Friends, in a recent issue of National Review — August 24 — I had a piece called “Stick It to ’Em: A World of Bumper Stickers.” You know I always itch to say a little more. I’m going to “blow out” that piece in Impromptus today — give you essentially the same piece, but amplified, and maybe a little looser.
Anyway, hope you enjoy.
‐Bumper stickers were a backdrop of my growing up, for I come from a lefty town, and the Left seems to love a bumper sticker. As I think back on it, most of the stickers had to do with nuclear weapons, the Pentagon, and war. Reagan was the villain of the period, bent as he was on blowing up the earth.
You Can’t Hug a Child with Nuclear Arms, read one sticker. True, you can’t. But maybe a nuclear deterrent would help keep you and your child in the hugging business? Arms Are for Hugging, went a variation on this theme. And then there was One Nuclear Bomb Can Ruin Your Whole Day. Yes — which never led these folks to support missile defense, frustratingly. Indeed, they had a sticker that said, Don’t Militarize the Heavens.
Let us not forget that classic, It Will Be a Great Day When the Schools Have All the Money They Need and the Pentagon Has to Hold a Bake Sale. It took some doing to get all those words on one bumper sticker, but they managed. (The person behind you at a stoplight can read it, I guess.) Do you think that schools are mainly a local responsibility and the Pentagon a federal one? Well, then, you’re just a bigot and a warmonger, clearly.
I bet you “deny” climate change, too!
‐In my town, there was, of course, Think Globally, Act Locally. That meant, think about the Cold War and turn your town into a “nuclear-free zone,” for example. And make your town a “sister city” of some poor Nicaraguan town that the Sandinistas were brutalizing.
‐There was a sticker that went, If You Don’t Like Abortion, Don’t Have One. I thought a cheeky counter-sticker might go, If You Don’t Like Slavery, Don’t Own One.
‐People were not entirely without humor. There was a very common sticker that said, Visualize World Peace. This was turned into Visualize Whirled Peas. I always figured that the “peace people” were pretty cross about that.
‐For my twelfth-grade year, I went to a boarding school, and saw something that took my eyes a minute to adjust to: a conservative, or anti-Left, bumper sticker. It was mounted in the room of a classmate. It said, Fear the Government That Fears Your Gun. After my eyes adjusted, I realized that this was a shot against gun control. This was something weird under the sun!
By the way, my classmate soon outgrew his conservatism and went left.
‐We’re all supposed to deplore bumper-sticker language, simplistic as it is, but I remember something William F. Buckley Jr. said: Sometimes — not always, but every once in a while — big questions can be boiled down into bumper stickers. For example, Better Dead Than Red versus Better Red Than Dead.
‐I was in Washington, D.C., not long ago, and saw a car absolutely lousy with bumper stickers. Actually, it was a pickup truck, meaning that the entire tailgate was available, not just the bumper. There were about 50 stickers on the back of the truck — all of them left-wing, pretty much, but with a strong dose of Ron Paul. Sometimes, these things resist categorization, or invite multiple categorization.
And let me note that a pickup truck is not a vehicle associated with the Left. On the contrary. In 2010, when the Republican Scott Brown was running for Senate in Massachusetts, commentators on MSNBC suggested that the pickup truck he drove was meant to appeal to white racists.
In any case, the truck in D.C. had D.C. plates, but also several stickers relating to the West, particularly to Montana. I took a picture of the array, for study later. Are you up for a little tour?
‐Bring Our War $$ Home, said one sticker. Nearby was this chestnut: War Is Not the Answer. But sometimes it is, noted Bill Buckley. For instance, war put paid to the Nazis and the Japanese fascists.
How are you going to put down al-Qaeda, ISIS, and their like? Read ’em passages from Walden? Show them the “Coexist” sticker? Ply ’em with hookers? (Actually, that has a chance.)
The truck also had a sticker simply giving the address of InfoWars.com. This is the leading conspiracy-theory website in the country (where you can find, for example, material alleging that the moon landings were faked).
