Throughout its 224-year history, America has had many channels of discourse, its citizens expressing themselves by means ranging from pamphlets to protests, newspaper editorials to televised debates. In recent years, however, a significant new avenue of expression has emerged: "Peeing Calvin" decals.
Originally appearing on trucks as a salvo in the age-old Ford-Chevy debate, the popular stickers–which feature a bootlegged image of "Calvin" from the Bill Watterson comic strip Calvin & Hobbes urinating on a rival brand–have expanded to depict Calvin expressing urinary disapproval of a dazzling array of offenders.
Today, at the dawn of a new millennium, the terse but expressive decals are a vital part of our national dialogue, used by millions of Americans to exchange viewpoints and ideas about the important issues of the day.
"I used to devote hours to reading newspapers and magazines in an effort to understand my world and the issues that shape it," said Tuscaloosa, AL, resident Elvin Crosley, who proudly sports decals of Calvin urinating on a Democratic Party donkey and Greenpeace logo in the rear window of his pick-up truck. "But that became a tremendous expenditure of time I simply couldn't afford. These decals make a concise, digestible point in approximately two seconds and reach a far wider audience than I could by writing letters to my local paper or congressman."
Joseph Briggs of Gastonia, SC, recently adorned his truck with a sticker of Calvin voiding his bladder on a Dallas Cowboys helmet.
"By displaying Calvin in the rear window of my vehicle, I tell the world that I am a kindred spirit to Watterson's perceptive and preternaturally intelligent six-year-old. In the depiction of urination, I convey the very human emotions of anger and discontent. Lastly, the image at the bottom of the tableau directs that palette of rage at a specific target–in this case, the hated Dallas Cowboys–subjecting the team to shame and ignominy and bringing closure to the cycle."
Of late, the stickers' reach has moved beyond the realm of automotive media. The March 31 issue of Newsweek featured a George Will "Last Word" editorial consisting of a page-sized image of Calvin urinating on House Resolution 237, a proposal which would allocate $520 million for the construction of federally subsidized daycare facilities in low-income areas.
The decals have proven so popular that other cartoonists have attempted to replicate their success. Beetle Bailey cartoonist Mort Walker recently launched a line of "Defecating General Halftrack" decals. Also unveiled were "Vomiting Funky Winkerbean" and "Expectorating Snuffy Smith" stickers.
Last week, Watterson and Universal Press Syndicate filed suit against the makers of the Peeing Calvin stickers, arguing that they are produced without permission and constitute unauthorized use of a trademarked character. The suit was denounced by ACLU president Nadine Strossen, who called it "an unconscionable attempt to gag free speech in America."
"Watterson and the Universal Press Syndicate are attempting to block citizens from exercising their constitutional right to freely express ideas and opinions," Strossen said. "Peeing Calvin stickers may not have existed in 1789, but they are precisely the sort of thing the Framers had in mind when authoring the First Amendment."
Strossen punctuated her remarks by affixing to her car a decal of Calvin urinating on the Universal Press Syndicate logo before being handcuffed and led away by police.