Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bumper stickers

I've always been fascinated by the way people attempt to express themselves with their cars. We are a car culture, of course, so our automobiles have become both second living-rooms and a way to telegraph our status. I especially love the bumper stickers, the placards, the antenna balls. People use them to alert the world to their specialness, their individuality. But of course, trying to express yourself in shorthand with a sticker on your car, a sticker that at least a million other people have, is a bit of a lost cause.

It can be well-done, of course. My friend, Annemarie, has a parody of that woman's pornographic figure that you see on mud-flaps of semis morphed into a woman in a skirt reading a book. And I have to say that I was proud to be one of the first to have an Obama sticker, back in the early days of the Obama-Clinton battle. For awhile in Marin, there was someone going around plastering bumper-stickers on SUV's reading "My car is killing the earth". I had a boyfriend years ago, a guy in his twenties, that had a sticker reading "Sexy Grandpa". It was somehow very fitting. Maybe that's why that relationship didn't stand the test of time.

There's always some kind of trend happening in car decoration. Years ago it was those "Baby on Board" signs, which I found confusing. So if my car is veering out of control, I'm not going to hit your car with the baby in it but instead, in my leisure, choose the single guy in the Datsun next to you?

Then there were the small, metal fish ornaments. At first, I thought they indicated that a fisherman was driving. It was a good year before I was informed that the fish was a symbol of Jesus. Over time, of course, the fish got legs and a Darwin label.

I've noticed, actually, that there's a cycle to these trends. They start in earnest, become more popular and more personalized and then finally are parodied. Like the "My child is..." bumper stickers. The first ones said, for instance, "My child is on the honor roll at Mill Valley Middle School." The next generation, as people got less ambitious, said something like "My child is a participating student at Old Mill School". Then you got the jokes. "My kid knocked up your honor student". "My kid kicked your honor student's ass". "My child is an honor student at the state correctional facility."

There was the "Got Milk?" commercial which spawned all kinds of clever stickers. "Got Jesus?" "Got twins?" "Got chi?" "Got mullet?" "Got hula?" "Got hope?" Over time, they got very specific. "Got colonics?" "Got kombucha?" "Got stem-cells?" It's so over done that every time I see one I think, "Got an idiot driving the car?"

There are the yellow antenna balls that started out as a simple happy face. Now the little yellow guy can be Santa, a cowgirl, a policeman, a princess, a devil or a football player for any team under the sun.

There are, of course, the personalized license plates. I had a rule when I was single that I wouldn't date a guy with a vanity plate. Because that person clearly took themselves too seriously. A bit harsh, I suppose, but you've got to do something to narrow the field. The best is when the plate is paired with a personalized license plate frame. Like a frame that says "Riley and Madison's..." and a plate that reads "HOTMAMA".

Ben and I have even had our own ideas for bumper stickers over the years. Ben came up with "Jesus!". It could be devotional or a curse, depending on your point of view.

The latest trend are the family stickers on the bottom left corner of the back window. At first, it was simple figures of varying sizes representing Dad, Mom and however many kids. Occasionally, I've seen a long line of kids. Like six. I sidle up to the driver to size him up, thinking what kind of maniac has six kids? Are they counting nieces and nephews or what? I wonder how they fit all those kids in that car. Lately, these stickers have been getting more customized. You get a kid riding a skateboard, playing the guitar, skiing. There are dogs, cats, rabbits.

Wouldn't it be awesome - and tasteless - to have a white man riding a mountain bike, a white woman pushing a vacuum, a medium-sized white girl with her nose in a book, a smaller white girl with a baby-doll under one arm, reaching out to hit a little black boy with an Afro. His mouth is open in a howl and he's kicking at his sister. That would be self-expression. The blog in pictures.


  1. Oh, I love it! I could just picture your bumper sticker!! Great post.


  2. saw a van that needed a serious wash and on the back window it said "I wish my wife was a dirty as this van" - funny.
    see you soon.

  3. Liz,

    Dana and I had a simular idea during one road trip and we could not stop giggling. That Hannukah, I recieved my family bumper sticker for the window...it's the figure of a lady and 9 cats.