In his Sunday November 7th, New York Times column “Consumed”, Rob Walker takes on the yellow-ribbon magnet fad wondering why over a million people have purchased the $5 magnet with the slogan “Support Our Troops.”
Initially, back in 2003, the magnet was developed to sell as a fundraiser for schools and churches, but with copycats, the little magnet that people place on their bumper has become an all-out fad.
Walker wonders why people are so moved to buy the magnet:
“One attraction, clearly, is the message: ‘Support our Troops’ is an idea with extremely wide appeal. Noam Chomsky—to cite an authority rarely referenced on the subject of car decoration—actually addressed the attraction of that exact slogan during the 1991 (magnetless) gulf war: ‘Who can be against that?
His point was that such phrases and symbols amounted to instruments of propaganda that divert discussion from issues of substance. Of course, to apply this to the magnet-bearers is to suggest that they are making some kind of public argument, engaging if not in rhetoric then at least in a kind of advertising-like coercion: ‘Hey, fellow driver on the public roads, I implore you to support our troops.’”
Instead of being an exhortation, Walker claims that bumper art is a declaration:
Flag = “I’m a patriot!”
Bush/Cheney or Kerry/Edwards = A particular brand of patriotism
Rainbow Flag/Equality Sign = “I’m Gay and I Drive!”
Then there are the typical:
“My Kid is an Honor Student at _____!”
But, as Walker points out, its hard to figure out what some declarations mean:
“And that weirdly popular (and unauthorized) image of the Calvin character from the comic strip ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ urinating”
I’ve always wondered about this one, the “Naked Mud Flap Girl.” What does that mean? Is it an advertisement of one’s sexuality? Is it the cartoon-ish equivalent to a personals ad? Is it intended to be persuasive? Persuasive of what exactly?
If so, its not working “…onlookers are seldom, if ever, persuaded of anything.”
So why do people feel the need to make some sort of statement to strangers on the highway? Walker hypothesizes that its about the numbers
"Put a yellow ribbon in your yard, and only your neighbors will see it; put it on your car or truck, and as you crawl through your clogged commute, you may have an audience of hundreds or thousands. And maybe in the crowd you’ll notice others with declarative symbols just like yours. If there is no way to interact with them, it’s fine, because that was never really the point”