Pissing off the other crowd

by Kieran Healy on October 18, 2009

Andrew Gelman discusses Superfreakonomics saying,

The interesting question to me is why is it that “pissing off liberals” is
delightfully transgressive and oh-so-fun, whereas “pissing off conservatives” is boring and earnest?

Several years ago bumper stickers appeared that read “Annoy a Liberal. Work hard. Succeed. Be happy.” I was living in Arizona at the time, so they became a routine part of my commute. Possessing neither the blunt empirical thesis of “Guns Bought Your Freedom” nor the slow fuse of “Body Piercing Saved My Life”, the barefaced cheek of the non sequitur made the sticker absurd and irritating at the same time. I remember wondering what a parallel message to conservatives would look like. Sure enough, attempts at rebuttal soon started appearing on (other) bumpers. They were lame—stuff like “Annoy a Conservative. Think for yourself. Defend the Constitution. Balance the Budget.” Noble sentiments, but watery stuff by comparison.

Why did they seem so ineffective a response? Perhaps stronger material was needed. Might “Annoy a Conservative. Burn the Flag. Convert to Islam. Have an Abortion” work better? No. While that kind of thing can have some punch (“Jesus Loves You, But Everyone Else Thinks You’re An Asshole”), it doesn’t seem like the right tack. Instead, the best riposte to the “Annoy a Liberal” sticker is simply the same thing with the target swapped out: “Annoy a Conservative: Work. Succeed. Be Happy”. The effect is more or less the same as the original, especially if placed on the back of your Lesbaru. Temporarily suspending my longstanding irritation at divisions of this sort, much of what passes for “Pissing off Conservatives” is really an effort to rebut some ridiculous charge or other, instead of a genuinely symmetrical attempt to piss someone off. Or, as the story has Lyndon Johnson arguing, it’s better to kick off the conversation in a way that forces the other guy to deny that he’s a pig-fucker.

{ 86 comments }

1

KC45s 10.18.09 at 1:09 am

I prefer “Annoy a Conservative: Think. Have wild sex. Be happy.” But to each his own.

2

Anthony 10.18.09 at 1:21 am

The most emotionally effective such bumpersticker I’ve seen from the left side was “Redefeat Bush” back in ’04. But even that wasn’t much better. “Jesus loves you; everyone else thinks you’re an asshole” isn’t an explicitly political message. Nobody sells “Annoy a Conservative: Work. Succeed. Be Happy”, at least not within reach of the Bay Area’s Prius drivers, or if they do, nobody is buying. Probably because the existence of liberals who work, succeed, and are happy doesn’t annoy real or caricatured conservatives.

American liberals have a problem because it’s altogether too easy to force them to deny that they’re pig-fuckers, and they have no clue why.

3

Kevin Goodman 10.18.09 at 1:29 am

I think this has effectively taught me to respect bumper kitsch as a serious cultural dynamic, and mischievously misleading but revealing art form – Bravo.

4

total 10.18.09 at 1:55 am

“Re-elect Gore in ’04” worked pretty well.

5

Jeffrey 10.18.09 at 1:58 am

I have the bumper stickers “God Is Just Pretend”, “Nothing Fails Like Prayer”, and “I’m Already Against The Next War”.

These are pretty good at pissing off conservatives.

6

Moby Hick 10.18.09 at 2:05 am

I always wondered if the people who kept cutting me off in traffic while sporting Obama stickers were Obama supporters who drive like shit or a part of a deliberate false-flag operation.

7

Salient 10.18.09 at 2:14 am

Annoy a Conservative: Worship God, Not Mammon

8

Salient 10.18.09 at 2:26 am

Insofar as Gelman is correct, he’s not correct (and Kieran’s got it right when he observes asymmetry).

Liberals, generally, just aren’t interested in picking fights and raising heckles with their political opponents qua people (this would be a bully mentality, lightly refined for adult life). I wouldn’t go so far as to say that conservatives are interested in this either, generally speaking, and I wouldn’t even accuse most of the tea-baggers of this interest in bullying. However, I think those individuals who do enjoy raising heckles and bullying bear the kind of authoritarian mindset that lends itself well to conservative or reactionary politics.

I’d guess those individuals who do enjoy raising heckles, but are also liberal, are the liberals who focus single-mindedly on ridiculing the intelligence of their opponents, broadly conceived (e.g., who ridicule all rural folks as idiot hicks).

9

Mike 10.18.09 at 2:31 am

I’d suggest simplifying the first rebuttal, so it reads, “Annoy a Conservative: Think.”

10

ed 10.18.09 at 2:35 am

“Jesus was a hippie. I hate hippies.”

http://www.unamerican.com/catalog/
has a lot of good ideas.
e.g., “Do not buy anything from any bake sale that the air force may hold to buy a bomber, because those bombs will kill people.”

