Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Early Warning Systems

Dropping some junk....errrr, other people's treasures.... off at the Goodwill, I see this bumper sticker:
Save the Whales; Harpoon a Fat Chick.

I'm stunned, indignant -and a little envious of the on-the-nose writing skills. Seriously, how many people can you insult in seven words? This bumper sticker has to win some sort of sick prize.

One thing I do with students is to walk into a classroom and ask them immediately to write down what kind of car I drive. (I got busted once for not knowing the answer, but that's another story.) Of course I don't care and they don't care and the "test" isn't graded. The point is that we all make instant unconscious assessments of people with very little information. And if we were consistently wrong in those assessments, we'd stop doing it. In fact, it's a useful tool a lot of the time -especially if we become aware of the process and acknowledge that sometimes we're wrong, too.

Bumper stickers are part of the information we gather about people. Yes, they are frequently sound bite answers to complex questions, even when I agree with the sentiment. And yes, it's a little aggressive to publicize your political viewpoint in an arena where there is no possibility for dialogue. Nonetheless, I think I'd rather hang out with the person whose car says "Coexist" or "Will Teach for Food" or "Greenpeace" or has a big W with a slash through it than with the guy who advocates (even as a joke) harpooning fat women.

I'm glad, a little bit, to have a clue about what an interaction with this person is apt to be like. I know, for example, I'm not crazy about driving around a person with an NRA sticker on his car. I'm exhausted, sometimes, by how much not-quite-latent anger people are willing to carry around and publicize. I'm almost defeated by the cruel stereotypes we all walk around with.

And damn it, I'm going to get a bumper sticker for my car that says "This bumper isn't big enough for all the thoughts in my head. Let's talk." Or perhaps "Honk if you Like Critical Thinking". Maybe what people will assume about me is that I'm a thoughtful person who is interested in what other people think, too -a person who doesn't claim to have easy answers to hard questions.


Rhea said...

I have a friend whose father is in the NRA and has a sticker on the car. My friend borrowed her father's car but I refused to ride in it until she took the sticker off.

Michael said...

"Honk if you like critical thinking," I'd buy. But I think the bumper sticker you reference is just about as bad as the T-shirt I saw a young woman wearing walking down the halls of DuSable this past semester. Over her not-insignificant breasts were the words "These are my all-access passes."

And my thoughts (well, after "That was incredibly gauche") were "This is what feminists everywhere were fighting for? The right for women to be just as sexist as men?"