The stickers both use white text on a black background. They are often slapped on top of each other, like a competition to drown the other out. "Be the light!" one pleads. "Shut the fuck up!" demands the other. It's a quiet sticker war.
Seattle-based artist Miku told me he designed the "be the light" sticker five years ago after having a "spiritual awakening," which led him to quit his corporate career and dedicate his time to activism and art-making.
Miku said the experience fostered the "be the light" sticker, which he created to "snatch people back to a constant space" with a message that's "almost impossible to interpret negatively." The design is subtle enough to go relatively unnoticed until given your full attention. Be the light. Whatever that means to you.
Over the past several years, Miku claimed he walked "thousands of miles" around the city of Seattle, slapping these "be the light" stickers wherever he could, in every neighborhood. After discovering Instagram and the community of street artists who use the platform, Miku began to connect with others who liked the stickers, sending them (for free, Miku points out) to whoever wanted them while continuing the street campaign himself.
And this one:
But the most prolific challenger to the original sticker is Seattle artist Eliza Gauger's "shut the fuck up.":
"It's grossly inappropriate to tell people that it's your responsibility to be positive and happy and fun. You be the light," she said to me. "It's like an imperative declaration."
When Gauger lived on Capitol Hill several years ago, she remembered seeing Miku's sticker everywhere. She said she felt "nettled" by the sticker's "toxic positivity," its lack of clear messaging, and how omnipresent it was.
Having sold and exhibited stickers in the past, Gauger decided to create a sticker in April of last year. She workshopped many slogans before settling on something straightforward: "Shut the fuck up." She said her manager and publisher Simon Berman suggested the phrase.
Like the "be the light" sticker, Gauger's sticker's message was vague enough to apply to anything, creating an immediate and confrontational conversation between surface and sticker. A sticker street war was born.
Gauger started out selling ten "shut the fuck up" stickers for $5 on Etsy. The product description called out the "be the light" sticker and its "corny omnipresence":
Seattle has an infestation of stickers that say "be the light." Everyone is absolutely fed up with them, their corny omnipresence, and the shallow banality they represent. Thus, we find ourselves here, with enough "shut the fuck up." stickers to shut this hippie nonsense down for good. And so can you!
She said her first run of 1,000 stickers sold out immediately. Her second run of 5,000 sold out immediately too, sent to far off locales like Australia and Germany while becoming a mega-presence in Seattle. She estimates she's sold 10,000 of these rude lil' stickers to people across the globe.
"There's a lot of utility to a sticker that says 'shut the fuck up,'" Gauger told me. "We all see stuff out when we're walking around, and we're just like, 'Don't fucking talk to me, don't market to me, don't tell me that stuff."
While Gauger didn't like the "be the light" sticker, she said she wouldn't characterize her effort as a concerted, malicious campaign to drown out Miku's sticker. She told me she didn't even know who he was. Instead, other Seattleites who shared her contempt took it upon themselves to cover Miku's work.
Miku told me it bothered him initially, but he thought the city was saturated enough with his work and that the sticker wouldn't make an impact. He severely underestimated the distribution of Gauger's stickers.
In the months since she began selling them, the "shut the fuck up" stickers quickly began to drown out "be the light."
Soon after, a follower alerted her to several concerning public Facebook posts on an account under the name of Josh Wolve, who Gauger claims is Miku. Wolve consistently posted about Gauger and her sticker. His comments ranged from framing her sticker effort as “flirtatious” to threatening to kidnap Gauger’s dog and masturbate outside her house.
Miku categorically denies that he is Josh Wolve (though he won't say who he is) or that he targeted Gauger in any way over her sticker, outside of “one or two salty exchanges,” he told me. I've reached out to Wolve via Facebook and will update if I hear back from him.
When the “shut the fuck up” sticker started appearing, Miku said he realized sticker feuds are part of putting art out into the street. "I almost consider us teammates instead of villains," he said.
After ceasing production on the "be the light" stickers about a year ago, Miku decided to produce them again. He plans on handing them out for free.
Despite threats and inappropriate comments, Gauger said she "absolutely" feels comfortable continuing to print and spread her "shut the fuck up" sticker, not seeing Wolve or Miku as too much of a threat. "The police are a threat," she notes.
She just opened pre-orders for the sticker again after being out of production for a while. "If it's trivial for me to [make the sticker] and make it funny, then I'll do it," she said. "It's fun."