Have you noticed that a lot of people still have their bumper stickers on their cars from the ’04 election? What’s that about? An article about the bumper stickers in Sunday’s Washington Post includes an argument from Marshall Blonsky, a professor of semiotics at New York’s Parson School of Design, about why the stickers remain. According to the article:
Personal identity is growing increasingly weak, Blonsky argues, and a political label "turbocharges" a weak identity -- as with any team membership (and endless rivalries). With our stickers still up, our war paint is still on -- and, truth be told, the war's not over because the war's not over.
It’s funny, I’ve been wondering about the ’04 bumper stickers for some time now. I see them everywhere – both Bush and Kerry - even some for Nader. After most elections it seems that people rip them off after the requisite period of mourning or celebration; but not after this last one.
Of course, there are some observers who will argue that Americans left their bumper stickers affixed to their cars because the campaign was so bitterly fought and that the battle continues to this day. I can buy at least some of that.
But Blonsky’s argument is just as interesting and thought provoking. What if people were leaving their bumper stickers on because they wanted to assert their individual identity; because they wanted others to know where they stand? It’s a kind of personal declaration and stick-to-it-ness in an era of instant gratification and individual free-lancing.
Still, maybe there’s yet another reason.
Maybe it’s not at all related to weak individual identity or that people are re-fighting – or continuing to fight – the last election. Maybe, instead, it’s a sign of people’s hunger to belong to something larger than themselves; maybe it is an act of public attachment, and not a matter of individual expression or celebration.
What we see in the bumper sticker conundrum is what Web people refer to as “stickiness” – and I’m not simply making a bad play on words here. I would guess that the campaign bumper stickers are sticking around because they demonstrate people’s desire to be connected – to one another and to public life. They are an easy way to join with others, to engage, yes to compete… but, most of all, they are a badge of participation.
All this raises another question; if I’m right, then what might this situation suggest for involving people in public and community life? Could we find ways to tap into people’s desire to belong, and attach, and express themselves, and to wear a badge of honor about their engagement? Think about it.
In the meantime, some people will read the bumper sticker stickiness as a sign of our divided times; I see it, increasingly, as a sign of people wanting to stick together.