Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Student Applies Theory to Car Bumper Stickers

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Student Applies Theory to Car Bumper Stickers

Article excerpt

LAWRENCE -- The rectangle sticker on the back of the truck moving through traffic Monday not far from the University of Kansas campus had a two-part message separated by an image of the Confederate battle flag.

"If this offends you," the blunt, provocative message said, "You need a history lesson."

The driver of this vehicle of personal expression, decorated with other messages that appeared intended to throw gasoline on political rancor, is a long way from the quaint "Go Royals," "Nixon Now," "Imagine World Peace" or "I like Ike."

Walter Goettlich, a KU doctoral research assistant in sociology, said proliferation of customized bumper stickers easily acquired from online companies made cars and trucks moving down the road an increasingly attractive avenue of social interaction.

These inexpensive sign posts loaded with targeted messages stand in contrast to more distant communication in the age of social media, he said.

"It's a form of social encounter," Goettlich said. "It's important to pay attention to this, especially as many political pundits and social critics lament declining public involvement."

He said stickers consumed by motorists and passengers fed stereotypes, inspired folks to assess their beliefs and delivered a dose of confusion. For example, Goettlich's car has a single sticker. It has a navy blue square promoting the Human Rights Campaign, a national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization.

"It's partly a political statement," said Goettlich, who realizes the stickers can trigger a range of reactions. "They can make you feel a certain way. Or, you can see something and say, 'Oh, that's one of those people.' And other times just be flummoxed."

He said the evolving political landscape in the United States, in which more voters feel their voice isn't heard, turn to bumper stickers to announce what's on their mind. Some do it with amazing brevity, while others deploy humor or a clever turn of a phrase.

In these times, Goettlich said, individuals appear more likely to display controversial messages on vehicles they drive rather than on shirts they wear. …

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