A more brightly colored sticker said, Code Pink: Women for Peace. They were prominent in the years of George W. Bush, but they went fairly quiet after Obama was sworn in, it seems to me.
‐The truck owner is not a fan of the incumbent president. One of his stickers shows a picture of W. and Obama. (One of her stickers? I somehow doubt it, but maybe.) The sticker then reads, Crimes Are Crimes No Matter Who Does Them. What’s our guy’s beef with Obama? He’s not a racist, is he?
Another sticker probably provides the answer: No Drones! It continues, Not in Their Countries, Not in Our Backyards. Amid the words is an image, with a red diagonal line through it. The image shows a drone firing a missile at a fleeing, desperate family, composed of father, mother, and daughter. I agree that drone strikes are problematic, with their collateral damage. But isn’t that image a little heteronormative? (Heteronormative: “denoting or relating to a world view that promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation.”)
By the way, this sticker is put out by Veterans for Peace — “exposing the true costs of war and militarism since 1985.” The group describes itself as “a global organization of Military Veterans and allies whose collective efforts are to build a culture of peace by using our experiences and lifting our voices.”
I don’t know for sure, but I would bet that the “allies” greatly outnumber the Military Veterans . . .
‐#NullifyNSA, reads a sticker. This calls for the abolition, or nullification, of the National Security Agency. The sticker comes from OffNow.org, whose slogan is Shut Down the Surveillance State. It occurs to me that, as someone who took a picture of this truck, I might well be regarded by the owner as part of the problem.
‐Then we have Free Bradley. This sticker is way, way out of date — virtually a hate crime. Bradley Manning was the U.S. Army soldier who gave thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks. He then revealed himself to be a “trans woman,” and is now known as Chelsea Manning. So, the bumper stickers and posters are Free Chelsea.
Should this truck be keyed — or burned — because it refers to our troubled traitor erroneously and insensitively?
‐Economic populism has its place with Banks Got Bailed, We Got Nailed! This sticker comes from the Union of Unemployed. But the truck has many more that concern industry and the environment . . .
‐Like Ban Fracking Now. There are two of those stickers, just for good measure. I wonder whether the truck owner has ever considered what more abundant energy does for the poor. He also has Truth Is Thicker Than Oil. You can see that oil is being portrayed as a demonic substance.
Protect Wild Utah, says another sticker. Does it need protection? From whom or what? The occasional car, or Mormons on a multi-day hike? Has a Mormon ever littered? There is also TWS. I imagine those initials don’t stand for The Weekly Standard. I’m guessing The Wildlife Society.
Another sticker says, No Smith River Mine. The Smith? It turns out to be a river in Montana, at whose headwaters a copper mine is proposed. Mines, bad. Headwaters, good! All my life, I’ve seen, Save What’s Left. (This truck does not have it, though, unless I’ve failed to notice.) Have you ever looked into the number of trees today versus the number of trees in the 19th century? Or the quality of waters today versus the quality in that previous century?
The facts are amazing. But people resist learning them, I think, because they want to hang on to the myth, the cause — the religion in which they are steeped. You know?
Here’s another one: Monsanto Is Destroying Our Future. The destroyer is an agri-giant, whose biotechnology is anathema to the Left, and to a strain of the Right. A companion sticker reads, No Farms, No Food. It does not oppose farms and food. It’s meant to say, “Without farming as we once knew it, we will not have food.”
‐The pickup has a few foreign concerns, or causes. There is a sticker of the South African flag — reflecting due satisfaction with the end of apartheid. There is a sticker that says, I Support Palestinian Human Rights! Good. Me too. The governors of the Palestinian Authority, Fatah and Hamas, treat their subjects abominably. Freedom of expression is blocked. Political opponents are tossed off roofs. Homosexuals flee to Israel, to avoid being lynched. But the bumper sticker, in smaller print, then says, End the Occupation. Ah.
It is a sad and vexing fact that almost no one outside the Middle East gives a damn about how Arab and other regimes treat the people under their control.