You’ll find a lot of good ones from the “classic stickers 1994-2006,” in the letter “f” section.

11

bad Jim 10.18.09 at 2:44 am

It’s a waste of time to piss off conservatives. They’re already as angry as can be.

Salient, aren’t you doing exactly the same thing you’re accusing others of doing? Should I suspect you of harboring an authoritarian mindset or focusing on the intellectual inadequacies of those you disdain? I, at least, have your own words as evidence.

My family has a history of sporting incendiary bumper stickers, not least because we live in a staunchly conservative county. There is such a thing as sticking up for your own side, and there is room for outrage over even such minor matters as an unjust war. (By the way, we tend to score at the bottom of Altemeyer’s authoritarian scale.)

12

Neil 10.18.09 at 2:49 am

bad jim may be unauthoritarian, but he bows to no one on the gratuitous insult front.

“Unemployment for all, not just the rich”

13

Colin Danby 10.18.09 at 2:53 am

Remind me why you want to annoy people who drive bigger vehicles than you do.

14

Salient 10.18.09 at 2:54 am

Salient, aren’t you doing exactly the same thing you’re accusing others of doing?

What, in #6? I would never put such a sticker on my car. It was meant to be an example of how easy it would be to write such stickers. I suppose I should’ve prefaced it.

“there is room for outrage over even such minor matters as an unjust war.”

Agreed! But that’s not what I was talking about (I don’t think?) — at least that wouldn’t fall under what I meant to sweep up. It’s not the incendiary protest stuff that qualifies as “bullying.” Bullying, as I’m using the word here, is intentionally saying something provocative and hurtful for the sole purpose of hurting and angering people you don’t like.

Presumably your incendiary bumper stickers against war reflect your earnest promotion of an anti-war sentiment. Now, if you fully supported the war and only pasted the sticker on your car so people would read it and be upset, just because you like the idea of upsetting other people, then yes, I guess you would qualify under my statement (But we both know that’s not the case.)

Compare your bumper sticker with “Annoy a liberal. Work hard. Be happy.” The point of this sticker is to say that any liberal would be deeply dissatisfied with any life of hard work, because liberals are lazy schmucks. There’s no protest or proposal involved, no earnestness. The sticker-owner knows there exist non-lazy liberals, and in fact, the pleasure they derive from pasting the sticker is knowing how upset and hurt non-lazy liberals will feel after reading the sticker. (Then you can make fun of them for their sensitivity!) That, surely we would agree, is bullying.

15

Delicious Pundit 10.18.09 at 2:57 am

Isn’t part of the conservative impulse permanently pissed off at the general going-to-hell-in-a-handbasketness of the world? If it’s not the gays, or the hiphops with their rappity-tap music, it’s the revolutionaries in France ruining a perfectly good ancien regime. To be a conservative is to be running around saving civilization from progress, and nobody appreciates it.

Like, when Burke says,”Happy if learning, not debauched by ambition, had been satisfied to continue the instructor, and not aspired to be the master!” — doesn’t that mean that the actual state of affairs is unhappy? — because learning is in the driver’s seat instead of the people who should be ruling, i.e. aristocrats who spend all their tenants’ money on whist.

That’s the attitude that leads to bumper stickers reminding conservatives to be happy, and even then it’s only because it pisses off liberals.

16

Salient 10.18.09 at 3:02 am

See, the value in a bullying bumper sticker derives from co-opting characteristics which the opponent group would like to claim for themselves. It has nothing to do with what particular policies you value or support, and everything to do with taking something rather uncontroversial and universally accepted, and claiming its partisan affiliation.

Annoy a Conservative: Support Liberty, Not Tyranny

Annoy a Conservative: Support Democracy, Not Dictatorship

The reason you don’t see so many such bumper stickers is not because they would be hard to write; it’s because most liberals would look at such stickers and think, “meh, waste of energy, doesn’t mean anything.” They wouldn’t see value in bullying.

And — I maintain this — neither would most workaday conservatives. It takes a specific mindset to enjoy propagating this content-free antagonism.

17

P O'Neill 10.18.09 at 3:05 am

If “Betrayus” ever made it to a bumper sticker, it surely would have pissed off conservatives since they seem so outraged about it anyway. But one issue is that it was impossible to tell whether that outrage was real or faked, or even if they’d been doing the outrage thing for so long, that they’d forgotten the difference.

I think “Keep the Rams Rush-Free” would also have the desired effect.

18

Grant 10.18.09 at 3:08 am

Annoy a Conservative: Treat others as you would have them treat you.

How bout that?

19

Substance McGravitas 10.18.09 at 3:18 am

“Keep the Rams Rush-Free”

That’s terrific.

