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Monday, March 16, 2009

“Honk” if you like things simple

Ken Kerr Bio

Forest P. Gill chose to go into business for himself and set up a small shop in the basement of his home in 1934. There he incorporated new sticky-back papers and recently improved durable inks to develop new advertising media. Noticing a huge piece of shiny chrome on the back of millions of automobiles, Gill found a home for his new innovation and, in the process created an American pop-culture icon and new playground for the First Amendment—the bumper sticker.

We have a lot of fun with Gill's creation—most notable in the social and political commentary arena. If we were all able to keep it in perspective, it could continue to be a bit of harmless fun. But the kids on the playground are not getting along well with the other children. Road rage is now measurable connected with bumper stickers. And far too many Americans take these short messages way too literally. Bumper-sticker mentality has extended to social and political discourse. We now prefer a series of zingers to thoughtful discussion. Catchy billboards deliver 5-to-10 word summaries of complex and important issues. And the stakes escalate.

Take, for example the Christian fish. What started our as a simple icon of two intersecting arcs intended to express one's faith in Jesus Christ erupted to a debate over evolution. First, the Greek word for fish, ΙΧΘΥΣ, was added. I doubt many of its proud owners even knew that the word is an anagram for a combination of Christian ideas:

  • Iota (i) is the first letter of Iēsous (ησος), Greek for Jesus.

  • Chi (kh) is the first letter of Khristos (Χριστóς), Greek for "Christ" or "anointed."

  • Theta (th) is the first letter of Theou (Θεο), that means "God's", genitive case of Θεóς, Theos, "God".

  • Upsilon (u) is the first letter of huiosός), Greek for Son.

  • Sigma (s) is the first letter of sōtēr (Σοτήρ), Greek for Savior.

In parody of the sanctimonious nature of the fish, new designs appeared. Some changed the word to Gefilte in stylized Hebrew letters. Others changed it to "'N-Chips."

In 1983, two friends involved in the southern California atheist and free-thought movements, Al Seckel and John Edwards, co-created the Darwin fish design. They replaced the ΙΧΘΥΣ with DARWIN and added some feet.

Believers responded with a "Truth" Fish eating a "Darwin" fish. I guess they thought that put the whole mess to bed—until the dinosaur ate the truth fish. Stay tuned for the next iteration.

The sad thing is that no one is really talking about the issues. It's all a game of "Gotcha!" No one listens, no one learns, nothing changes.

The same thing goes to today with the highly-charged word—and accusation—of socialism. People, whom one would assume were somewhat informed, such as Mike Huckabee, accuse President Obama of moving the USA toward socialism. Now, has he—and the others who spew this nonsense—ever actually considered what exactly socialism is? Here is a pretty standard definition: Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.

What exactly have the president and Democratic Congress done to seek that end? It doesn't matter—it's on a bumper sticker. When the equation was reversed and Bush/Cheney were running things, you didn't see nearly as many accusations of them being fascists. Consider this widely accepted definition of fascism as being a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism. I think a compelling case could have been made. But, it too, would have been just another bumper sticker. It doesn't help anything and just makes people angry—not smarter, just angry.

We have to get away from these quick jabs that make us giggle and only poke the other guy in the eye. Eventually that will make us all blind. We need serious, sober discussion. No sound bites, no slogans. These are serious issues that require more thought that can fit on a 3-and-a-half-by-fifteen-inch piece of sticky paper.


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1 comment:

emily said...

well said!