Laughing at death

January 14, 2004

FOR SOME who are steeped in local car culture, cool has stepped off the edge into callous disrespect. Those who stick "fake bullet" decals or magnets on their car's windshield, fenders or doors as a joke may get double-takes from passers-by, but they may not understand why. Many of the passers-by in Baltimore and nearby have real experience with bullets, and little of it was funny.

Car cultists can go to great lengths to personalize or glorify their wheels, including black lights on the running boards, fancy windshield wipers, giant spoilers and mufflers that whistle. And for the low-budget fanatics, stickers are a lot cheaper than buying high-performance tires or a jacked-up suspension.

But most car lovers are seeking to make their vehicles look better. It's the true extremist who actually works to make his or her vehicle look seriously damaged. Even the gag bird-poop blop doesn't imply a permanent wreck - or an ill-advised lifestyle.

And it's not even a novelty: Variations of fake bullet holes for glass and metal have been around since at least the early 1980s, playing off TV's The Dukes of Hazzard. Everyone knows how cool that show was.

The last thing Baltimore or any city needs is more cars that make it look like it's dangerous to live here. And no one needs a reminder of the thousands who die by gunfire nationwide each year. Just in 2003 in Baltimore, 209 of the 271 people killed in the city were shot, more than half of them shot multiple times, according to police statistics. Many more were injured by gunfire.

Of course, people may express their humor however they wish. One would hope, though, that their expression doesn't result in a flash of horror-filled memory for onlookers - or a flash of fear in the mind of the gag's victim.

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