Thursday, December 29, 2005

Trickin' Out the Ride

An article in yesterday’s SJ-R told of puckish Illinois motorists who are attempting to sneak one by the censors in their attempt to obtain risqué vanity license plates. As related in the story, it’s being played as a cat and mouse game between the two sides, but it probably won’t be long before someone sues the state for denying them their URSTPD plates.

In the late 1980s, Alabama passed a law making it illegal to display bumper stickers that contained vulgar language to describe sexual or excremental acts. A judge later ruled that the law was a violation of free speech. I assume that ruling wouldn’t apply here, but it’s not hard to imagine someone making that argument.

Vanity license plates are the natural extension of bumper stickers, the popularity of which has waned over the years. It’s a subject I’ve studied in the past and as such can speak on it with some authority.**

Studies showed that bumper stickers were more prevalent in lower class, White neighborhoods and could be found more often on older, less expensive vehicles. Studies also showed that the stickers found in this demographic tended to be more negative in content than those found in more affluent neighborhoods and on more pricey cars.

This is not surprising when one considers some of the more popular stickers over the years. There’s the one that suggests dialing an extremely distasteful 1-800 number should anyone take issue with the driver’s “motor” skills. Another popular one from the 70s gave notice that the car’s owner would “breaka you face” should you “toucha my car.”

Theorists speculate that lower income individuals took to bumper stickers in the early days as a form of public self expression. Since the media was controlled by the elite and urbanization, and subsequent suburbanization, eliminated the town square as a place for open discourse, many people were left without a public voice and bumper stickers helped to fill that void (this is also the prevailing theory attributed to the rise of caller-driven talk radio and probably applies to blogging as well.)

It’s interesting to note that while the stickers are a form of public expression, they still offer a good deal of anonymity since the driver, hunkered down inside, is essentially hidden from view. Again, this is similar to many callers to talk radio and anonymous bloggers.

There are several reasons that bumper stickers have fallen out of favor. The rise of the Internet has provided more meaningful forms of public expression to the masses. More people lease their cars these days. Even the cars themselves are less receptive to becoming rolling billboards. Where the earliest incarnation of the VW Beetle seemed to come standard with a Green Peace or peace sign sticker on its chrome bumper, the molded fiberglass bumper of the reincarnated Bug is indistinguishable from the rest of the car and as such is less suited as a marquee.

Bumper stickers, it has been found, aren’t a good way to advance a cause and their influence is limited to a “preaching to the choir” role. The only real effect you would have noticed by having a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker on your car is that Kerry/Edwards supporters would have sped on by had you found yourself broken down on the side of the road. Why let your political views get in the way or a prompt rescue.

In a somewhat related article in yesterday’s paper, police are on the look out for vehicles that are doubling as rolling porn palaces. They have apparently received reports of in-dash video monitors showing bawdy videos in plain view of other motorists.

Not to get into a whole civil liberties issue here, but there is something truly twisted and potentially dangerous about a person who engages himself in such a manner on public thoroughfares. I would think that the average, non-threatening aficionado of adult entertainment could easily pry himself* away from the on-screen action long enough to run to the store for whatever sundries they require. That some are compelled, by whatever deviant force lurks within them, to rig up video equipment in their vehicles so they can take the perversion along for the ride seems to hint at a compulsion that crosses the line from peruser to predator.

As a parent it concerns me that these people are skulking about in public spaces without a proper cooling down period. It’s apparent, to borrow a line from Spinal Tap, that they are “treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality.” I fear that they are determined to take others under with them.

Aside from addressing any violations associated with the hazardous practice of watching a video while driving, I’m not advocating for any real legal remedy to address this issue, just a simple information campaign. Anyone caught driving under the influence of their triple-X collection should be publicly identified so that they can be unsystematically denied gainful employment and can be prevented from intermingling with polite society. Perhaps this could be accomplished by affixing a bumper sticker to their vehicle, one that bears the warning: Sociopath on Board.***

*I had considered using the gender-inclusive himself/herself or alternating between the two pronouns as shout-out to all of those women of the perverted persuasion, but we all know that the male of the species is the predominate offender in this arena so why pretend otherwise.

**Not a lot of authority, but some. If you’d like to read the grad school paper I wrote on the subject, and for the life of me I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t, drop me a line and I’ll email you a copy. Just promise not to sell it to some derelict college student as I am personally opposed to plagiarism, but not so much so that I would affix a bumper sticker to my car condemning its practice.

***The State of Florida tried the Scarlet Bumper Sticker thing with convicted drunk drivers in the 80s.


Monkey Boy said...

I have no solid proof but it seems that you are imagining the 42-year-old married white male cruising Springfield with porn blaring for all to see.

It is my experience that what you should be imagining is the "thug" type of individual who has spent all the money that should go to his 2 illegitimate children on "tricking out" his early 90's Caprice. If that is the case "outing" them to the general public is a waste. It is hard to make dirtbags care about not being dirtbags.

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Anonymous said...

A marginaly related addendum:

I have watched the following with some humor. In Europe, the license plates essentialy look the same from one country to the next (no invitations to "Show Me" or declarations that "Oklahoma is OK."). Anyhow, many are fond of placing an oval sticker on their car indicating their home country.

These have been seen here by expats and InsertCounrtyofOrigin-Americans here (I've seen Ireland, Italy, Romania, Great Britain and Germany, among others).

And then, the oval shape became popular here. "The Black Dog" in Martha's Vineyard was probably the first I'd seen. LaSalle Bank, sponsor of the Chicago Marathon, offers a self-congratulatory 26.2 sticker.

But my favorite phenomenon is the very haters of Europe themselves, the GOP, taking this on. The first, the oval "W" with traces of the American flag. More recently, GOP congressional hopeful Peter Roskam joined the fun.

Apparently, imitation is now the sincerest form of contempt.