Bumper stickers: Irritating free speech or secret coded messages to members of lost Gen X tribe

Bumper stickers covered the rear end of the smallish SUV in front of me.

The owner of the car, or one of their kids, really wanted me to know some things about them.

They wanted me to know that people from all religions could get along with the sticker that read “Coexist” using a variety of religious iconography.

They wanted me to know who they voted for in the last two elections.

They wanted me to know where they went to college.

They also wanted me to know someone they loved had died, including what year they were born and what year they died, and that they had dedicated their rear window to the memory of this person.

I knew more about this person than I really wanted to, especially for someone who was just in front of me in traffic.

I believe in unfettered free speech, even when it’s annoying or inconvenient.

I could do without the bumper stickers, but that space belonged to the car’s owner.

I used to own a car in which I placed one sticker inside the car on the passenger side above the glove box.

It read “War is over (If you want it),” a quote from a John Lennon song I loved.

The sticker stayed with the car when I traded it on my current wheels. I imagine someone peeled it off with a razor blade.

I typically don’t put identifying things on my vehicles.

In my old job as a newspaper reporter, I didn’t want to call attention to my car.

There were a lot of people who might take their frustrations out on my vehicle if they couldn’t find me.

I didn’t even have a Drake University license plate holder; there’s no place I’m prouder to be associated with than Drake.

I’m not a newspaper reporter anymore, and, to modify a line from Mark Twain, I shall try to do right and be good so God will not make one again.

So, I allow myself one bumper sticker.

It reads “WKRP 1530 AM, Cincinnati’s No. 1 Rock Station.”

This is a secret code. Only people from my tribe will understand it. My tribe is the Lost People of Gen X. We had a moment about 30 years ago. Now people just complain about Millennials, Gen Z, and other made-up things to divide us against one another.

I don’t really have a tribe. I just have a small group of people with the same shared cultural experience.

I just finished student teaching. I referenced “WKRP.” Neither the youngsters nor the teachers I worked for knew what it meant.

That’s fine.

It’s not for them.

The sticker is for people who remember when there were three channels plus PBS.

The sticker is for people who worried that if they missed an episode of their favorite show, they might never see it again.

The sticker is for people who spend a summer wondering who shot J.R., sobbed when Hawkeye took the last chopper out of the 4077th and saw B.J.’s “Goodbye” written in rocks on the ground, and stayed up way past bedtime to watch David Letterman smash things — including a Mr. T doll — in an 800-pound drill press.

I’ve had the sticker on my bumper for some years now.

People acknowledged exactly twice.

Once, I parked outside a UPS store. On the way out, a lady stopped me and asked if it was my car.

Who wants to know? I asked.

She thought the “WKRP” bumper sticker was hilarious.

She’s right. It is.

The second came the other night when I was sitting at the ice cream shop near my apartment.

The show owner leaned on my window and asked me about the sticker.

The ice cream shop used to sell Maytag appliances. The shop owner got to know Gordon Jump, who played the bored Maytag repairman in commercials.

The gag was Maytag machines, made in Newton, were so reliable they never broke down and the dullest job in the world was Maytag repairman.

Maytag ran that campaign for decades, until Whirlpool bought them out, and did away with the Maytag brand — and scores of jobs in Newton.

Jump also played Mr. Carlson on “WKRP in Cincinnati,” the show which my bumper sticker references.

The ice cream shop owner reported Gordon was a gentleman, the type of guy you could invite to church with you.

The previous actor, though, had a foul mouth and you had to be careful with him, the ice cream shop man said.

I had a pleasant talk with the ice cream shop owner. We both agreed that the Thanksgiving episode of “WKRP” was one of the funniest things we ever saw on TV.

The ice cream shop guy gets it.

He’s part of the tribe.

If you don’t get it, that’s OK. It wasn’t for you.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for the Marion County Express.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
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Circling back to Lake Superior State University’s ‘banished words’ list, at the end of the day, it makes the new normal tolerable

Lake Superior State University publishes an annual list of “Banished Words.”

The Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, school doesn’t really want to ban words. It wants to curb cliché.

Clutter is the greatest enemy to clarity in language use.

I support any effort to stamp out cliché. Having people saying all the same phrases all the time makes conversation exceptionally dull.

Clichés also give people who are decidedly not clever the impression they are.

Lake Superior State’s 2022 list of words banished “for misuse, overuse, and uselessness” include the phrases “Circle back,” “Asking for a friend,” No worries,” “You’re on Mute,” “New normal,” “Supply chain,” “Deep dive,” “That being said,” and “At the end of the day.”

My favorite banishment on this list is “new normal.”

New normal reminds me of the world “morale.”

Nobody asks people what the morale is of the youth baseball team at the ice cream store.

They ask about morale during war, when people are breaking things and killing people — and being killed — to enforce the political will of their government.

Morale, like new normal, should be governed by the lyrics to a terrific Bruce Cockburn song: “The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.”

Lake Superior State started banishing words in 1976 when a public relations person put out a satirical press release that caught the attention of bored newspaper reporters desperately trying to avoid another story about tax increment financing districts.

The university’s website includes an archive of previously banned words. I poked around for important dates in my life.

I looked at their first edition, 1976, when I was 1.

Banned by Lake Superior State included a “Call for resignation of all sports writers who fail to state clearly in the lead: The winner and the score.”

This was the advice I got as a young reporter in the early 1990s.

