Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ragin' Buddha

I don't care if it rains or freezes
Long as I got my plastic Jesus
Sitting on the dashboard of my car.
--Attributed to George Cromarty and Ed Rush
At the moment, Father A. drives around the suburbs in a great big gas-guzzling pickup truck.  It isn't the sort of vehicle he would choose for himself, but he's damn glad to have it on loan. (Thanks, Dad!)

Funny thing about this truck is that it has a little spring-mounted Buddha glued to the dashboard.  Not the sort of thing we necessarily want old Mrs. Gothilfjar to notice when we pull into the parking lot of St. Thorlak's for a potluck, but whatever.  On road trips, we entertain ourselves by singing:
I don't care about would, coulda, shoulda
Long's I got my plastic Buddha
Bouncing on the dashboard of my truck.
(We've got twenty more stanzas, suitable for molded icons of, e.g., Shiva, Dagon, Atargatis, and Mohammed.  We doubt we'll ever much call for that last one.)

But here's the thing.  The most interesting factoid over which we have stumbled in the past few months is that people who put bumper stickers on their cars are most likely to experience road rage.  No surprise, when the bumper sticker is frankly aggressive, on the lines of "my fifth grader can beat up your honor student at Herbert Hoover Middle School."  Not too shocking when the sticker is political and/or confrontational -- "Vote for Obama," or "It's not a choice, it's a baby."

But the link to road rage is just as strong when the bumper sticker says "Visualize World Peace."

All this comes from a 2008 study by William Szlemko and other psychologists at Colorado State (summarized here in Nature).  They theorize that bumper stickers are a way of marking one's territory -- yes, just like dogs and fire hydrants.  People who have marked a private "territory" that then travels in public space -- such as a highway -- will then defend it with extra zeal.

What we had not grasped, when we first heard about this, was that it isn't just bumper stickers.  Personal knicknacks in an office cubicle may work the same way.  And so do automobile interiors customized with things like seat covers, fuzzy dice and -- yes -- plastic Buddhas.

So, as you are driving down the highway, remember that it's not just the SUV with a gun rack and NRA stickers of whom you should be careful.  Keep an eye out for the soccer mom advertising her kid's recent achievement, or the hippie asking you to imagine something.  Or, of course, the Lutheran pastor with a little yellow Buddha bouncing around.

They are dangerous, people.

1 comment:

mark said...

After you finish draining your morning coffee,
it makes a nifty place to set the cup upside down.
Who could be enraged by that?