Joe Sixpack, Joe the Plumber, Joe Average, Joe Shmoe, Joe Blow, John Q. Public, and John Q. Taxpayer. You can't have watched the presidential and vice presidential debates without hearing this attempt at giving the average American a name. But what does it really mean? Does this truly capture the zeitgeist of modern American life?
What does it mean to call someone Joe Sixpack? Well, I think what Sarah Palin wanted to convey was an ordinary guy, working hard, trying to attain the American dream. Unfortunately, it also conjures up images of overweight, possibly hairy middle-aged men in their underwear sitting on their arses and swilling room-temperature Schlitz. Not that there's anything wrong with hairiness, overweight people, or middle-aged men, but could we perhaps select a more dignified image for our national Everyman? Some bloggers say that the term Joe Sixpack also carries certain cultural connotations. Perhaps Joe watches NASCAR? Is Joe a recent immigrant? Probably not. He sure as heck couldn't be Middle-Eastern because he would have to be Jusef, and the sixpack would have to go because Muslims eschew alcohol. I guess Joe couldn't be Seventh Day Adventist either. I might be wrong on this too but I don't think NASCAR has an enormous African American following. So when Sarah Palin tells us she represents Joe Sixpack, how many of us does she want to represent?
Then there's Joe the Plummer. John McCain mentioned him often in the debate, and because he wasn't quite specific on the name (and because he's not a licensed plumber) I believe he meant John Q. Taxpayer (which Joe, or Samuel, really isn't that great at either). OK, so it's silly, and a bit too easy to pick on Joe/Sam. But what does McCain want to convey through the character of Joe the Plumber? My guess is that Joe is meant to personify the hardworking guy, just trying to earn his own small piece of the American dream feels threatened by Obama's abject class warfare. When Katie Couric asked him if he made enough money (250,000) to be affected by the tax cuts he sort of hemmed and said nooo, but it's a "slippery slope." "You vote on somebody who decides that $250,000 and you're rich? And $100,000 and you're rich? I mean, where does it end? You know, that's - people got to ask that question." OK Joe, so by that same logic, let's say selling drugs is illegal and you vote on someone who decides that you go to jail if you sell drugs. And then drinking a sixpack and you go to jail? I mean where does it end ... tax evasion? You know, people got to ask that question. OK, but let's just be nice, because I do think that John McCain is an OK guy. Taxing rich people is class warfare.
But where does all this rhetoric leave us? What is an Everyman? The term comes to us from a late fifteenth-century English morality play. The play opens with a monologue delivered by God. He laments all of the trouble brought about by humans. He feels taken for granted because humans are too absorbed by material wealth to love him. God resolves to summon Death to bring Everyman to heaven for his reckoning. Fellowship, the personification of friendship agrees to accompany him until he finds out the true nature of his journey, then he bolts, leaving poor Everyman to fend for himself. He also meets up with Kindred and Cousin who offer lame excuses for why they can't go. Everyman then asks Goods to accompany him because he has given him so much love, but it turns out that would have just gotten him in worse trouble with God. He then turns to Good Deeds, but she was too weak to go with him because he just hadn't shown her enough love. She sends her sister Knowledge instead and they go together to see Confession. So Everyman goes and does the right thing, he shows suitable contrition, receives the jewel called Penence and Good Deeds becomes well enough to join him on his journey. He receives all sorts of wonderful things, but in the end it is only Good Deeds who is able to go with him all the way into heaven.
What would the modern version of that morality play be? How would Joe Sixpack fare when summoned for his reckoning by the character of God from that morality play?
God: I see you've only brought beer and a remote control. Are you serious?
Joe Sixpack: You betcha!
God: Have you brought any Good Deeds with you?
Joe S: Well, I've just been working hard, trying to get my slice of the American Pie. I'm proud to be an American. I did pass this personification lady on the way here. She was sort of lyin' there and moaning somethin' about good deeds.
God: But what good have you done for the world? How have you shared my love with the world?
Joe S: I work hard for all the stuff I have and my country's spreading democracy.
God: Is that underwear you're wearing?