20

NECLC 10.18.09 at 3:24 am

“the barefaced cheek of the non sequitur made the sticker absurd and irritating at the same time.”
It’s not a non sequitur to conservatives. It may be illogical, but that’s not the same thing. There’s a logic to religion too.
“Work Hard”= work for yourself, in open self interest, in greed. “Succeed”= win, as opposed to merely having or aspiring to a job you enjoy. “Be happy”= happy in yourself, with your greed and your winnings.

Red states may take more money from the Feds than they pay in taxes, and Republican foreign policy may guarantee economic and military failure but facts are irrelevant when you can still win US elections. And when you can’t win elections you can still stomp around and raise a fuss, maybe start a few fights and think of yourself as a real man brought low by a conspiracy of corrupt sissies.
Every delusion has a logic. And liberals have their own record of hypocrisy as I’ve tried to point out in the thread on hate crimes [no one wants to read Derrick Bell] but these days the fight is between competence and incompetence and liberals and Democrats have the clear advantage.
Still…

“Piss off a conservative: Learn to read,”
“The louder the pipes, the smaller the cock”
“I’m a Jewish carpenter. You’re fired”

Democrats want to be right more than they want to win. You’ve just shown that in your post. A lawyer wants to win his case. It doesn’t make him a fascist. And the press is not a ref. Bring it.

21

bad Jim 10.18.09 at 3:33 am

My brother and my brother-in-law both have “God is just pretend” bumper stickers, and they do piss people off, including the police; they’ve both gotten tickets they suspect they would not have gotten otherwise.

I got a lot of comments from one with a goofy picture of Bush and “WTF?”, mostly from older people who wondered what “WTF” meant. Since the election I’ve had “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sake!” and “In God We Doubt”, neither of which has drawn the least attention.

Perhaps Salient is right, and we don’t actually do bullying. After seeing the “Annoy a liberal” sticker I thought about making one that read “Everything annoys a conservative”, but the sentiment seemed to express its own superfluousness. Perhaps some moderates or independents or comparably weak-minded people might find it instructive.

22

Michael Drake 10.18.09 at 3:44 am

One of the problems with casting pearls before swine is that they are pearls before swine.

23

slobberchops 10.18.09 at 4:05 am

Be yourself. Love others. Live life.

24

bad Jim 10.18.09 at 4:07 am

There seem to be a lot more Obama stickers in my little liberal beach front enclave than there were before the election. People like a winner, and what surer sign of success could there be than a fashion for having your name or your face featured on every other Lexus SUV? (Disclosure: my sister drives an RX600H.) This explains #5; they are Lexus drivers, after all.

Pissing off the conservatives may not be the intent, but it can hardly fail to be the effect.

25

Ceri B. 10.18.09 at 4:46 am

It’s too long for an actual bumper sticker, but I’d go for something like “Annoy a Conservative: Honor Your Vows, Love Your Neighbors, Improve the World”.

26

Kenny Easwaran 10.18.09 at 4:48 am

I once saw a McCain-Palin bumper sticker on a Prius in Berkeley. I still don’t know if that was an earnest or ironic bumper sticker. The fact that it was the only bumper sticker on the car leads me to think it was earnest, but I really don’t know.

27

MikeJ 10.18.09 at 5:01 am

28

will u. 10.18.09 at 5:01 am

I enjoyed the “Bush/Cheney ’84” stickers I saw in Ithaca, NY.

29

NECLC 10.18.09 at 5:29 am

“we don’t actually do bullying.”
And you don’t dig in the dirt or work on the line. You merely give “sincere” “earnest” “support” for those who do.
My mother used to tell a story about California in the McCarthy era, as a grad student marching alongside Harry Bridges’ longshoremen with one jackass trying his best to start trouble and a big hulking lug walking behind him yelling as my mother put it “A-gent provaca-too-ur! A-gent provaca-tooo-ur!” Later in life she risked hard time in the federal pen for her beliefs. And she was one of the grad students who wrote the curriculum that got Clark Kerr fired.
You don’t do bullying and you don’t stand up to it.

The practicing Catholic Michael Moore, and Jon Stewart (born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz) for all their faults are millionaire liberals who bully. But I’m sure you prefer G.A. Cohen, ex-Stalinist, ex-“non-bullshit”-Marxist [read:ex-bullshit Marxist] and rank sentimentalist who didn’t.
Your capacity for self-regard is astounding.

