By Phil Brown
Vanity and specialty license plates have always seemed a bit vain to me. I’ve always thought that they looked tacky and taste-less on a luxury or sports car, and silly on a cheap car.
To me, it speaks to Americans’ seeming in-ability to allow any aspect of their lives to go unembellished and decorated without bright colors, shiny surfaces, or witty phrases, not even the most banal of details: auto-mobile registration.
It also illustrates the tendency of our modern society to look at cars as mecha avatars of ourselves: every detail must reflect the image we wish to portray to the other mechas on the road.
I can’t fake enthusiasm for the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s latest push for special Mavs license plates. I personally have no interest in spending any more than absolutely necessary on a car, and the price for license-plate-pride is $70 up front, with additional fees for new registration and assorted legal requirements.
I imagine many students at the university would feel the same way. For a student, it’s anywhere from hard to impossible to justify spending more time and money on some-thing with absolutely no practical value.
With a Maverick hoodie, you at least have a warm hooded sweatshirt with which to display your school pride.
But a special license plate, one more expensive than at least a couple hoodies, offers nothing of real value to a student, and student cars are often less personally expressive of individual students.
They’re often the cheapest the student can afford, and are sometimes barely functional. Embellishing them with an expensive accessory doesn’t make much sense when a replacement is perpetually just around the corner.
But I understand that students aren’t the primary targets of the push for 500 pre-registrations the university seeks for its specialty plates. Rather, the majority of people who would consider buying the plates would be the various alumni scattered around town.
With around 46,000 alumni living in the city, and almost all of them probably driving daily, there’s a fertile market for the university to spread its brand and represent them-selves on Omaha’s many clogged freeways and city streets. And for alumni, a specialty license plate makes a lot more sense.
For someone who feels pride for their school but isn’t connect-ed with it beyond attending a few sports matches now and then, a specialty plate on their daily driver can help them feel more attached to their Alma mater, and especially so in the face of their friends and co-workers who have Cornhusker or Blue jay plates slapped on their Buicks.
Representation of the university in the city and state is a particular area in which UNO struggles. While no school can claim to be Omaha’s school as much as the publicly funded, community-engaged University of Nebraska at Omaha, it often seems like the limelight is stolen from them by other schools in the area.
Alumni, especially those recently graduated, need all the help they can get to represent themselves in an area where Cornhusker plates have been around for decades, and 14,000 Blue jay plates litter the metro.
For current-students, it may be hard to see the benefit of a Mavs license plate. But the plates may be crucial for the ones who came before us to show their school pride and represent their university to the city.