Today’s sports writers are writing for an audience who’ve known the score for hours and hunger for analysis that will help them make better fantasy football roster choices.

The university tossed “at this point in time,” which warms my heart.

Winterset had a biology teacher with a habit of repeating this phrase. Some of us kept score on our notebooks how often he said this. He was not amused.

Lake Superior State derided “macho” as “seldom pronounced properly and therefore lacks meaningfulness.”

I always associated the word positively with Burt Reynolds.

Today, “macho” is closely associated with “toxic masculinity,” which is one in a long series of social justice words I hope to see on future lists.

Lake Superior State wanted to trash “Star Wars” in 1985. The school referred to a proposed nuclear defense system that was as much science fiction as the films that preceded it.

In retrospect, I wish they had applied it to “Star Wars” itself, given the low-grade return on most of the movies that followed.

Someone borrowed from George Carlin’s material for a quip about “near miss,” arguing that it should be a “’near hit’ because it didn’t nearly miss, it actually did miss.’”

I was 10 years old in 1985. Ages 9 to 12 are the years, at least in terms of entertainment and friendships, that I look back on as the most halcyon of my youth.

I was too distracted by Nintendo and “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero” to get caught up in pedantic arguments about banning the use of “read” as a noun or the esoteric “In diesem unseren lande.”

The school says the phrase means “in this, our country,” and was used by German Chancellor Helmet Kohl too often.

Most Americans today couldn’t tell you who the German chancellor was without a Google search.

Even then, I’d wager a dime that they get distracted by texts or the latest outrage video.

Maybe I’m right to romanticize the age. These banished words were more thoughtful than when I graduated high school in 1993.

I cringe at how many of the banished words I used in my life, such as “went ballistic,” “victimless crime,” “win-win” and “bonding.”

Some words refused to their banishment. Political animals still use phrases such as “grass roots” and “gridlock” to describe political movements or lack of political movement.

Some banished words just took on a different spelling. “Downsizing,” for example, became “right-sizing” briefly, and currently lurks through greedy hustler corporations as “separation.”

Sneaky your-out-of-job talk continued in 1997, the year I graduated college.

The university banished “out-sourcing,” which really means firing the people who were doing work for you and hiring another company to do it cheaper, thus unburdening the shareholders with the responsibility to pay people a decent wage with benefits.

“Get a life,” “phone tag,” and “down time” all made the 1997 list, but perhaps I am of this generation, I still use them.

I don’t know how banned “You go, girl” would play in the age of intersectionality. My personal policy is to tread carefully when it comes to race, politics, and gender issues lest I unleash the wrath of bloodthirsty extremists.

I hope we can all agree that banished list from 1997 got one thing right: “La Macarena” should never be heard or seen again unless at a 1990s theme party for children who did not have to live through that novelty song.

Scroll through the lists and find the phrase that seem like you just said or heard them five minutes ago.

“Metrosexual?” Banned in 2004.

“Blue states/red states” and “… and I approve this message” unsuccessfully ejected in 2005.

“GITMO,” a military shorthand for the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison where suspected terrorists are being held. President Barack Obama’s first executive order closed GITMO in 2009. It remains open.

Neither “tweet” nor Twitter came to an end in 2010, but one could make a case the microblogging website continues to contribute to the downfall of our democracy.

The list knocked out a couple of my least favorite cliches with “baby bump” and “pet parent” getting tossed in 2012 and “bucket list” and “trending” (as in social media trends) from 2013.

By 2017, I was too old for trendy words. Lake Superior State stayed on top of things, banning “831,” which apparently means 8 letters, 3 words, 1 one meaning: I love you.

I am not a dad but have a “dadbod,” which the school clipped in 2017 as well.

The pandemic dominated 2020 and 2021’s word bans. “Unprecedented,” “In an abundance of caution,” “social distancing,” “In these uncertain times,” and “we’re all in this together” got the hook last year.

I won’t guess on what words get the Lake Superior State ban in 2023, but here’s a few I hope never to make the list:

  1. Read a book offline.
  2. Gather with friends and family and without devices.
  3. Embrace silence.
  4. Observe nature.
  5. Tell people you love them often.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
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5-sentence review of ‘Masters of the Universe: Revelation’

1.

Reviving a franchise steeped in childhood nostalgia, such as the 1980s cartoon series “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” requires a delicate balance between taking the fans’ love of the characters and setting seriously while not being so rooted in the past that the new product feels like a rehash.

2.

Showrunner Kevin Smith and his crew walk that line well with “Masters of the Universe: Revelations,” a five-episode animated series streaming on Netflix, taking the best of the original characters’ spirit, while leaving out the irritating and repeated scenes of people laughing with their hands on their hips and canned morality lessons at the end of the story.

3.

This more violent, better animated version of He-Man is clearly targeted at the adults who watch the original series and played with the toys it supported, though younger fans could hook on if they are able to hold attention on a video that lasts a whole 25 minutes.

4.

The voice cast is even somewhat of a nostalgia trip with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar, voicing female lead Teela, and veteran voice actor and the man who embodied Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill, playing the evil Skeletor.

5.

The new stuff is the good stuff with “Revelations” asking questions the audience never thought to answer —such as how would it feel for Teela to find out her mother, father, the court jester, and a talking tiger knew He-Man’s true identity — while also sending the characters on a quest that honors the lore of both comics and the original series.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
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