Total Bumper, Man

You know what I’ve seen a lot of since moving to Portland, more than I saw in Salt Lake City? Hippies. Strip clubs. Homeless people under the age of 30. Minorities. But you know what else? Bumper stickers.

Seems like every other car has at least one, and many have several. Everybody’s got something to say. Everybody wants to make sure you know what they think.

It makes sense that Portland would have more bumper stickers than Salt Lake does. Bumper stickers tend to be ideologically liberal, and Portland is a liberal place. In some ways, the very act of putting a bumper sticker on your car is radical and non-conservative. I mean really, you’re defacing your own property. Conservatives don’t usually do that. They don’t cut holes in their jeans or pierce their eyebrows, either.

Besides, with conservatives leading the government right now, the liberals have more to protest than ever. (What do liberals do when liberals are in power? Complain about conservatives trying to take away their power?) Even if a conservative wanted to put a bumper sticker on his car, what would it say? “Everythin’ Is Peachy!”? “I Like the Way Things Are!”?

Anyway, I don’t fully grasp the rationale behind plastering bumper stickers all over your vehicle. First of all, bumper stickers are too small to say anything truly meaningful or thought-provoking. Pithy, sure. Clever, absolutely. But an entire personal thesis? A summation of what you believe as a citizen? Doubtful. If your philosophy can be expressed in a bumper sticker, your philosophy is stupid — an axiom which, ironically, would make a good bumper sticker.

And what’s the point anyway? To make sure the other drivers know what your opinions are? Like I’m driving and you cut me off and I’ll say, “Hey! Watch where you’re going, you stupid — oh, you’re opposed to the war, too? OK, then. Go ahead. Let me slow down for you.”

Or is it meant to change my mind? Are people supposed to see your bumper sticker and say, “Hmm. ‘Nobody died when Clinton lied’? Why, I suppose that’s true. Excellent point, Toyota Camry! I like the way you think! I’m changing political parties at once!”?

I don’t think so. Let me tell you something: Nobody cares what you think. People care what their friends think, and what their parents think, and sometimes what their religious leaders think. But nobody cares what strangers think. Those opinion pieces that sometimes run in the paper, the ones by ordinary citizens called “guest columnists”? Nobody reads them. Newspapers might as well run 15 inches of profanity for all the attention those articles get.

But even less sensible to my way of thinking are the “funny” bumper stickers. These are the ones that aren’t meant to provide political or social commentary, but are simply jovial and witty. Who buys these? How funny does a joke have to be for you to permanently affix it to your car? Sure, it gives you a chuckle when you see it in the novelty store, or the truck stop, or wherever you buy bumper stickers. But will it still make you laugh when you’re seeing it every single day for as long as you own the car? I mean, there are some “Far Side” cartoons that are pretty hilarious. But I don’t think I’d ever tattoo one of them onto my body. Not even the one where a bunch of vultures are standing around a cowboy’s dead body and one vulture has put the cowboy’s hat on and is saying, “Look, everybody! I’m a cowboy! Howdy howdy!”

And you have to figure: If YOU bought the bumper sticker at some kind of store, then doesn’t that mean maybe hundreds of OTHER people have also bought it? Won’t the joke’s impact be lessened when there are thousands of other cars out there telling it?

Many of these stickers have funny concepts, but they deploy them haphazardly and without regard for the elements of comedy. One common abuse is capital letters, as in: “Insanity is hereditary. YOU GET IT FROM YOUR KIDS!!”

Now, come on. That punch line is reasonably funny, but not when it’s being shouted. Imagine if I walked up to you on the street and delivered the joke that way. You wouldn’t laugh. You would push me down and run away.

Another common way that bumper stickers ruin their own jokes is with kooky, wacky fonts that oversell the joke. For example, “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me” is OK as a one-liner. But it’s a lot less funny when it’s blared like this:

Hardy har har! Yuk yuk yuk! Please kill me.

I've been thinking about bumper stickers for a while, I guess. The subject is kind of important to me.

There are a lot of questions in this column, which bothers me. I suppose the whole point of the article is that I don't understand why people use bumper stickers, and asking questions is a logical thing to do when you don't understand something. But still, all those question marks bug me.

Also, Salt Lake City is where I lived immediately before moving to Portland. That's probably clear from the context, and regular readers probably know it anyway, but I wanted to mention it here just in case there was any confusion as to why I was comparing Portland to SLC.