America’s highways are like Walt Whitman: They contain multitudes. America’s twin obsessions—being yourself and driving yourself—have given us the Hummer and the Prius, generational tides of nodding dogs and fuzzy dice, the Gucci edition of the AMC Hornet and those 3-inch by 12-inch windows onto the nebulous depths of our fellow motorists known as bumper stickers. In a culture that celebrates autonomy, self-promotion, and perpetual motion, my car is a song of myself.
Most recently, our penchant for motor-vehicular self-expression has fueled a bumper crop of specialty license plates. Many raise eyebrows—and all raise questions. How did specialty plates get started? Why the recent boom? Who approves the designs? And are they harmless—or yet another symptom of too much pluribus and not enough unum?
More in the Design Series:
TODAY IN SLATE
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In much of America, beating your children is perfectly legal.
Ken Burns on Why Teddy Roosevelt Would Never Get Elected in 2014
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How the Apple Watch Will Annoy Us
A glowing screen attached to someone else’s wrist is shinier than all but the blingiest of jewels.
Rainbow Parties and Sex Bracelets
Where teenage sex rumors come from—and why they’re bad for parents and kids.
You Had to Be There
What we can learn from things that used to be funny.