Small-town heroes: a 2008 retrospective, part IV

joe six pack t-shirtIt may not seem like a Vice Presidential candidate has a lot in common with a local plumber and a teenage vampire, but then again this was a year of surprises.  Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Joe the Plumber and Edward Cullen showed the kind of impact that can be made when the everyman appeal hits home.

Sarah Palin

Sarah PalinJohn McCain’s surprise pick of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate spurred a Republican resurgence of energy and a national media frenzy.  As Palin fascination grew, the t-shirts came pouring in – Palin actually unseated Obama for a time in the t-shirt primary, thus proving that a Bible-and-Gun-totin’ Hockey Mom could inspire more than her party members. Sarah Palin had a lot of nicknames and colloquiallisms applied to her that lent themselves naturally to merchandise, and many of them had to do with animals – not entirely inappropriate, given that she hails from the bucolic state of Alaska.  She was the Cougar, the Barracuda (and the Sarahcuda), the Moose-Hunter, Caribou Barbie and the Pit Bull with Lipstick.  She was also the Maverick (and used the term liberally to describe both her and McCain), the Hockey Mom, the MILF and the VPILF. Sarah Palin god guns lipstick t-shirtintelligent females against palin t-shirt

Given her unabashed love of hunting, guns and her religion, it wasn’t surprising to see strong opinions on both sides of the political fence about Sarah Palin.  The religious right embraced her as the All-American poster girl and portrayed her as the anti-Obama; liberals and feminists, insulted at the implied assumption that women would vote along gender lines rather than on political issues, decried her as inexperienced and anti-feminist and accused McCain of pandering to the 18 million voters who had chosen Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. Palin Russia t-shirt

It seemed that everything Palin did was worthy of a headline, most notably any homespun gaffes she might make in front of a camera.  But when Palin spoke, people listened.  From her noting Alaska’s proximity to Russia as foreign policy experience to her performance in the debates, Sarah Palin was someone who’s every word (and choice of accessory) was discussed and debated – and, very often, committed to the almighty t-shirt. In the end, Palin’s newsworthiness was unable to knock Obama out of the minds of American voters on election day.  But in the short time she was in the public eye, Sarah Palin managed to put Wasilla, Alaska on the World Map.  (It’s up by Canada, kinda next to Russia.)

Ron Paul

Ron Paul t-shirtsRepublican Congressman Ron Paul burst onto the 2008 election scene Howard Dean-style.  Using the Internet as his canvassing ground, he amassed millions of supporters (The “Ron Paul Revolution“) who viewed the Republican Presidential Candidate from Lake Jackson, Texas as a heroic, no-nonsense, common-sense-talking anti-Bush.  Though a Libertarian at heart, Ron Paul has been open about the necessity of running for public office as a Republican in order to have a viable shot at Congress and the Presidency.  He is openly critical about President Bush and his administration, particularly as relates to the Iraq war and Bush big government straying from intrinsic Republican values.

Ron Paul revolution t-shirtRon Paul hit the t-shirt scene in earnest in late 2007, and saw big sales and interest through early 2008.  He outsold McCain until March and outsold all other Republican candidates (with a minor hiccup from Huckabee) throughout the election season.  Shunned by the Republican party who later went so far as to try to ban him from the debates, Ron Paul nonetheless showed up and made some Libertarian-style points that won him cheers from his supporters and gave him first-place finishes in online polls by MSNBC, ABC News and C-SPAN.    His debate performance simultaneously guaranteed that he wouldn’t be receiving an invitation to the Republican National Convention, and it seemed that thereafter both mainstream media cameras and his own party took painstaking efforts towards pretending that he was Harvey the Rabbit.

Ron Paul revolution t-shirtsWithout the money to buy quality airtime and with the cameras aimed elsewhere, Ron Paul used the Internet and in-person speaking engagements to spread his message.  His dedication to his ideals and the massive online support he amassed did get people to stand up and take notice, though ultimately – like Dean before him – he was unable to transfer his online popularity into real-world votes.  Still, though, Ron Paul made a name for himself as an honest-to-a-fault public servant who stays true to his beliefs and his constituents, and he was the first candidate in the 2008 election to harness the power of the internet to mobilize his message and his supporters.

