Updated below. Tuesday afternoon.
Stopped at a long red light the other morning I had plenty of time to read the bumper stickers on the back of the aging and battered Chevy SUV in front of me. Not that it was deep reading.
“Obama: The Quicker Fucker-Upper”.
“Gun Control Means Using Both Hands”
“LIfe’s A Bitch. Might As Well Vote For One.” This one featured a caricature of Hillary Clinton.
And of course there was a Gadsden flag decal.
My second thought---you can imagine my first one---was, “What’s it like to be married to this guy? Who would marry this guy?”
Notice the two assumptions there? That the driver, whom I couldn’t make out through the SUV’s rear window, was a guy and that he’s married.
With the first assumption I was just going with the odds. I don’t know where the second came from or, rather, I don’t know why my thoughts went in that direction. I might as easily have wondered about what he does for a living---which would have followed more naturally. That time of day he was probably on his way to work and now that I’ve brought it up, I am wondering what kind of work he does. I’d guess his marital status came to mind because of the Hillary sticker. Marriage is a subtext of any consideration of either Clinton.
I’m only mildly curious about what compels people, liberal or conservative, to plaster their cars with bumper stickers. People who do it must see something in it I don’t. To me it just looks messy. There are probably interesting stories behind even the dullest and most innocuous stickers---“Vote for So and So”, “My Child is an Honors Student at His or Her School”, “I Love My Lhasa Apso”. –--but those stickers aren’t there to tell those stories. They’re probably slapped on reflexively by people thinking they have to because that’s what proud parents, loyal fans, and good Democrats and Republicans do. Many others represent moments of impulse buying. The owners see them in the store and think they’re funny or right on target, snap them up, stick them on, and forget about them until the next time they go to unload the groceries. Then they laugh or nod their heads approvingly or think, What possessed me? I’m going to peel that off, and don’t ever get around to it. Many appear from a sincere desire to share---a laugh, a message, a bit of wisdom---and are expressive of a hope against hope that someone reading them will be moved or motivated or comforted or consoled. And many are there as statements of vanity or pride. The point is simply self-encouragement and the act of applying the sticker is the accomplishment in itself.
With guys like the driver of the SUV, however, it’s easy to assume the point is to annoy other drivers. Of course I’m assuming it because I was annoyed. And that’s my vanity at work. But there are plenty of people who live to be annoying. And not just Tea Party Types. They seem to feel they’ve accomplished something just by pissing others off.
What I would like to know is who it is they want to piss off. Is their target general or specific? To they have a particular person or type of person they imagine turning purple with rage?
I’d ask but it’d have to be someone I happened to park next to at the time he was getting into his car or getting out and I’d have to be in a mood to risk ruining both our days.
I don’t know any guys like I’m imagining the driver of the SUV to be. I generalize often here about Tea Party Types, Right Wingers, conservatives, Republicans, “Christians.” But it’s all based on observation at a considerable distance. Given the work I do and the places I’ve worked, I’ve not been likely to meet up with many Right Wingers at the office. Political discussions have been rare in my classrooms because I don’t open things up to them so I never know exactly how conservative---or liberal---any of my students really are. I have some Right Wing relatives but they’re second and third cousins and we never get together at the holidays. My brother Larry deals with them on Facebook---with admirable patience and good humor---but I’ve adamantly refused to friend any of them. The last extended conversations I had with guys I knew were far to my right politically took place back in college and we rarely talked about politics. Too much guy stuff on our minds to waste the time. The only heated discussion I remember having that would have sounded like a liberal versus conservative argument was over gun control and that guy was a Democrat. Most of my bull session debates were with friends who were politically far to my left. So everything I “know” about guys like the driver of the SUV are things I’ve deduced from reading about them and watching them on TV and paying attention to the rhetoric and actions of the politicians they rally around. But I’ve never gotten close enough to any individual guys like him to get inside their heads or even get a sense of their day to day lives.
Of course I come in contact with guys I suspect are like the SUV driver all the time. But it’s under circumstances in which politics isn’t the main thing on anybody’s mind and so it doesn’t come up. In fact, the circumstances that bring us together arise out of our commonalities. Casual conversations are likely to be about the best type of paint for the window trim, what looks good on the dessert menu, thank God for flu shots, and how about those Mets. Politics---partisan politics---rarely play an important role in most people’s day to day lives and liberal versus conservative is not a useful way for sorting ourselves out and generally people don’t even try it. I’ve noticed that most strangers who make assumptions about my politics in conversations in which to that point politics hasn’t come up do it defensively. It’s not my politics that concerns them. It’s their own. They know from experience that their views and attitudes tend to get them in trouble one way or another. They can’t necessarily tell from looking at me that I’m a liberal. They just know that most people, including many Republicans, are more liberal than they are and they’re either reminding themselves to watch their step or trying to figure out just how far they can go. I’m pretty good at not giving them an opening, if that’s what they’re looking for.
Anyway, it’s not guys like that driver who interest me. Not them alone, at any rate, or as representatives of their type. I’m interested in them in relation to others who have to spend time around them and their effect of them, particularly the women in their lives. I’m curious about the person who has to look at that Hillary sticker in her driveway every day. I wonder what she thinks about when she drives it to store. If she ever drives it. Maybe that’s his car and she has her car, and what does that say about their marriage? Anything? Everything? I’m curious to know if she married him despite whatever personality traits his bumper stickers represent or because of them or if she was even aware of them---if they were there to be aware of. Did she know she was falling in love with someone who liked to annoy people or did that come as a surprise later?
I want to know her story although that would include his and could even be told from his point of view.
And here’s an even more intriguing question.
What if that was her car?
Update: Mannionville’s regular visiting psychologist Dr X wandered through the parking lot of the Mannionville Daily Gazette this morning and slapped this on the Mannionmobile’s tailgate: Bumper Stickers, Road Rage and Narcissism.
Narcissists feel a heightened need to be seen and recognized for their uniqueness and superiority. Bumper stickers afford a narcissistic car owner just such an opportunity. Narcissists may invest in the specialness of their tastes, their moral sensibilities, their group affiliations, their intellect, their politics, their humor, their children, their school or their team -- anything that they believe marks them as superior to others. But for the narcissist, it is not enough to merely feel this way. Others must recognize the narcissist's superiority. While bumper stickers generally fail to impress the average person, they are, potentially, markers and badges of personal superiority for narcissists who display them.
But what if you just really love your Lhasa apso or believe the world would be a better place if people visualized whirled peas? You’ll have to read Dr X’s whole post at Dr X’s Free Associations.