30

tiedtothewind 10.18.09 at 5:44 am

How about this?
Annoy a conservative, Be Humane.
A non-sequitur in itself as annoying people of any stripe just for the hell of it is hardly humane. But, it can be FUN! ::WG::

31

rigel 10.18.09 at 5:57 am

#25
Why are you holding up your mother in order to try and prove your bona fides?

just curious.

sincerely and earnestly,

rigel

32

alex 10.18.09 at 7:32 am

Jon Stewart’s a bully? How far down this line can we go? Is doing anything which makes someone else uncomfortable now bullying? Heaven forfend a journalist should ask awkward questions, or an outraged citizen demand honest answers…

33

bad Jim 10.18.09 at 8:08 am

My capacity for self-regard is infinite or possibly transfinite. However, my comment about not bullying was descriptive rather than prescriptive. Tomorrow I’ll accompany my aged mother to church where we recently sang “You don’t scare me, I’m sticking with the union.” Typical Unitarian fare.

We fight. My mother actually got a few things done in her political career, and the tangible results aren’t limited to the expansive greenbelt or the gentrifying planning process but the change in the civic mindset, not that she or any other individual could claim the entire credit. My city has nevertheless changed in the direction that she and a few like-minded citizens originally championed.

There’s a reason that “Save Laguna Canyon” isn’t as common a bumper sticker as it used to be. I’m not going to apologize for being an environmentalist and a well-to-do suburbanite. The chaparral surrounding the town fills my yard with finches and doves and swallows and orioles and mockingbirds and gnatcatchers and swallows and hummingbirds and crows and don’t you have any highly evolved dinosaurs of your own?

34

Henri Vieuxtemps 10.18.09 at 9:24 am

@17 “Work Hard”= work for yourself, in open self interest, in greed. “Succeed”= win, as opposed to merely having or aspiring to a job you enjoy. “Be happy”= happy in yourself, with your greed and your winnings.

I don’t think that’s the point of this slogan. The point is: ‘you can make it without any government help or government handouts, and that’s the only way to achieve happiness.’ Something like that.

35

bryan 10.18.09 at 10:04 am

Annoy a Conservative: Live Free, and Live Well.

36

Henri Vieuxtemps 10.18.09 at 10:14 am

Annoy a conservative wingnut: join a union, work less, be happy.

37

Chris Dornan 10.18.09 at 10:25 am

Disclaimer: I am at a disadvantage here not having lived among the bumper-sticker culture-wars, so I might be missing something here.

I think Kieran’s original bumper sticker, ‘Annoy a Liberal. Work hard. Succeed. Be happy.’ was very good–it certainly seems to have stuck with Kieran, and he would hardly have built a post on it if it wasn’t. It catches a conservative ethic while pointing out a liberal tendency to overthinking and angst. The riposte, just swapping conservative for liberal was pretty good because it questions the rather lazy self-congratulatory assumptions in the original. Salient’s ‘Annoy a Conservative: Worship God, Not Mammon’ is sublime.

I really can’t see why any of this is bullying, any more than Jon Stewart bullies–likewise they should be witty and perhaps offer up a fresh perspective but without the wit they become boorish.

As for the idea that conservatives troll, I suspect it is at least exaggerated, but here is a thought. To the extent it is really true, that liberals are convinced that they are the adults, then I think this points to bullying tendencies in them.

I am glad to see the attention that chapter 5 of Superfreakonomics is getting. The authors have prestige and a platform which they should use responsibly, but, given the apparent shoddiness of their work, chapter 5 (and putting ‘Global Cooling’ in the title) was a major error of judgement . Given what is at stake I find it pretty monstrous, and I am heartened to see this rapid and intense scrutiny; it should be taken down quickly. Not by outrage, but by reason and evidence, just as it is.

38

William Burns 10.18.09 at 11:33 am

How about “Annoy a Conservative: Have sex”? Would that work?

39

Alex 10.18.09 at 12:00 pm

33 is good.

“Love thy neighbour as thyself; and just think how it’ll make Dick Cheney feel!” Too long, of course.

“Science, reason, and basic decency beat brute force and ignorance.”

40

Harvey Brack 10.18.09 at 12:01 pm

i dont think liberals get it: they are the new conservatives

41

Substance McGravitas 10.18.09 at 1:12 pm

The point is: ‘you can make it without any government help or government handouts, and that’s the only way to achieve happiness.’

This still requires reading in. Read it directly: liberals hate hard work, success and happiness, however you define them. That these crazy liberals are not institutionalized by law is sad and mysterious. Also: PEACE PRIZE. WE GOT ONE.

42

praisegod barebones 10.18.09 at 1:27 pm

@38

Just drop the quotation marks. Who needs a bumper sticker?

43

Lichen 10.18.09 at 1:38 pm

“If small government worked in the first place, it would never grow larger.”

(Whether strictly true or not — I think it would be annoying)

44

Salient 10.18.09 at 2:30 pm

I really can’t see why any of this is bullying

Well, it’s a matter of intent.

