Friday, July 1, 2011

A post about farms, bumper stickers, and shared cultural touchstones

Around here I see a lot of cars sporting "No farms, no food" bumper stickers. It's the slogan of an organization that works to protect farmland from development, which is a pretty popular position around here, where the quality of the soil and the short growing season make farming even more of a dicey proposition than in many other parts of the US. Add to that the fact that New England is pretty heavily developed already, and it's not hard to see why a farmer in Western Massachusetts might be willing to sell her fields to Wal-Mart or something.

Anyway, over the past week or so I've seen two variant bumper stickers. One said, "No farms, no beer," which is funny (beer!) and more accurate than the original sticker - after all, we could always fish and hunt and gather, (though I wouldn't like to do it myself) but making beer exclusively from wild hops and barley seems pretty unlikely. The other one was a more positive, but less grammatically parsable "Yes farms, yes food." Would "Yes farms, yes food" make sense to someone who wasn't already familiar with the "No farms, no food" sticker? I've heard of (though I haven't seen) yet another bumper sticker that says, "Know farms, know food," which is another nice take on the topic AND possibly a riff on a popular religious slogan - "No God, no peace; know God, know peace"* but again, not something that makes a whole lot of sense on its own.

Which reminds me of a great bumper sticker I saw last year at a gift shop near Baxter State Park in Maine. It said, "This car climbed Mt. Katahdin," and I thought it was hilarious (I didn't buy one and I'm still annoyed with myself about that - next time I am at Baxter I am 100% definitely getting one). Now, in order to find that bumper sticker as hilarious as I do you have to be in a certain shared cultural space with me.
  1. You have to be familiar with the "This car climbed Mt. Washington" bumper sticker, reasonably common in New England, advertising the prowess of cars that have ascended New England's highest peak via the (genuinely treacherous) Mt. Washington auto road.
  2. You have to know that the peak of Mt. Katahdin is accessible only by foot.
  3. And for good measure, it helps to know that although Katahdin is about 1,000 feet shorter than Washington, it's an absolute bastard to climb, and significantly more difficult (and vastly less popular) than Mt. Washington.
Anyway, what I'm saying is, bumper stickers don't have a lot of room to get their message across, and so the best ones use not only catchy slogans but also cultural in-jokes and shared understanding. I'm coming to appreciate the genius of the clever bumper sticker, and thinking it might be time to get some for my as-yet-sticker free car. If you're heading up to Baxter pick one up for me.

* With assorted variations like "No Jesus, no love," etc.


Liam said...

I have a t-shirt that says "This body climbed Mt. Washington."

Liam said...

Of course an even funnier bumper sticker would be "This car climbed Jerimoth Hill."

Kyle said...

Poor flat Lil' Rhody!