Great Bumper Stickers of History

Once, they were everywhere. Clinging to the rear of a thousand cars, they declared a single, simple sentiment to the broader world. Namely, that Magic Happens. In the 1990s, these bumper stickers were commonplace. Now they are all but extinct.

Once, they were everywhere.  Clinging to the rear of a thousand cars, they declared a single, simple sentiment to the broader world.  Namely, that Magic Happens.  In the 1990s, these bumper stickers were commonplace.  Now they are all but extinct.

I never really understood what it was they hoped to tell me.  There was absolutely nothing by way of an explanation on offer.  Apparently, there was ‘magic’ and, moreover, it was happening.  Where it was happening or how this magic was said to manifest itself was left largely to the imagination.  Based on the sheer weight of numbers, you could rightly have expected to see people pulling rabbits out of their pockets and shouting ‘abracadabra’ on an almost daily basis.  Sadly, that’s not how I remember the 1990s at all.

A Magic Happens bumper sticker was only ever affixed to a certain kind of vehicle.  Porches, BMWs and Mercs were, presumably, magic enough and had no need for such declarations.  Rather, they were only ever seen on two types of cars.  First, there was the kind of vehicle that looked as though it had just been dragged into the street and beaten within an inch of its life over an unpaid debt.  Wherever the magic was happening, it was clearly not happening to the automobile itself, unless you count the mere fact of it being able to get itself from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ to be a mystical act in its own right.  The second kind of vehicle often found to be home to a Magic Happens sticker were those that looked like a Matchbox-car that had overdosed on growth hormone, driven only by people on their P-plates.  Perhaps the ‘magic’ was in the fact of having successfully obtained a drivers’ license.

But given their apparent extinction, is it fair to say that magic is no longer happening?  Was there something of a glut of magic in the 1990s that now accounts for its acute shortage?  Perhaps ‘magic’ is much like a mineral deposit or school of fish and the supply has simply been exhausted.  Or, then again, maybe we are just in something of a magic drought, with the supernatural at the mercy of an ‘El Nino’ pattern that keeps the mystical at bay.  Whatever the case, an explanation is way overdue.  Frankly, those who once saw fit to tell us that ‘magic happens’ owe the rest of us an account as to what happened to the magic and when we can expect it to return.  It’s not the first or last time that such a sticker has confused me.  In the 1980s, there were stickers that referred to a brand of sunglasses offering Thermonuclear protection.  In the shadow of the cold war, it’s not the kind of claim you’d want to have to put to the test.  Then again, bumper stickers have a proud history of confusion.

Such stickers appeal to the drivers more than anyone else. All the same, they have been popular for centuries. Ever since Alexander the Great barged through the Gates of Persia sitting astride an elephant with the words: My Other Elephant is also an Elephant tattooed across its buttocks, bumper stickers have been popular additions to your transport of choice.  Personally speaking, my favourites include the bumper sticker affixed to the back of the Hindenburg: If you can read this, you’re too close and the sticker on the back to first version of the Pope-mobile: Horn Broken, Watch for Finger.

But, for a time, sharing your thoughts with both your bumper and the world at large fell out of fashion.  Nobody bragged about having thermonuclear protection, much less claimed that Magic Happens.  Recently, however, things have started to change.  For this, one set of bumper stickers can stand up and take a very stick figurey kind of bow.  I speak, of course, of the ‘My Family’ stickers.

Strictly speaking, these are not bumper stickers, as they are always located on the back window and consist of spidery, crime-scene outlines said to represent various family members.  So far as I can tell, there seem to be a great many varieties, with the objective being that you choose a sticker that includes some activity said to be representative of the individual.  It seems like a lot of information to volunteer.  Perhaps, in the age of Face book, in which traditional notions of privacy have been largely disregarded, this is merely an inevitable by-product.  All the same, it feels like a kind of bragging.

Oftentimes, ‘My Family’ stickers appear on very large vehicles.  The kind that could just as easily be used to launch a major land-based incursion into another country as it could take the kids to football practise.  Perhaps declaring the number of family members requiring transport is a way of accounting for why they drive a car with such an insatiable thirst for fuel.  I do, however, question their accuracy of these stickers.  To date, I’m yet to see any picturing the constituent members of the household sitting down and watching the television.  Personally, I’d like to see a sticker of a family member selecting stickers.

For me, such stickers may be short sighted.  What happens when a child grows up and moves out?  Or, worse still, what if there is a schism that results in a fracturing in the family unit?  Few days will be as difficult as the day you have to peel someone off your back window.  Or, for the sake of accuracy, have to relocate them from the bottom left corner to somewhere else on the glass to more precisely represent the state of affairs.  I suspect that these declarations are something of a fad.  That these stickers will one day, vanish.  Doubtless it will happen in the blink of an eye.  So quickly, in fact, that it will seem like an act of magic.  Perhaps a new sticker will replace the ‘My Family’ stickers, simply saying: Magic Happened.

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