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Bumper Stickered

September 24, 2015


‘Tis the seasons: a fresh group of people are shoved in our faces for recognition, and, presumably, laud.

Politicians?, well, yes – but I speak of the thousands of matriculating college students. They got in, but their parents are full of the pride of admittance. By definition, the vast majority of new freshman are not admitted to “elite” institutions: but, in this new era of no-hurt-feelings every admittance is to “the perfect fit”.

“Fit” requires admission, so any school that rejects your offspring is, by definition, an imperfect fit.

But its not enough to feel that you have succeeded as a parent through some unknown group of college administrators being willing to accept your money for feeding, housing and offering knowledge to your blessed issue: many feel everyone who sees the rear of their car should know it too.

The problem is, once the Harvard sticker goes on, so must the community college. Reducing your public presentation of parenting outcomes to signs on a rear windshield is not benign, its stereotyping.

Academic profiling starts early: GPA, Honors, AP courses – as denominative as varsity, All-Conference, All-State. Soon the lack of parental thrall makes many who attend the “perfect fit” find it does not fit. Over 1/3 of all those matriculated do not graduate from their “perfect fit”.

But bumper stickers are just the cheapest, easiest what to declare specialness. Over $3.2 billion are spent every year on tattoos during a recession that has 94 million working able humans not even looking for work. $3,200,000,000 a year not on education: on putting cartoons on your body. Permanently.


Just like most college admits, for tattoos the ability to spend money is the primary qualification to declare yourself to the world. The message of the declaration is not the central issue: the billions spent are a cry for attention in a world obsessed with merit recognition.

But merit is often not defined by what college you get into, or your job title or even the college where your kid got into. Merit often comes with the loudest voice.

The gnarliest, most inscrutable, most outrageous ink gets noticed, questions are asked: merit obtained. College bumper stickers get noticed too. Admission = merit. Politics follow suit: loud declaration: whether obtaining outrage or “WHOO-HOO!”‘s, confers the fact that the merit of a POV can often just be having one.

Now that the InterWebNets connect all POV’s to everyone all the time, attitudes are not just celebrated or vilified by those you encounter, but to anyone who might find a Face Book post, a list of donations, a video: you are what you profess: painted by a cyber brush from now until the last cockroach croaks.

But in religion and architecture the stylings of profession often mean more than the ideas of politics. Buildings are undeniable, they are even more present than tattoos or bumper stickers. Their perpetrators are judged as harshly as the community college bumper sticker or the PAC Man tattoo.

The present state of play venerates this:


More than this:


For most magazines, schools and design juries, non-Modernist work is the community college bumper sticker: with depth of judgement as shallow, instantaneous and defensive.

As we grind into a campaign between a “short fingered vulgarian” and a “communist” these kinds of thoughtless snap judgements will abound and deafen. The good news its those shrill idiocies are just the call. We have the option of response.

I choose not to play. The one bumper sticker I ever applied to my rear windshield was for our son’s conservatory and that windshield was almost instantly exploded by that son backing our pathetically predictable white Volvo into my home.

That message resonated: reality always trumps proffered attitude. Where our sons went to school has more to do with them, not who is driving our car. Who I want to vote for is literally meaningless to anybody but me. Or should be.

And the buildings I create are about their clients, sites, durability and yes, the beauty they offer to those who can see it.

Like the bumper sticker, or the tattoo, the viewer is invited to respond, but that response has no impact on what’s being seen.

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