Tag Archives: bumper stickers

Fear Briefing: Lawn Sign Signals

It wasn’t the first time I encountered the “Hillary for Prison” lawn sign, but the second. In the first instance, I was walking a friend’s dog around their neighborhood. In the second, I was walking around my own.

It’s no mystery to me that I live in an area populated with people who hold largely different political views than I do, but it’s a peculiar sensation to feel attacked by those with whom I’m otherwise on polite, if distant, terms.

I am usually able to dismiss bumper sticker discourse as inflammatory trollspeak, but these lawn signs struck a chord of fear inside me as I passed. It was the deep discomfort that comes from knowing you’re in enemy territory–or that the people occupying the territory alongside you would consider you an enemy if they only knew your beliefs. Those of us in the minority are often silent.

I’m lucky that this type of discomfort is a rare sensation. For me, that sensation inspires a blog post. For many in this country, that sensation inspires at best steeled resignation, but more often indicates it’s time to be on guard. For many, that sensation is uncomfortably familiar, and the stakes are impossibly high. That sensation could mean death.

Clinton’s candidacy, like Obama’s before her, incites the endemic hatred of the Other that underlines our country’s patriarchal, racist social structure. There’s a reason Clinton faces so much push-back, such odd media coverage. We, as a country, remain deeply uncomfortable at the prospect of a leader who is not straight, white, and male.

A lawn sign that implies the female presidential candidate might be a criminal springs from this discomfort. There are no “Trump for Prison” signs, after all. When you’re faced with the most qualified candidate in history, what’s left to attack but the aspect of her identity that sets her apart–albeit in veiled ways. An 11-hour hearing there, a rumor about a health crisis here, and a dig at her ambition (so unbecoming on a woman!) for good measure. Chip, chip, chip. And every so often, a thunk rings out, resonating in the hearts of those who share her gender. Putting us on alert.

Just as racism became more blatant after Obama became president, forcing our country to reckon with our shameful legacy of slavery and discrimination, I worry that a female president will inspire the misogynists to pour forth with their hatred more publicly than they already do. It’s painful to realize that this is how progress is forged–with a representative from a marginalized group coming forward, only to be pushed back by those so invested in the status quo that grants them a higher status that they can’t see there’s room for more people on the pedestal. And everyone who shares that marginalized identity is at risk.

People who display these lawn signs are angry that someone who isn’t like them might gain influence. They worry that it means the power they consider their birthright is being taken from them. These people have forgotten the important Kindergarten lesson about sharing, because our society teaches white men that their place is at the top, and there’s only so much room. So push those with the audacity to reach for the top back down. Defend the hierarchy at all costs! Try to elect the most under-qualified candidate you can find, as long as he is a he and pays lip service to your (fragile) identity and (very real) economic concerns. But for the love of a tradition that conveniently privileges you, don’t expend energy fact-checking or looking beyond your prejudices. That would be too much.

“Masculinity is always in crisis,” my history professor reminded us in 2006. Sitting in the safety of that classroom, I never imagined how viscerally gender trouble would manifest in the real world. Having come to consensus in class, I naively assumed the issue had been similarly resolved in the real world. And now we’re ten years in the future, and look what’s happening. Progress is not an arrow. Change swings every which-way. Those with power are loathe to relinquish it. So we work and work and work. We give up. We try again.

It’s those who are first to step forward who bear the brunt in public of what they incite in those who never imagined they’d dare to stand up. The scarcely concealed hatred underlying the hierarchy is forced to the surface, in full view. The bravery of those who go first triggers a fierce backlash, and the rest of us also bear the brunt, but in private. In conversation. In passing. Until we (hopefully) survive and count ourselves among those who comprised the catalyst for social change.

For now, I walk, and live, among people who can’t stomach the thought of a woman at the helm of our national government. And I am a woman. So maybe they can’t stomach me, either. I increase my pace as I walk past these signs, hoping their owners don’t notice me.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Contemporary

Your bumper-sticker is yelling at my bumper sticker

After stumbling across what is I’m sure a small fraction of the vile, often shockingly incoherent trollspeak on twitter, I began to wonder if twitter itself as a platform was partially to blame.

Actually, what made me think of this was a bumper sticker on an SUV that had small words I couldn’t read fast enough framing a middle line of bold, larger font that screamed “CHILD DEATH” at me before it drove off. And that is what made me think of twitter and its trolls. Of all discourse that is a series of “blah blah blah INCENDIARY REMARK blah blah blah.” I still have no idea what that particular bumper sticker was trying to get at, expect my attention and possibly my (out)rage.

I see fewer and fewer bumper stickers. Maybe they don’t stick on the new-fangled metal they’re using to build cars these days. Maybe aesthetic tastes have shifted where I live where car adornment & self-expression is concerned. Or perhaps we have moved this type of discourse to other media…like twitter. It’s a leap, but I’m willing to go there, tenuous lines drawn taut across the metaphoric platforms, keeping me suspended between—never mind. [insert segue here]

Does twitter, by virtue of its strict limits on the space allowed to express oneself, somehow encourage this? At the very least, it facilitates sound-bytes of thoughts, conversation, and argumentation (if it can be called that). At least twitter, unlike bumper stickers, allows for immediate rebuttal. Although so do bumper stickers if you park your car long enough and the person you’ve pissed off has paper and pen handy. Or a bat.

My point is that twitter trollspeak, like some terse bumper stickers, is shaped by a medium that places a premium on efficiency of message. Logic is nice and all, but if you can make it fit, by all means dispense with it. And if you have strong feelings about something, perhaps you’re more likely to boil down those strong feelings into what is most likely to elicit a reaction: incendiary remarks.

When I was younger and coming into my own (extreme) opinions, before the tempering influence of college and then the real world, I proudly displayed a bumper sticker that read “If you’re against abortion, get a vasectomy.”

The fact that I put that out to the world makes me cringe now. Happily, it wasn’t there long. I removed it along with the bumper that bore it after a minor fender-bender, having come to my senses about such irksome, trite forms of “discourse.” An inflammatory bumper sticker was no way to get my message across, much less change anyone’s mind or influence public policy. Even more happily, by that time I had matured slightly in my politics and realized this phrase mis-represented my views, and moreover, assumed only people with penises were anti-choice. How’s that for gender and sex bias? (I hadn’t yet learned that the ERA was defeated largely due to a woman’s efforts.) Ah, ignorant youth…so loud and unproductive.

And that is how twitter trollspeak feels to me much of the time. Illogical, loud, unwilling to listen, and narrow-minded. Not to mention cruel and dangerous. Twitter as a genre and technological medium facilitates this type of “argumentation,” this type of expression. It allows for snippets of anonymous drivel and immediate responses and carpet bombings of bumper-sticker-level rhetoric. All without any windows to smash in retaliation. All we can throw at each other are words–and the threats they often carry.

I choose to believe we are smarter and more mature than this, or at least are capable of becoming so. It’s curious, this posited transference from bumper stickers to virtual reality. Media are not to blame–people and culture are. Bumper stickers and twitter and the rest are simply conduits, influencing the form messages may take, but not the messages themselves.

We make the messages. We can do better. Many people ARE doing better, but the trolls and their bumper sticker trollspeak remains an incessant cancer within public discourse.

4 Comments

Filed under Contemporary, Media, Technology