One interesting sticker says, Save Tibet. Tibet, I believe, is the only cause connected to anti-Communism that the Left has ever embraced. It may have to do with the personal appeal of the Dalai Lama. It may also have to do with the appeal of Buddhism as an alternative to the common religions of the West, especially Christianity. Let’s say you’re at a Hollywood party, or a humbler party on campus. If you confess a religion, and that religion is Buddhism, you’ll likely get no grief.
‐Coffee and the Left are inseparable, it seems, especially when the coffee is “fair trade.” One bumper sticker on the pickup says Good Coffee (or at least I think it does — the sticker has weathered and curled). Underneath those words, it says, Resist Mediocrity! The sticker comes from the World Cup Caffè, in Taos, N.M. — a beautiful place beloved by the Left, and also by Donald Rumsfeld, the ex-secretary of defense, who lives there. Some of the neighbors don’t approve.
‐I Will Not Comply, says a sticker. Oh, really? Not comply with what, braveheart? In my youth, one of the most popular stickers said, Question Authority. The people who really did that, in my observation, were the conservatives, because the authorities — teachers and professors, mainly — were on the left.
‐This pickup has a bit of nostalgia, in the form of Kennedy 68. My two main thoughts are that 1) I would like to add an apostrophe and 2) the sticker was obviously manufactured a long time after 1968 (when Bobby ran).
‐We Are All Trayvon, says another sticker. Trayvon is Trayvon Martin, the teenager in Florida who was shot to death in 2012 during an altercation with George Zimmerman. Trayvon was black, and Zimmerman is a “white Hispanic,” in the New York Times’s description.
Another sticker says, Mass Incarceration + Silence = Genocide. There is a debate in this country over whether our main problem is mass incarceration or the mass crime that leads to mass incarceration. Personally, I’m for less crime (resulting in less incarceration).
As for “genocide,” it has come to mean, not genocide, or even murder, but “something bad,” or “something I don’t like.”
Forgive a story I’ve told a million times. When I was in college, the kids chanted, “Reagan, Bush, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.” What they meant was that the administration was attempting to slow the rate of increase of social-welfare spending. “Genocide.”
And let me quote from a piece I did earlier this year on anthropology (the decline of a discipline). “AAA” stands for American Anthropological Association. Here I go:
At the recent annual meeting of the AAA, hundreds of members lay down on the floor of the hotel lobby, pretending to be dead, in protest of what they regard as a police and broader national war on black Americans. A statement of the Association of Black Anthropologists begins, “The [ABA] condemns, in no uncertain terms, the ongoing terrorism waged against Black U.S. communities by the state, police, and White vigilantes.” It goes on to say, “These are state-sponsored massacres of our people, massacres enabled by a long history of national and global anti-Blackness.” In short, “we charge genocide.”
‐Back to the pickup truck in D.C. — which has a bumper sticker reading, Keep Missoula Weird. (And in smaller print, Do Your Part!) This is a plea to resist mainstreaming or conservatism. Well south of Montana, there is a popular sticker reading, Keep Austin Weird. It gave rise to a counter-sticker: Keep Austin Pretentious: You Know Who You Are!
Oh, yes . . .
‐Bumper stickers advertise the political views of the car owner, of course, but also the owner’s virtue, as he conceives of virtue. I myself have never had a sticker on a car, and probably never would — at least not a political sticker. Why should I impose my views on others when they are simply trying to get from Point A to Point B, and why should I tick at least half of my fellow citizens off?
Then again, as an opinion journalist, I have a platform. I can mouth off whenever I want, bumper or no bumper. Other people may feel a greater need to exploit the venue.
Tell you something funny (possibly). Most music critics get out of the concert hall or opera house like a bat out of hell. (In part because we spend so much time there.) I sometimes feel slightly guilty — but, if it has been an excellent performance, I’ll think, “I’ll applaud in my review.”
‐Some of the 50 stickers on that pickup I saw have nothing to do with politics, including this one: Put the Cell Phone Down and Concentrate on Being a Shitty Driver. It’s vulgar, yes, but I think it provides sweet relief from the rest . . .