Political Bumper Stickers in Contemporary Israel: Folklore As An Emotional Battleground
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Political Bumper Stickers in Contemporary Israel:>
Folklore as an Emotional Battleground

This article explores the proliferation of predominantly political bumper stickers in present-day Israel. Focusing on one cluster of bumper stickers, the article makes the case for a vital folkloric process articulated in this innovative genre, based on interpretive acts that create diverse, even contradictory readings. Relations between form and content, messenger and audience, tradition and innovation, global and local, and, above all, among folklore, emotions, and power, challenge traditional limits of the folkloric scope, and call for a refinement of its interpretive tools.

My daily journey to campus on Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem is more than a routine act of commuting. I usually follow a route that crosses the borderline, officially obliterated but socially still very much in existence, between West Jerusalem (which was under Israeli sovereignty prior to the 1967 war) and East Jerusalem (under Jordanian sovereignty until the war). Sometimes this route is blocked because of political tension, demonstrations, or visits by foreign dignitaries. Then I take an alternative route, crossing a second dividing line within Jerusalem, between the neighborhoods inhabited by secular or moderately religious Jews, and those inhabited by ultra-Orthodox and often anti-Zionist Jews. In this case, I must avoid being delayed by an ultra-Orthodox demonstration, wedding celebration, or a funeral of one of the ultra-Orthodox rabbis.

Even if my journey passes without special incident, however, it offers an opportunity to consider the complex and multifaceted nature of Israeli political reality as embodied by these dividing lines. The cars on the road are themselves emblems of the profound emotions of owners and audience alike. The cars that pass me are plastered with political stickers, creating a rich mosaic of terse slogans engaged in a dynamic and profound discourse. Thus metallic vehicles of transportation are transformed into the vehicles of political sentiments, through which a complex process of political communication takes place (see Figures 1-5). This cultural phenomenon of folk politics expressed in the dynamic and public genre of bumper stickers is not unique to Jerusalem, but has become extremely widespread throughout Israel over the past decade.1 The personal experiences that led me to write this article is one shared widely in Israel, where members [End Page 277] of the public are involved as willing or unwilling participants in this popular discourse of the roads.

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In the postmodern world, of which Israel and Jerusalem form an idiosyncratic but integral part, bumper stickers are an increasingly common expressive medium.2 The Israeli variant of this iconic phenomenon shows specific characteristics, including the rapid growth of the medium since the early 1990s (reaching new peaks of folk innovation and creativity in the context of the peace process and, above all, following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995), and its predominantly political nature.3 This lively and animated folkloristic political discourse offers an alternative perspective on major political developments, which occur at a dizzying pace in Israel, and on the hegemonic political discourse that takes place in this country.4

An analysis of the "discourse of stickers" may cast light on social and political processes in Israel, the forces active in these processes, the level of involvement of specific groups in this discourse, and the relationships between these groups. These aspects, while not the focus of the present article, are the background for the present study of bumper stickers as a folkloric phenomenon. This article attempts to unravel and interpret the popular political discourse embodied in this postmodern genre, and to discuss the interrelationship between this form of popular expression and the discursive nuances it embraces. Such discussion may further our understanding of such aspects as the definition of folklore in the modern world; the fluid boundaries between folklore, popular culture, and media; and the place of folklore in multicultural societies that are the arenas of complex covert and overt struggles between various groups representing competing political and even cosmological perspectives.5

The sticker-a visual expressive medium that must be "read" by its audience-seeks to convey social and political complexities in short messages...