In Madison, one year, there was a guy who printed out 8.5 x 11 anti-liberal posters (one memorable one said War Never Solved Anything Except Fascism, Communism, Nazism, Socialism, Maoism, Terrorism, etc) and posted them around the Humanities building and elsewhere, also advertising a website. I know this because I ran into the guy one evening as he walked around taping them up.

The poster he was hanging at the time bore a pretty vicious slur which I don’t remember. He saw me reading it and tapped me on the shoulder and said, “don’t you love it?” (He could have seen from my expression that I was stung.) I remember exhale-sighing and saying, not directly to him, “unbelievable, what the hell, dude.” Falling intonation, nothing threatening.

This made him quite amused. He said, “What, you want to make something of it, b***h?” He tossed the envelope of posters aside, put up his fists like a boxer, and smirked. I had no idea what to make of that, backed away a couple steps, palms up, saying, “whoa, whoa, whoa,” etc. He snickered (or whatever you call it when people make a contempuous laugh that comes out as a “tih” sound) and said, “pussy.” Picked up his poster envelope, walked away, turned and called out something like “call me when you’re ready to stick up for yourself and defend your country.” (That isn’t quite right but I don’t remember the exact words.)

Anyway, IIRC, the website on the posters was the advertising page for a Cafe Press company which made and sold bumper stickers with the slogans he was posting. One of the slogans was exactly that which Kieran mentioned in the original post.

The association seems to me to be apt rather than coincidental.

Compare and Contrast:

* “No Muslims = No Terrorism”

* “Liberal Hunting Tag: No Bag Limit”

* “Got Ammo?” (with Obama’s face in the cross-hairs)

* “Speak English Or Go Back To The Sorry Ass Country You Came From”

* “I Work Hard So You Don’t Have To”

* “If you can Read This, You’re In Range” (with a bullet-ridden target)

* “Since I’m Paying Your Mortgage — Where’s My Rent?”

* “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For the American”

* “Don’t get the Impression that you have aroused my Anger. You see, one can only be angry with one he Respects.”

* “A Nation of Sheep Will Be Ruled By A Monkey”

* “Quit Honking, I’m Reloading”

* “I Think, Therefore I Vote Republican”

* “I tried Seeing your Point of View but I Couldn’t Get My Head That Far Up My Ass”

* “When Did YOU Become My Responsibility?”

* “Yes We Can Secede”

* “HOPE Is Not A Plan”

* “NatiOnal Disgrace” (O replaced by Obama election symbol)

* If you think Health Care is Expensive now, Wait Until It’s Free!

* Change. n. When used by liberals: Higher Taxes.

Some of these are pretty clearly motivated by bullying, and others are reasonably motivated by frustration with policy or by political difference. It’s worth pondering which fall under which category, whether there’s a gradient in between, and what the limit of acceptable discourse ought to be.

45

Eric H 10.18.09 at 2:41 pm

Wow, so the rumors about conservatives, progressives, and bumper stickers are all true?

46

aaron 10.18.09 at 2:44 pm

It occurs to me that this entire discussion is sort of limited by the fact that “annoy a conservative” is the taken for granted part of every alternate bumper sticker suggestion. Yet the idea that the purpose of politics is essentially antagonistic — as opposed to the production of a more just society — is a far more sympathetic notion on the right than the left; as salient put it, “It takes a specific mindset to enjoy propagating this content-free antagonism,” but that’s what each of these bumper stickers do. A real alternative wouldn’t be one that annoys the right (as a mirror image version of “annoy a liberal”) but would meat hate with love. “The more you hate me, the more I love you,” perhaps. Though it fails as provocation, except insofar as conservatives are provoked by being reminded what a twisted version of Jesus they worship.

47

Ahistoricality 10.18.09 at 3:09 pm

I don’t accept the framing of this question. Those bumper stickers aren’t aimed at “bullying” the opposition, whatever that means. (“Liberal hunting license” — that’s bullying. ) At best, it’s what Ralph Luker calls “nose-tweaking” or what we used to call “teasing.”

Most bumper stickers — at least most of the ones described here — are declarations of solidarity with friendlies, and the best ones are attempts to create moments of thought and identification among uncommitteds.

48

engels 10.18.09 at 3:36 pm

the idea that the purpose of politics is essentially antagonistic—as opposed to the production of a more just society—is a far more sympathetic notion on the right than the left

So much for ‘the history of all hitherto existing societies…’, I guess.

49

alex 10.18.09 at 4:24 pm

Yes, well, the USA shot and hanged all its real socialists a long time ago, so now there isn’t any class conflict…

Now, if you could fit that on a bumper-sticker…

50

alex 10.18.09 at 4:25 pm

Feck, I said the s-word…

Yes, well, the USA shot and hanged all its real socia1ists a long time ago, so now there isn’t any class conflict…

Now, if you could fit that on a bumper-sticker…

51

Soderberg 10.18.09 at 4:25 pm

Anything in French.

