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If you gave the Oakland Raiders a bunch of assault rifles, this is what you'd get.

If you gave the Oakland Raiders a bunch of assault rifles, this is what you’d get.

The other day during my commute to work, I drove behind a Jeep with a spare tire cover that bore the ominous silver-and-black logo of Call of Duty Elite. Which, if you don’t know, is an online service that allows you to pretend you are part of an elite paramilitary unit, shooting endless waves of enemies, with other gamers from around the world. According to Wikipedia, there are now about 10 million people who use Call of Duty Elite, roughly equal to the population of Shanghai, China.

Driving through rush hour traffic, staring at the goggled character who represents Call of Duty Elite, I wondered why the Jeep’s owner didn’t just invest in a tire cover that read, “Pretend Soldier?” Wasn’t that basically what he was saying to the world about himself? Unless, of course, he was a real special ops commando who also happened to be a huge fan of the video game. I thought this unlikely, especially after getting a look at the guy as I passed him on the Broadway Bridge. I think he may have been wearing a Best Buy shirt.

Promoting one’s prowess at a violent video game – at a time when people are dying in a real war and mass shootings seem like a weekly occurrence – shows poor taste and an incredible lack of awareness. But it’s not the only example of self-expression in the extreme. On the road alone, you see all kinds of crude posturing: aluminum nut sacks tangling from trailer hitches, Calvin pissing on a Chevy logo, inflammatory bumper stickers about abortion, gun rights or immigration. Then there are the more benign self-promoters: the stick-figure family fans, the vanity plate bearers and the proud parents of honor role students. And occasionally you’ll see someone sharing their grief through a memorial bumper sticker or a roadside cross. More often than not, I’ve noticed, those seem to honor someone who has died in a motorcycle accident.

I’ve never done more than affix a university logo to my car, so I don’t get the mentality of showing your machismo, anger, pride, fear or sorrow to a bunch of strangers who are just trying to get to work on time. Is there a human need in many of us to express ourselves even when we are driving? Is it because we spend so much time in our cars that they’re almost like our homes? Or has the wave of mass-produced, personalized products made it all too easy for us to decorate our cars with favorite cartoon characters, sports teams, rock band logos or political catch-phrases?

Whatever the reason, I wish my fellow drivers nothing but success and satisfaction in sharing their personal tastes with the public. Especially Call of Duty guy. I sincerely hope that someday he will get to kiss a real, live girl.