Thursday, October 8, 2009
Think twice before you place that sticker

Butch Meriwether

Butch's Brew

I know it has happened to just about everyone at one time or another. You're stopped at a stop light and you happen to glance at the vehicle in front of you. Something plastered to the window, the bumper or hanging from the rear of the vehicle catches your eye.

You quickly think to yourself, "I hope my 8-year-old daughter sitting next to me didn't see what I'm looking at. If she did see it, then I probably have some explaining to do."

The vehicle in front of you has an "obscene" bumper sticker, a vinyl cartoon characterture stuck to the rear window that is depicting someone urinating on an object or there is an extremely large pair of plastic bull testicles hanging from the rear bumper.

Your feelings are paradoxical in that you first think what you observed is offensive and obscene to you. However, then your mind wanders to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. You reflect on what the Constitution says about freedom of speech, that what you just observed as offensive to you may not be to others.

There is a "thin line" that defines what is offensive and what isn't. The phrase "patently offensive" first appeared in Roth v. United States (1957), referring to any obscene acts or materials that are considered to be openly, plainly, or clearly visible as offensive to the viewing public.

However, in Miller v. California (1973), a five-person majority agreed for the first time since "Roth" as to a test for determining constitutionally unprotected obscenity, superseding the "Roth Test."

The decision in Miller v. California reiterated that obscenity was not protected by the First Amendment and established the "Miller Test" for determining what constituted obscene material.

The advertising or subjects being proudly displayed by individuals on their vehicles may not necessarily highlight a business. They might make you laugh, make you mad or make you think. The person who is driving the vehicle in front of you is utilizing a venue available to them to display their thoughts and opinions.

Signs and objects displayed on vehicles have been around a long time. But you might want to take into consideration that maybe the underlying justification for the bumper sticker on the bumper itself or on another portion of the vehicle isn't actually for making a political or sectarian statement, but is holding the vehicle together or is covering up a dent or some rust.

It is widely believed that bumper stickers came about prior to World War II. In 1934, "King of the bumper sticker" Forest P. Gill, a silk screen printer from Kansas City, founded the "Gill-line" in his basement.

The first bumper stickers were attached to the bumpers of vehicles with wires; however, Gill later realized utilizing a pressure-sensitive stock was a good way to replace the wire attachments.

The use of bumper stickers became very popular in political campaigns after World War II. The practice of placing bumper stickers on vehicles was deemed an outstanding way to get the message out. Many advertisers grabbed onto the concept for commercial purposes and bumper stickers appealed as a medium for all kinds of slogans, often just to get a laugh from someone who saw it.

Bumper stickers' slogans and messages can be an expression of pride in our country and military. But to others, those same bumper stickers can take on an entirely different meaning.

A prime example would be a United States Marine Corps bumper sticker:

To some, the above bumper stickers display the pride someone has in the military. Maybe a loved one sacrificed their life for our freedom.

But to others, especially anti-war groups and certain individuals, it advertises baby killers.

There are numerous bumper stickers that depict the president of the United States in an unnecessarily bad way and insinuate he is the cause of many of our problems. Some of the bumper stickers even allude to him not being an American.

I take offense to politically negative bumper stickers relating to President Barack Obama. I am a Republican and proudly served almost 21 years of faithful service to our country and the United States Marine Corps. I personally didn't vote for Obama, but I realize he was elected to the highest office in America and is the commander-in-chief of our military forces. Because of those facts, I am reserving judgment, and I am going to sit back and observe what he is attempting to do for our nation and us in general.

That doesn't mean I'm going to agree with everything he chooses to do. It just means I will not have either a pro- or anti-Obama bumper sticker on my vehicle.

Some individuals love to display bumper stickers depicting efforts by the Sierra Club and other purpose-driven groups. They believe the club is America's oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization.

They also boast to having more than 1.3 million friends and neighbors working together to protect our communities and the planet.

But, to off-road enthusiast, ranchers and prospectors, many of them despise seeing Sierra Club bumper stickers and believe they are a radical environmental group dead set on diminishing the inalienable rights of U.S. citizens.

Many believe the efforts by the Sierra Club are particularly damaging and curtail their efforts to have fun in the outdoors and also to make a living. They believe the Sierra Club is the main driving force behind legislation that curtails activities on Bureau of Land Management and other public lands.

I know that there have been efforts by the Sierra Club and other ecology-environmental related organizations that want to close off major blocks of acreage of public lands to motorized vehicles in order to protect a bug or a flower.

I myself would rather drive on my quad to the location where the bugs or flowers are so I could take a picture of them. That way, my camera wouldn't shake from me being out of breath from having to walk miles just to take a pic of the bug or flower.

People even enjoy placing bumper stickers on their vehicles that have sexual innuendos such as "Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy," "Firemen Have Bigger Hoses," and the most disturbing to me was the one recently spotted in Kingman on a Jeep with big tires that said, "If I Wanted A Hummer, I'd Ask Your Sister."

There are a myriad, if not millions, of different types of bumper stickers and other signs for vehicles out there for sale. And their subject material is wide and varied. Some are cute and others can be deemed downright disgusting.

Some of the bumper stickers that have cute sayings and an underlying meaning deal with water conservation and about politics.

If I was a bumper sticker kind of guy, I might choose some cute one to adorn the rear of my vehicle, but I'm not. So, if you happen to see my truck or car in town, you'll notice there are no bumper stickers other than an American flag on the center of the rear window, but no vinyl lettering or designs plastered on it.

All I suggest is to exercise a little common sense when you think about affixing a sign, characterture, bumper sticker or a plastic replica of a body part on your vehicle. Think twice about what you are about to do and whether it would be deemed offensive or obscene to others.

Think about the kind of message you might be sending to children and adults.

However, that doesn't mean you should never place a bumper sticker on your vehicle. Why not tell the world how you feel! Bumper stickers are perfect for expressing yourself while cruising down the highway.

I would love to hear from readers and bloggers to find out what is the best and worst bumper stickers they have seen plastered on vehicles in our area. Respond to me by e-mailing your observations to and tell me what you observed.

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