52

Colin Danby 10.18.09 at 5:32 pm

#46 seems about right. Aggressive bumper stickers, in general, are a bit pathetic: their larger message is “I have a chip on my shoulder.”

53

joXn 10.18.09 at 5:51 pm

I had “I love my country but I think we should start seeing other people” on my car and it got vandalized.

I had a Darwin fish on my car, and it got ripped off. So I escalated with http://www.evolvefish.com/fish/emblems.html#2482

54

R.Mutt 10.18.09 at 5:53 pm

How about “Annoy a Conservative: Be Happy”?

55

Substance McGravitas 10.18.09 at 6:02 pm

Aggressive bumper stickers, in general, are a bit pathetic: their larger message is “I have a chip on my shoulder.”

This is why they’re fun to put on cars you do not own.

56

nick 10.18.09 at 6:11 pm

Your flag sticker won’t get you into Heaven any more–they’re already overcrowded from your dirty little wars.

57

Tom West 10.18.09 at 7:12 pm

I think that Mike’s suggestion at #9

“Annoy a Conservative: Think.”

is closest in tone to the original.

The original works because while no Liberal would object to the idea of working hard, being successful and being happy, we and the public know that that is not where most of our effort goes (if nothing else, we don’t believe that for a large class of people, working hard is sufficient to be successful or happy).

Likewise, while conservatives value thinking, they and the public know that their major concern is not with the ability to freely explore all manner of thought.

That’s why these bumper sticker works to annoy. They obviously mischaracterize, but they mischaracterize in a fashion that has resonance with the stereotype of the ideology.

58

Salient 10.18.09 at 7:35 pm

“Honk if Jesus hates me. And if He doesn’t, why do you?”

59

Salient 10.18.09 at 8:18 pm

Also: I don’t think that “teasing” is a superior word to “bullying” — some teasing actually is bullying, and the teasing that is not bullying is always done with some mutual acknowledgment of friendliness and love and mutual caring (which might’ve been present in 1983 when the Annoy a Liberal stickers started appearing — wouldn’t know, as I wasn’t born yet — but sure isn’t apparent nowadays).

If you tease someone and want them to be not just upset by it but also stung by it, or if you want to laugh and enjoy their (anticipated) psychic injury, you’re bullying.

OK, back to fun bumper stickers. Here’s an apolitical one I just witnessed today that falls under the “slow burn” category:

Look Twice — Save A Life
Motorcycles Are Everywhere

This almost inspires me to construct a set of political bumper stickers out of apolitical bumper stickers by surgically replacing one apolitical word with a political word. The above is already glorious, but consider:

Look Conservative — Save A Life
Motorcycles Are Everywhere

Look Twice — Save A Liberal
Priuses Are Everywhere

Look Twice — Save A Life
Communists Are Everywhere

I love the role reversal in that last one. There’s lots of potential in this genre:

Time is Centrists are what keeps everything from happening at once.

Do Not Meddle In The Affairs Of Libertarians, For You Are Crunchy And Taste Good With Ketchup

60

Kaveh 10.18.09 at 8:32 pm

How about: Soc1alists Are Everywhere
(implying the driver is a soc1alist?)

Or, taking off the coexist bumper stickers that replace the letters of “coexist” with various religious symbols and the interlocking mars-and-mars/venus-and-venus:

Why do conservatives hate America?

replacing the letters in “America” with the same kinds of symbols. It would take a clever graphic artist to pull this off.

It would work as bullying because it has the proper element of power move: the U.S. is, in fact, increasingly diverse and tolerant, and ideological social conservatives are increasingly looking destined to be a shrinking minority.

61

engels 10.18.09 at 8:33 pm

Annoy a conservative. Let down his tires.

62

Salient 10.18.09 at 8:35 pm

How about: Soc1alists Are Everywhere

You have no idea how long it took me to change it to “communist” and regretfully because I didn’t want to type the idiotic-looking 1 in mid-word and I didn’t want to make Kieran moderate any more than necessary. :-/

63

engels 10.19.09 at 12:41 am

Annoy a conservative. Attend his school or university, move into his neighbourhood, sleep with his girlfriend, take over his job. (Bonus: may also work with liberals.)

64

subtext 10.19.09 at 2:54 am

Realistically, engels, not many people can maintain the seething animosity that requires. The conservative’s school is a second-rate busy box from the National Review’s sour-grapes list, when it’s not a holy-rolling cult compound where you study Jesus, the Lord, the Bible, scriptures, the gospel, and Christ. His neighborhood is a terrifying regimented ghetto of flimsy gimcrack hovels drowned in debt. His girlfriend has ersatz yellow hair and a jowly face troweled with parti-colored mucilage and she’s catatonic in the sack. His job is a soul-searing Horatio Alger sales ordeal that requires a winning attitude and a poignant suit.

