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Are You Afraid to Display a Bumper Sticker? You Should Be

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Once upon a time, bumper stickers were a harmless way to engage other motorists on the merry way to work or a vacation in the Wisconsin Dells. But today, with road rage and polarizing politics, displaying a bumper sticker is more like establishing eye contact with a yard dog. A yard dog who doesn't understand "never mind."

There was a day when bumper stickers like "America Love It Or Leave It," "My Country Right or Wrong," "Made By, Paid For And Driven By An American," and "If You Don't Like The Police, Next Time You're In Trouble Call a Hippie," were meant to antagonize. What were people going to do if they disagreed? Get out of their car and shoot you?

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Now that we know they will, the parade of come-and-get-me bumper stickers like, "Don't Like My Driving? Dial 1-800-Eat ****," "As A Matter A Fact, I Do Own The Road," and "If You Can Read This You're Too Damn Close"-have seemed to vanish overnight.

Humorous bumper stickers have vanished too because humor is a risk that relies on a cognitive leap and many could take the joke the wrong way. For example:

"I Owe, I Owe, So Off To Work I Go" (At least you have a job, you ingrate!)

"Officer This Is Not An Abandoned Vehicle" (Oh, yeah? I drive the same car!)

"I Support The Right To Arm Bears" (There's nothing funny about threats to the Second Amendment!)

"Why Are You Following Me?" (If I could &^%$ pass you, I would!)

Remember the "Honk If" bumper stickers that were so popular during CB radio days when no one had cell phones and driving was still a lonely business? The stickers exhorted you to "Honk If You Love West Virginia," "Know Jesus," "Believe In Extraterrestrials" and "Like To Water Ski." Today your honk buddy could be stalker just out of prison.

Others bumper stickers like "Our Child Is An Honors Student At Tech High," "I'd Rather Be Snowboarding," and "Commit Random Acts Of Kindness And Senseless Beauty" convey "I'm-better-than-you" in the same way "Baby On Board" famously did 20 years ago. "Random Kindness" also obligates you to let people into your lane because you have to practice what you preach!

But even guileless bumper stickers like "Mary Kay Cosmetics," "Pilates," "I Passed Chem Lab" and "Hire A Licensed Contractor," are dangerous because they personalize you. Ditto for "I Brake For Unicorns," "I Brake For Yard Sales" and "Have You Hugged Your Yorkie Today?" which also make people mad because they're so stupid. And any bumper sticker on an SUV can convey hypocrisy like "Live Simply So That Others Can Simply Live," "Solar Power," and "My Other Car Is A Skateboard."

Sadly, all five categories of bumper sticker-humor ("My Other Car Is . . .") bravado ("Don't Like My Driving?"), affiliation ("Honk If You . . ."), politics ("Free Tibet") and self-disclosure ("We're Spending Our Children's Inheritance"- are no longer safe.

In fact, the only safe bumpers stickers today are probably "Support Mental Health Or I'll Kill You" and "I Didn't Take My Meds Today." Neither one requires a "If You Can Read This You're Too Damn Close" bumper sticker.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health

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