“Bumper stickers are a simple way for people to literally take their voices to the street without actually speaking.” — Jack Bowen, author of “If You Can Read This — the Philosophy of Bumper Stickers.”
The guy riding my tail on the Ventura Freeway last week was taking his voice to the street loud and clear when he leaned on his car horn and let me have it. I’d have moved over into the right lane, but I was already there.
He finally blew by me, and the last thing I saw was his bumper sticker — “Hillary for Prison 2016.” A few miles later a woman driving a Prius passed me with a “Deport Trump” sticker.
And I’m thinking, whatever happened to “I Like Ike” — the first political bumper sticker from the 1952 presidential election?
When did we turn from liking our candidates to trashing the other guy’s? For every driver who wants to “Make America Great Again,” there’s another who thinks Trump’s “Making America Hate Again.” Take your pick.
A 2008 study by Colorado State University researchers found that people who put bumper stickers on their cars tend to be more “aggressive, territorial drivers.”
I buy that. It’s an ego thing. They actually think other motorists care what they think or who they voted for. All I care is that they get off my rear end when I’m going 65.
In a 2012 interview with The New York Times Magazine, Jack Bowen, author of “If You Can Read This” summed it up this way: “Most messages are aggressive. There’s this sort of screaming back and forth, and you’re much more likely to scream ‘your candidate is lame’ than ‘my candidate is good.’
“Most interesting to me (about the 2008 study) is that it didn’t matter what the bumper sticker said – all of them were connected with road rage. The people who had “Practice Random Acts of Kindness’ bumper stickers were just as likely to rage as the ‘My Student Beat Up Your Honor Student’ people,” Bowen said.
Bumper stickers are on the decline in this country, not because we’re tired of screaming our views without actually speaking, but because newer cars don’t have bumpers anymore. People still want to give you a piece of their mind.
I blame it on a guy named Wayne Baker, a salty type who lived in Alabama and wasn’t above cussing on his bumper stickers.
In a 1991 court decision, a judge ruled that Baker could cuss as much as he wanted on his car because bumper stickers were an essential component of freedom of speech.
“For those citizens without wealth and power, a bumper sticker may be one of the few means available to convey a message to the public audience,” the judge said.
Today, with social media, we can convey all the inane messages we want without pulling out of our driveway.
There are still some “Feel the Bern” bumper stickers around, but they’re usually on Priuses, and really, who takes those people seriously? I drove a Prius for 10 years and all I talked about ad nauseam at parties was the gas mileage I was getting. I bored myself to death.
A few “Hillary For President” bumper stickers can still be sighted, but that’s like drawing a bull’s-eye on your car in the mall parking lot, screaming “key me.”
I see a lot of bumper sticker support for law enforcement, babies on board and proud parents whose teenager made the honor role at juvenile hall, but not too many Trumps.
Maybe it’s because their candidate won, and they don’t want to gloat anymore, but that doesn’t really fly. This country has never had a president who wanted to gloat more than “The Donald.” He’s like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.” He keeps reliving Nov. 8, 2016.
It’s going to be interesting to see how nasty things get when we take our voices to the street on our car bumpers in the 2020 presidential elections.
Personally, I don’t care who you road rage for or against — just, please, let me have my right lane back.
Dennis McCarthy’s column appears on Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.