When Southern writer Mark Childress’s popular novel “Crazy in Alabama” came out, there was a particular aspect of it that female homemakers connected with. The story begins when an abused wife has had enough, snaps, kills her husband, cuts off his head, and puts it in a Tupperware Salad Keeper. Then she tosses the Salad Keeper into the trunk of her car and sets off on a cross-country trip to start a new life.
When Mark started doing book-signings for “Crazy,” lots of ladies brought along Tupperware Salad Keepers for him to autograph, in addition to his book. But a bigger honor was yet to come: a signed copy of the novel, and a DVD of the resulting movie, were placed in a glass case at the National Tupperware Museum.
Even a quick scan of Google finds thousands of museums from here to yonder, devoted to everything from coal mining to antique airplanes, to string, toilets, medical oddities, lawn mowers, and beyond. So why not a museum for words and phrases that are all the rage one day, and then go out of circulation the next? What brings the subject to mind is that our country has been awfully rough on national slogans the past decade or so, swapping them at approximately the rate that Ms. Imelda Marcos changes her footwear.
One of the more recent examples is the contention “What’s good for Wall Street is good for Main Street!” We see how that worked out for us. Though the message was once printed on countless bumper stickers, I’m guessing that nowadays it’s a buyer’s market for those items, even among avid bumper-sticker collectors who lost their (to use a family-friendly term) IRAs during Wall Street’s watch. Not long before that came the popular slogan “Drill, baby, drill!” We see how that worked out for us. Namely, the infamous BP Oil Spill, and I dare the staunchest oil-drilling advocate to drive through some of the decimated Gulf Coast villages these days, sporting that bumper sticker on their gas-guzzling Hummer.
Another museum-worthy specimen is the immensely popular bumper sticker commemorating the 2000 U.S. presidential election, in which George W. Bush won by such a thin margin over Al Gore, during voting plagued by charges of fraud, that the Supreme Court, not the electoral college, had to pick the winner. In the Court’s defense, it sort of promised it would never do so again, if that makes any sense. Millions of bumper stickers were printed, with the cogent explanation: “He won. Get over it!” We see how that worked out for us. (I never understood why the leftovers of these stickers weren’t recycled after the 2008 election—on the basis of goose-and-gander, etc. They at least deserve a museum to remind us of that inglorious 2000 moment in our history.)
But perhaps the most popular—and vanishing—stickers of all were the iconic yellow ribbons with the words “Support our troops.” The troops, for the most part, are back. I challenge everybody who proudly put one of those stickers on their vehicle to take just a part of a day, right now, to look up someone who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and ask how he/she is doing. ”Supported” is probably the word you’ll be least likely to hear. If the veterans who are still being denied treatment for their lost limbs and lost mental health formed a single line, it would stretch from your house to far beyond shameful.
Meanwhile, the political appointees at the Veterans Administration headquarters award themselves $24 million in bonuses for (you can’t make this stuff up) their skills at “cost-cutting.” The popular slogan I miss the most, though, is one that I heard constantly when I was growing up. When people saw someone who had obviously met with great misfortune, they would comment softly, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” I haven’t heard that said in more than a decade now. In my experience, it’s been unofficially replaced by, “People pretty much get what they deserve, in life.”
If that’s truly the case, the people who blundered our country into its current state of tragedy have a lot of payback to look forward to.
Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His columns, photos, and radio features are available on his website, carrolldaleshort.com. His weekly radio program “Music from Home” airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 FM, streams live online at www.oldies1015fm.com, and is archived afterward on his website.