Bumper stickers are strips of adhesive paper or plastic of varying sizes with words, ideas or pictures printed on the non-adhesive side. They're meant to be placed on the bumper of your car, but can, of course, be placed just about anywhere. In Europe, where bumpers were until recently much smaller than on American cars, stickers on the inside of the rear windscreen of the car are more common1. These serve the same function exactly as bumper stickers.
What Purpose Do They Serve?
They provide the ordinary Joe with a means of telling everyone exactly who s/he is and what s/he thinks about the world. They advertise products, services and religions, enable upstanding citizens to gloat about being upstanding citizens and allow not-so-upstanding citizens to annoy the upstanding citizens by taking an opposite view. Bumper stickers, or their rear windscreen equivalent, are by no means strictly an American institution, but in the US, bumper sticker choice and placement has become an art form in its own right.
Common Bumper Stickers
These can be seen on about one vehicle in ten on the road, especially if the vehicle is a minivan.
'DARE! To keep kids off drugs.'
'My child is an honor roll student at (insert name of school here)'.
Something Christianity-themed, including but not limited to:
- 'No Jesus, No Peace/Know Jesus, Know Peace'
- 'We believe in Jesus'
- 'My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter'
- 'God is my Co-Pilot' (or, for the even more religious folk, 'God is my Pilot')
Something sports themed, including, but not limited to, the names and logos of pro football, baseball, basketball and hockey teams, as well as the numbers of cars raced by well-known racing car drivers such as Dale Earnhart.
White Ovals of Origin
These are white stickers, oval in shape, with black letters in them. The letters represent the driver's home country (DK for Denmark, GB for Great Britain, etc). In Europe, the stickers are mandatory for cars crossing international borders, unless the registration plate already indicates the country. These stickers allow the country of origin of the car to be identified. Lately, however, people in states such as California have been adapting the white ovals to their own purposes. For example, a person who is particularly proud of living in Huntington Beach may attach a white oval with the letters 'HB' on his trunk, while someone from Long Beach will sport 'LB', and so on. It has yet to be determined whether these stickers serve any purpose other than assuring their owners of their proper place in the world.
Look! My Kid Goes to College!
Parents of teenagers in college are often proud of the fact that their child has chosen to go into higher education. The sense of relief this choice brings apparently prompts parents to plaster every available surface with the college's propaganda. At the bare minimum they will purchase a clear sticker emblazoned with the college's name, for rear-windscreen placement. The students of these schools generally avoid the rear-windscreen sticker; if they do have one on their car, they will probably take pains to ensure that it is not your typical college rear-windscreen sticker. For example, one young man who attended Stanford University carefully rearranged the letters on his sticker to read 'Snodfart', and placed it on his windscreen. For parents with a sense of humour, 'My son/daughter and my money go to (insert name of college here)' is a popular substitute.
These are a phenomenon unto themselves. They speak volumes about the driver's tastes and personality. For example, a beat up old white Volkswagen Golf plastered with stickers for Einsturzende Neubauten, Coil, or anything on the Cleopatra label indicates a person (usually male) who would rather be caught dead than doing anything as mundane as working a desk job, mowing the lawn or listening to Celine Dion. For the most part, band sticker plastering is limited to punks, rivetheads, metalheads and goths.
Hippies will also use band stickers, but tend to stick mostly with dancing Grateful Dead bears and the colourful Phish fish.
Other Assorted Stickers
- 'Honk if parts fall off'
- 'Unless you're a haemorrhoid, get off my ass'
- 'Visualize world peace'
- 'Hate is not a family value'
- 'If you come any closer, I'll flick a booger on your windshield2'
Some people have become weary of seeing the same old stickers on everyone's cars, and have placed variations on their own cars.
'PUNK! Keeping kids on the street'
'My kid beat up your honor student' (newer versions replace 'beat up' with 'knocked up')
'Jesus is coming! Look busy!'
'Jesus loves you. Everyone else thinks you're an a*****e'
'God was my co-pilot, but we crashed into a mountain and I had to eat him'
'Visualize whirled peas.'
'Visualize using your turn signal'
The Cars they Belong to
A car plastered with snotty bumper stickers aimed at annoying middle-class people (and/or band stickers) will almost always be compact, often a Volkswagen of some vintage, usually black or grubby with dirt. The driver will be young and slightly odd looking.
A car plastered with sports-related stickers is trickier. If the sport is football (American football, that is) the car will be in good to average condition and driven by someone wholly unremarkable. If it is plastered with stickers proclaiming love for a variety of sports and includes the Dale Earnhart 3, it will either be a pick-up truck or a beat-up old American car, driven by someone playing country music blasting from the radio. Those people with bass systems so loud that they make your teeth rattle from half a mile away don't put bumper stickers on their cars. Their cars tend to be much too well cared for. They may, however, stick a large logo from the company who designed their nuclear sound system across their opaque rear windshield.
A car bearing the honor roll student/Jesus melange will either be a minivan or a family sedan, and will be driven by a wholly unremarkable middle class parent.
What's with the Fish?
The Jesus Fish, as it is known, is a chromed plastic fish with the word 'Jesus' or some symbol of the Christian faith inside it3. It is placed on the trunk or in another conspicuous spot. The Jesus Fish appears on a startling array of cars, but is most often seen on minivans, luxury cars like Cadillacs and Lincolns driven by blue-haired old ladies. In England, it most often appears stuck to the back end of a Volvo, driven by a nondescript lady in glasses and a cardigan.
About five years ago, some non-Christian people got tired of the Jesus Fish and made their own version. It had legs, and the word 'Darwin' inside the fish body. The Darwin Fish took hold slowly at first, but has finally taken its place beside the Jesus Fish as one of the most common car decorations. The Jesus Fish people, however, are greatly disturbed by this and wish to make their feelings clear. To that end, they devised the Truth Fish: A Jesus Fish with the word 'Truth' inside the fish body. Its open mouth is devouring a Darwin Fish. The Darwin Fish camp responded with the Snappy Truth Fish send-up. It consists of an Evolution Fish (a Darwin Fish with the word 'Darwin' replaced with 'Evolution') doing something rather nasty to a Jesus Fish. The Jesus Fish camp have yet to react.