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Pickup trucks are, in America, the perfect canvas for patriotism. I am the owner of an (unadorned) truck myself, so I can well appreciate the sheer square footage available for expressions of national loyalty. On a compact car, you can manage a few bumper stickers, a magnetic ribbon -- the usual, which is not quite as good as a t-shirt, since t-shirts can have far more complex messages than a bumper sticker, and better than a lapel pin, since lapel pin messages are pretty much restricted to "flag -- I has one".

But a pickup is a grand canvas indeed, and the messages can be varied. In the lowest form, truck art takes the form of a cartoon Calvin pissing on something. The things Copyright Infringement Calvin will piss on seem endless -- hey, he's a rebel, he doesn't even care about copyright law, he doesn't follow your rules -- but his hatred primarily centers around other brands of trucks.

Confederate flags are an infrequent but still familiar choice, even here in California. I have no idea why a confederate battle flag would have any emotional attachment for a California truck driver, aside from the most obvious interpretation, but there it is. "Cowboy Up" is quite popular, as are other forms of implying cowboy or cowgirlship while on the way to picking up overpriced milk at the ol' Circle K.

The greatest use of the back half of a truck, though, is for patriotic messaging on a grander scale than could be attempted by a lesser vehicle. For several years after 9/11, one pickup in my neck of the woods, a dusty black shortbed on large tires, displayed a full-sized actual American flag mounted on a pole braced and bolted to the truckbed. This was impressive indeed, and stayed impressive even though the driver violated the flag code every time he drove at night, and even after the weather and constant 65 mph wind had faded and tattered Old Glory into looking like a wounded soldier still trying valiantly to hold the truckbed against an unknown, unseen enemy. Expressions describing where Osama bin Laden could go and which branch of the military would send him there showed great creativity, if not particularly great artistic skill, and are surely worthy of being reproduced on a quilt. And eagles and American flags abounded -- you would never know that bald eagles had just recently returned from endangered status, from their robust population on the mudflaps and back windows of pickup trucks.

The art form has taken a hit in popularity of late, as the original appliques faded and never got replaced, but I still remain always on the lookout for the better and more expressive examples of the genre.

Today, I found a fine entry. Lovingly applied to the clean back window of a camper shell, with crisp white lettering and bright reds and blues, it spoke to the heart of the movement. Like a fine Toulouse-Lautrec poster, it provided a very definition of the form through sheer skill and power, a style so immediately identifiable as to be permanently embedded into the collective consciousness of all those that view it.

On the top of the window were two lines of centered text, each in as bold a font as could be achieved (font weight is directly proportional to patriotism, when a patriotic message is to be conveyed):


The first line is conventional, almost to the point of being stale. Then, however, the artist launches you to an unexpected place. America Love It. It is an expression of patriotism so pure that it transcends the rules of grammar. It needs no punctuation: no sissified commas or colons, no overblown exclamation point. It is pure, a Jackson Pollock of expressed national devotion.

Below those words was an image. Facing left, a bald eagle, expressed in the same crisp white as the lettering. Only the head was eagle-like, however; the rest of the body was in wind-swept flames. The flames were not orange and hot, but instead were striped in red, white and blue, the colors of the American flag. The immolated eagle was covered from chest to tail in these flames, yet still was in motion, pressing onward at what looked to be breakneck speed, the reds and blues trailing behind him in sharp, abstract curls.

A bald eagle, on fire, the flames colored to match the colors of the flag. It is a masterpiece; I can think of no better metaphor for the patriotism of the moment.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Wed Oct 31, 2007 at 03:05 PM PDT.


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