (For some reason, the Jesus sticker on the 1982 Toyota doesn’t bother me half as much.) At the other end of the spectrum, the Darwin Fish with legs, which I once found modestly amusing, is just plain dumb. People who think that evolution as such and Christianity as such are mutually exclusive shouldn’t be allowed to operate heavy machinery. (I did see one today, though, that does seem to have some value to it: “No Jesus, no peace.” Clever, and even a syllogism, though compressed. And it said nothing about the moral worth of the driver. But it will still probably bug me after I see it 30 or 40 times.)

What I don’t like about most bumper stickers is the idea that life can be reduced to a slogan. “Free Tibet!” Grand. How? I guarantee you if the 101st Airborne jumps into Tibet tomorrow to liberate it, the same people with those stickers on their cars will be burning flags and chanting “No blood for Yetis!” ten minutes after Peter Jennings finishes condemning American aggression. “Save Fenway Park!” I could get behind if anyone had a clear means of doing so that would ensure my posterior was not numb by the 7th Inning Stretch in those teeny seats.

But life is not something that can be answered by slogans. Christianity is on the face of it one of the simplest ideas ever, and look at how many words have been written trying to explain it. Look at how many words I’ve written on this blog since May, for goodness’ sake. A good general rule of thumb is, if you can fit your philosophy onto a bumper sticker, get a new philosophy. (Actually, that's a philosophy itself, and it would fit. Someone call a printer!)

Of course, with that boundless human capacity to grant oneself exemptions to rules one demands be imposed on others, I have allowed myself one non-parking-related sticker on my car. It’s not very big, and it’s shaped like wings. It is for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots' Association, and it tells other pilots that we are brothers. Maybe when we get to the airport we can give the secret handshake, and laugh at all the wingless freaks.


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