The message and the messenger
I've been thinking about those "I Love Cincinnati" bumper stickers lately. You've probably seen them around, and you might have seen blog posts about them as well.
The stickers started popping up out of nowhere earlier this year, and of course I wanted one, because I also love Cincinnati! I really do! And whenever I saw a sticker on someone's car, I felt like that person and I were in a secret club, a sort of fraternity of Cincinnati lovers. "Yeah," I would think, "that guy and I know what's up!"
But a few months ago, I learned that the stickers come from Crossroads Community Church, and suddenly that was all I could see about them.
It's not just that the messenger became strongly associated with the message; it's that the messenger traded places with the message. So when I see an "I Love Cincinnati" bumper sticker, I no longer think, "That's nice - that person really loves this community! So do I! Hugs for everyone!" Instead, I think, "Ah, that's from Crossroads."
And so it turns out that the secret club I thought I was in is something else entirely.
And I have absolutely nothing against Crossroads (did you know they offer nice coffee and free yoga classes to everyone, including non-members? That is pretty great of them!), but I no longer want a sticker, because I feel like the sticker would broadcast an affiliation between myself and Crossroads that doesn't actually exist. Like, maybe I would be in the grocery store parking lot, loading up my weekly purchase of 800 cans of diced tomatoes, and some stranger would walk by and say, "Hey, Crossroads!" And then I would have to explain myself.
It's a little bit like when someone compliments me on the T-shirt I got at a Sufjan Stevens show, which says, "Come On Feel the Illinoise!" Whenever that happens, I have to figure out whether they're responding to the message (silly puns on state names) or the messenger (ethereal indie-folksters).
Is there anything else like that out there?