Sticker Shock

A delightful quirk I did not expect at McMurdo Station is the community’s love of stickers. Take a peek at people’s water bottles and notebooks and you will likely see them plastered with stickers.

I’ve come to think of stickers here almost as a community art form/community media. Because McMurdo is managed by the federal government, forms of independent media that one might encounter in another tiny town, like a radio station or newspaper, don’t exist. We have a wonderful online newspaper, The Antarctic Sun, which is published by the National Science Foundation, and we also have a volunteer DJ-powered radio station, Ice Radio, which is programmed and supported by the American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS).

But more on McMurdo’s broadcast media later. Stickers at McMurdo are used to share information, ideas, and in-jokes. Scientists will share stickers with their project’s name (called an “event number”) as well as some graphics that illustrate the focus of their work. Work centers, like MacOps, and groups handling large projects, like the South Pole Traverse, will make stickers that identify their line of work. And stickers that say things like “Go For Dale!” are only funny if you’ve been to McMurdo and were either in on an in-joke or had someone explain it to you. As it’s my first season, I’ve learned been introduced to some short and long-term jokes at the station through stickers, as well as patches and t-shirts, which are also popular ways of sharing jokes and forging community ties.

I’m sure the novelty has worn off for people who have been here multiple seasons, but I get a rush of delight when someone gives me a sticker. As well as being an awesome souvenir that takes up no space, it feels like a tiny initiation into the community. It’s like the person giving me the sticker is saying, “you’re one of us, and I want you to look the part.” Some stickers at McMurdo, like the ones I have in the right-hand photo, are sold in the station store and are available to everyone, but some stickers, like the “Check-in or Die” sticker, are available to a smaller number of people. If someone gives you a sticker like that, it feels like a big deal. You’ve indirectly become part of a group, or you’ve been informed of a joke not everyone knows about. In this way, you are ingrained into the community just a little bit more.





2 thoughts on “Sticker Shock

  1. I love this post. Never would’ve guessed, in a million years, that stickers would be a subject to post about, but it’s a perfect little teaser of a window into a very localized culture.


  2. Thanks so much for starting the blog. I’m interested in the radio setup there as I was station technician for an AFRS current-carrier station in Iceland, 1962-63. We had 100 people on the site and the station was really important for improving life at the isolated location.


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