Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Free Speech by Car

I’m grateful for freedom of speech. It is quite common for Americans to use their automobiles as moving billboards for expressing their opinions. I use my freedom to demure from such activities.

My family’s automobiles are plain, stodgy, unadorned middle class family cars. There’s nothing attention grabbing about the interior or exterior of our vehicles. No special window decals. No bumper stickers. Just state required license plates. In fact, the plainness of our vehicles is sometimes the feature that makes them easy to find in a busy parking lot.

Years ago I sort of fancied the idea of getting a vanity license plate. Some of my friends did so. But I somehow could never bring myself to pony up the additional fee for the plate. Then one day I wondered to myself why in the world I would want to call attention to myself out on the road in that manner and I became grateful that I was too cheap to buy vanity plates.

As I see cars posted with various messages, it is sometimes easy for me to understand why the owners would communicate such things. Other times it’s not so easy.

Except for callow teenagers, I have no clue why anyone would fill their windows with decals of a rock band’s logo. I enjoy music from a variety of artists. But there are none that I believe to be so superior to all others that I would want to publicly demonstrate some kind of permanent loyalty to them.

I see some cars that carry religious messages. While I don’t have general objections to people doing so, I personally prefer to handle communication about sacred matters in other ways. (I sometimes have specific objections when a religious message is couched in a way that conveys superiority, which runs counter to the virtue of humility that most religions endorse.)

Lots of vehicles feature sports logos. That’s fine, although, I have explained before that I can’t fathom why anyone would feel beholden to any sports club. It just doesn’t make sense to me to attach one’s sense of self worth to a sports team (unless one is a participant on the team).

Similarly, I don’t understand non-business cars that sport corporate logos. What product or service is so magnificent that I would offer a type of permanent free mobile advertising for it? I just don’t get it. On the other hand, stickers denoting membership in some organization are easier for me to understand. They show that the owner believes in the principles the organization espouses.

The other day we were following a jeep that had a wheel cover featuring the Jolly Roger and the words, “Pirate Gal.” My son asked what that was supposed to mean. From what I know of women associated with pirates, that’s not an association I would think that anyone would seek. My son howled with laughter when I responded that maybe it meant that the woman had a sunken chest.

Some bumper stickers have humorous messages. Although I would never put one on my car, I have a few favorites.

Back in the 80s bumper stickers stating “I love …” were very common. Actually, the word ‘love’ was represented by a red heart. People loved all kinds of things: dogs, cats, motorcycles, spouses, hiking, etc. A common sticker said, “I heart my dog.” One day I saw a sticker that replaced the heart symbol with a spade symbol that is common on playing cards, so that it implied, “I spayed my dog.” I thought that was pretty funny in context.

Another sticker points to the obvious problem of those that are so environmentally conscious that they have an anti-human agenda. The crass tongue-in-cheek message states “Save the world; kill yourself.”

I had to wonder about the sanity of the owner of the junky car I saw that sported a bumper sticker with a cartoonish image of a monkey and the words, “I fling poo.” I detest the vulgar messages on some cars. But at least these clearly advertise who the idiots are. (Loud thumping stereos perform the same public service.)

Political bumper stickers are quite common, especially at certain seasons. Although, some people keep their stickers on long after the race is over, or even after the candidate has served and left office. It’s kind of like the people that still have their Christmas lights up in July. I’ve never found a politician that I liked enough to cause me to deface my car with promotional material. But I have no problem with people that choose to do so.

So, while I drive around in my plain, unobtrusive family cars that I refuse to decorate with messages, you can know that I still look at — and occasionally enjoy (or find useful) — the messages others choose to display on their cars.

2 comments:

JHP said...

I've thought the same thing about "vanity" license plates.

"Similarly, I don’t understand non-business cars that sport corporate logos. What product or service is so magnificent that I would offer a type of permanent free mobile advertising for it? I just don’t get it. On the other hand, stickers denoting membership in some organization are easier for me to understand. They show that the owner believes in the principles the organization espouses."

I think one reason people advertise for corporations is because for them it is an organization they belong to buy purchasing their product/service and they espouse the business's principles. For example, people who like "green" products might be faithful to a certain company and want to advertise for them. They also might work for that company or know someone who does.

This is an interesting topic. I think that at least bumper stickers, etc. make driving a little more interesting when I could get bored. I think the best ones are ones that inspire people to do or be good.

Reach Upward said...

Actually, I think that most free corporate advertising on cars is a form of using status symbols. The advertiser believes that putting that logo on his vehicle identifies him as a certain type of person. When I see such logos, however, I usually think that the message being conveyed is one of shallowness.