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derek 10.19.09 at 10:11 am

Piss off a conservative: change something

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Dan S. 10.19.09 at 10:14 am

Piss off a conservative: fix something

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frances 10.19.09 at 11:48 am

Seen on a pick up truck while waiting for a bus somewhere on the Olympic Peninsula “my boy just beat up on your honour student”. Which made me feel really sad. But it was the day that we had bumped into a cougar coming the opposite direction on the same mountain track which made me feel really happy.

USA is a strange and foreign country – but has no monopoly on twisted bigotry.

And Washington State used to have really cheap buses – 60 miles for a $1 ticket! This was in 2002 so hope they are still subsidised.

68

Matt McIrvin 10.19.09 at 12:20 pm

Isn’t this asymmetry an accident of recent history rather than anything essential? I wasn’t old enough to notice, but they tell me that 40 years ago it was the left doing all the aggressive freaking of squares.

I think it’s just a simple consequence of American society becoming officially anti-racist and anti-sexist (at least, in the lip service one is expected to give) rather than pro-. It gives bigots a lot of new ways to look subversive where previously they’d just have been stating conventional things.

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derek 10.19.09 at 12:33 pm

No, conservatives (at least the reactionary sort) are all about fixing that which never should have been changed by progessives. Progressives are all about changing that which never was changed, but really should be by now.

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AlanDownunder 10.19.09 at 1:11 pm

Conservatives – proof of God’s wrath
I’m from the government and I’m NOT here to help. I’m a conservative.
There’s no loser like a conservative loser*

* do liberals ever use the word “loser”? do conservatives ever stop using it?

71

Consumatopia 10.19.09 at 3:09 pm

Make these days better than the good ‘ole days. It shouldn’t be hard, the good ‘ole days actually kind of sucked.

72

Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 10.19.09 at 4:24 pm

‘The poster he was hanging at the time bore a pretty vicious slur which I don’t remember. He saw me reading it and tapped me on the shoulder and said, “don’t you love it?” (He could have seen from my expression that I was stung.) I remember exhale-sighing and saying, not directly to him, “unbelievable, what the hell, dude.” Falling intonation, nothing threatening.

This made him quite amused. He said, “What, you want to make something of it, b***h?” He tossed the envelope of posters aside, put up his fists like a boxer, and smirked. I had no idea what to make of that, backed away a couple steps, palms up, saying, “whoa, whoa, whoa,” etc. He snickered (or whatever you call it when people make a contempuous laugh that comes out as a “tih” sound) and said, “pussy.” Picked up his poster envelope, walked away, turned and called out something like “call me when you’re ready to stick up for yourself and defend your country.”’

Yeah Salient, but if you had clocked him one, he’d be whining on the whatever the equivalent of NRO was then about liberals being intolerant of dissenting opinions. You can’t win with these folks.

In general, I find all political bumperstickers annoying.

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Keith 10.19.09 at 4:32 pm

The problem is that conservatives are only annoying the strawman liberals in their heads. Coming up with an earnest liberal response is like trying to treat a schizophrenic by convincing all his other personalities to go on vacation so you can change the locks while they’re out.

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Ben Hyde 10.19.09 at 5:33 pm

“Or, as the story has Lyndon Johnson arguing, it’s better to kick off the conversation in a way that forces the other guy to deny that he’s a pig-fucker.”

In the late sixties my father passed along similar advise, saying he’d read Mao’s advise to being all negotiations by labeling your opponent a running dog.

Polarizing bummer stickers need to address both sides; one side should nod, smile and think “yep, certainly some true to that!” while the opposing side twists up their face, sputters, sighs and launches into a long tedious explanation why the joke isn’t.

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engels 10.19.09 at 5:53 pm

Gosh, bumper stickers pathetic and annoying? Next you’ll be telling us that furry dice hanging from your windscreen are not very tasteful…

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alex 10.19.09 at 6:25 pm

@72: a swift kick in the ‘nads would have done the trick… It doesn’t matter what he says afterwards about libruls, he’s still spent several minutes on the floor trying to remember how to breathe. And for someone like that, that’s not easy.

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Keith M Ellis 10.19.09 at 11:53 pm

Salient’s made a lot of good points. Whether teasing is the same as bullying is not as important as the fact that both are inherently aggressive.

This discussion answers some questions I’ve had lately concerning an old high school friend of mine. Back then, I saw him as a kindred spirit—both of us tended to be iconoclastic, we questioned authority, we were sarcastic. Like most teenagers, except more so, and more counter-culture. If I had been asked to guess back then what his politics would be thirty years later, I’d have supposed they’d be left-of-center because of his contrarian tendencies. But, as you’ve no doubt guessed, he’s a Fox News watching “libertarian” who spends a lot of his time finding ways to annoy liberals.