Joe the Plumber

Joe the Plumber (known as Joe Wurzelbacher by those who can pronounce it) made a name for himself during the third Presidential debate.  Better said, John McCain made a name for him (namely, Joe the Plumber), mentioning Joe 21 times.  Obama was good for 5 mentions, for a grand total of 26 mentions for Joe the Plumber. By contrast, Iraq came up 6 times and the economy was mentioned 16 times.  Joe far outshone mention of Sarah Palin and Joe Biden as well. Not surprisingly, we saw Joe the Plumber designs hit the system mid-debate and within a few hours Joe had about 1/4 the content of all plumber designs.

Joe became an unlikely hero for the McCain campaign after having a discussion with Obama on the campaign trail about the Illinois Senator’s proposed tax plan. McCain used Joe as an example of a hardworking American (dare we say Joe Six Pack?) who would pay more taxes under the Obama plan.  The Obama/Joe conversation was recorded by cameras; the uncut version ends with Obama noting that chatting with Joe was good debate prep:

As it turns out, Joe the Plumber doesn’t actually make $250,000 a year; it seems he was simply concerned about the principle behind Obama’s plan.  Despite being made an instant celebrity thanks to McCain, Joe initially wouldn’t endorse either candidate and went on-record that he was keeping his vote private.

His vote was kept private for 12 days, at which point he jumped on the bus and hit the campaign trail with John McCain.  In the meantime, Joe was made an instant celebrity and unlikely political pundit, being interviewed as a symbol of the everyman by everyone from Katie Couric to Mike Huckabee.  Local television stations around the country scrambled to find their own Joe the Plumber (my own local station used Eduardo the Electrician – yes, really), but none could match the t-shirt worthiness of the actual Joe the Plumber.

As is the case with so many relationships rushed into by two people who barely know each other, the McCain/Wurzelbacher romance hit the rocks a couple weeks later over McCain’s support of the Paulson bailout plan.  While Wurzelbacher now says he was “appalled” by McCain at that point and considered moving out (read: getting off the bus), he reconsidered due to their mutual desire to move the Arizona Senator into more modest accommodations in Washington, D.C..

With the election over, Joe has found a place for himself on conservative talk radio and television; he also has a book deal in the works.  When all is said and done, Joe the Plumber will go down as someone who took his 15 minutes of fame and ran with it.  (Er… or rode a bus with it.)

Edward Cullen

i heart edward cullen t-shirtIf you haven’t heard of the small town of Forks, Washington or its sparkly resident Edward Cullen, chances are that you don’t have a teenage girl in the house.  The real town of Forks is the setting for Stephenie Meyers’ “Twilight” book series, which portrays a love story between teenagers Bella (a mortal and recent transplant to Forks) and Edward Cullen (vampire, baseball player and Forks resident).

The hit book series was optioned by Hollywood, and the first “Twilight” movie hit theaters on November 21st to rave fan reviews.  Before the movie opened, the “Twilight” folks did something for their fans that’s a rarity in Hollywood: they gave them permission to make “Twilight” merchandise.

peace love twilight t-shirtGiven the avid fan base of “Twilight,” we looked forward to seeing creative, inspired designs – and we weren’t disappointed.  Twilight t-shirts immediately filled the fan portal to the tune of almost 450,000 Twilight products as of this writing, and motivated fans were able to wear their own creations – and those of other fans – to the opening night showing.

forks t-shirtWhile Edward Cullen himself is by far the most popular character in the land of t-shirt fandom, there’s also a wide variety of shirts celebrating Bella, Jacob and the story itself.  All in all, it’s been a real treat to see the enthusiasm and creativity that “Twilight” enthusiasts have demonstrated over the past few months.

So what would Edward wear?  Well, we think he’d find something.

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