He annoys me, in fact. While it seems perfectly obvious to me that good Facebook netiquette is to refrain from posting antagonistic comments on the political posts by friends who hold opposing views, he clearly enjoys doing so in response to his (few) liberal friends’ posts. He likes to annoy people—it’s a clear line from our high school days to here. It’s just that back then, I wasn’t one of his targets.

There well may be the sort of sorting by temperament in politics that salient proposes, but, if so, it’s a weak sorting. Clearly, as NECLC’s comment indicates, there are many people on the left who feel that deliberate belligerence is an essential component of political action (whether or not they justify it as a necessary response to their opponents’ belligerence). I find it very interesting that NECLC and people like him use the very same kind of language, and express the very same brand of contempt, against non-belligerent liberals as do belligerent conservatives against all liberals. For them, politics is not policy, it’s conquest—and those allies who fail to understand this are part of the problem and not part of the solution. You can see this played out every day in the comments in the liberal blogosphere.

Even if there’s a lot of what I’m calling “belligerent liberals”, I still think that salient is on to something. Maybe it’s the case that the political culture has changed enough such that strong conservative positions are provocative today when they were innocuous thirty years ago. But I think that a lot of today’s conservative provocateurs would have been the same way back then. Instead of being contrarian, they would have simply belligerently enforced the status quo. They would be the ones making fun of the hippies on the street. I am utterly convinced that an important component of conservatism (not necessarily a trait shared by all conservatives) is a character that is authoritarian, conformist, and has an admiration for brutality. People with those temperaments may find their way to the left—but only in certain places and times when that characterizes that specific manifestation of the left. In more general terms, there’s something about that temperament that is more associated with the right than with the left. And thus these sorts of bumper stickers are more frequently targeted against liberals, than against conservatives.

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Joshua Holmes 10.20.09 at 3:45 am

Having spent a lot of time around conservatives – raised a fundamentalist Christian – I can tell you that nothing angers a conservative more than a proud association with liberalism. Conservatives hate the COEXIST bumpersticker, “Envision World Peace”, the Darwin fish, etc.

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Chris 10.20.09 at 1:43 pm

I am utterly convinced that an important component of conservatism (not necessarily a trait shared by all conservatives) is a character that is authoritarian, conformist, and has an admiration for brutality.

For more than you ever wanted to know about that personality type, see here:
The Authoritarians

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michael e sullivan 10.20.09 at 7:37 pm

Conservatives don’t much like the rear of my wife’s car either, which shows a darwin fish facing a plain ichthus with a little red heart drawn above the meeting point. But it throws them a little. And a lot of people *love* it.

81

Matthew Lillard 10.20.09 at 8:45 pm

I can’t resist posting an oldie from Texas. I saw a photo during my time at Texas A&M of a popular bumper sticker from the 70’s during the oil crisis. “Drive 70, Freeze a Yankee.”
You have to love that kind of animosity. Now that I live away, it is almost quaint.

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Dan Armstrong 10.21.09 at 2:06 am

To get back to the original question: The reason it’s more fun to annoy liberals is that they tend to be more earnest and take themselves more seriously. Exceptions exist, of course, but in general it’s true. Not too hard to get a liberal to start sputtering in outrage. Not nearly as much fun to see a conservative roll his eyes. I’m sure liberals feel that the opposite is true, but PJ O’Rourke, Tom Wolfe and Dennis Miller beg to differ.

On the liberal side, commentators like Michael Moore and Jeanne Garofolo are more angry than funny. They’re the Glenn Becks of the left, dealing in self-righteousness rather than humor.

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Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 10.21.09 at 8:40 pm

“On the liberal side, commentators like Michael Moore and Jeanne Garofolo are more angry than funny.”

Yeah. That Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, you couldn’t get more unfunny talentless hacks, eh?

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david 10.22.09 at 1:42 am

“PJ O’Rourke, Tom Wolfe and Dennis Miller”

Comedy club nightmares. Wolfe’s the worst, but the other two are somehow equally insufferable. Insufferable, I hasten to add earnestly and seriously, because they are not funny. Although Dennis Miller had a decent Joan of Arc joke a while back.

Is there a sufferability limit below which there is no measure?

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Ano 10.22.09 at 6:19 pm

“Only cowards support torture”

I think that hits ‘em where they live.

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stevehar 10.22.09 at 11:19 pm

Consider the need for a new distinction.

The antonym of liberal is not conservative but reactionary or even better revanchist
read Tanenbaum’s book.

So:
Reactionaries flame-out, then die. Let 100 flowers bloom

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