The Lucrative Profession of Paid Culture War Symbol
In the beginning, the God of Culture Wars made Samuel Wurzelbacher, and saw that he was good.
Or maybe not. It’s probably more likely that Wurzelbacher, dubbed “Joe the Plumber” by the McCain-Palin campaign, is just the earliest example I can think of sitting on my couch right now. Even so, he’s a pretty damn good example of a growing trend I’m noticing more and more: the Professional Culture War Symbol.
It’s sometimes easy to forget now how little Wurzelbacher did to achieve a surprisingly vibrant and lucrative career as a Professional Symbol. It’s tempting to say that he was just a small business owner and licensed plumber that asked the President, point blank and to his face, “You’re new tax plan’s gong to ta me more, ins’t it?” Except that even that’s overstating the case. It turned out he wasn’t either a business owner or a licensed plumber; he was just his guy who got caught on camera claiming he was. Still, he was sold as such by McCain and Palin’s handlers, and in doing so they presented him as a symbol to a certain part of the population .
As a result Wurzelbacher’s future earning prospects shot through the roof. In the years that followed the 2008 election, Wurzelbacher got agent representation and went on to make far more money than he ever had before in his life as, among other things, a telecommunications spokesman, an author, a war correspondent, a pundit, and a motivational speaker. Liberals hate the guy for winning the Professional Symbol lottery while being conservative, but really it’s a bit much to pretend that each of us would not have chosen to profit from being at the right place at the right time as Wurzelbacher did.
Many others have followed suit since. The most notorious of course, is George Zimmerman. He used fundraising websites to pay his legal fees, but then also went on to sell “conservative art” paintings for upwards of $100,0000 from people who wanted a symbol of a symbol to hang on their walls. In an attempt to cash in on the power Zimmerman-as-Symbol carried with the anti-gun-control segment of society, an Ohio gun group collected donations for Zimmerman and publicly purchased guns to gift to him, while the manufacturer of the type of gun used to kill Trayvon Martin held a highly publicized tour of their facilities for him.
And now, of course, we have the owners of Memories Pizza who say they were forced to shut down after they were caught up in the wake of that anti-Indiana RFRA backlash. The Christian and anti-SSM pizzeria owners have stated that the bombardment of negative publicity and vitriol hurled at them was so vast and extreme that they decided to walk away — which is pretty understandable. I don’t support what they said, but I know enough about owning a pizzerias to know that for small single shops it’s a lot of work for very little pay after expenses. That they said “this ain’t worth it” when the tidal forces of social change hit them so squarely the mouth is entirely unsurprising.
But as quickly as they became a Symbol for the anti-anti-gay rights movement, they became an even bigger Symbol for the anti-gay rights crowd. As of my writing, so-con pundit Dana Loeche and the Blaze network have used GoFundMe to raise $842,442 for the pizza owners. In addition, they have hired an agent and publicist and are looking ahead to a comparatively easy cluster of career choices similar to Wurzelbacher. It is likely that they will be able to make over $2 million in the next couple of years, an amount it would likely have taken them several decades to earn with Memories Pizza.
And so want I ask the hive mind: Is it just me? Am I right in thinking that this is a new trend of our times, this lucrative cottage industry of becoming a paid Symbol — not for doing or creating something astounding, for being a war hero or inventor or artist or entrepreneur or some other such thing — but merely for being caught doing os saying something half of us are outraged by and the other half of us wish happened more often? Also, are there liberal examples of this that I’m not thinking of, or is this mostly a conservative thing?
Finally I want to ask this: Setting aside whether you support or oppose SSM or RFRA or any other litmus-y thing, is this trend a good thing, a bad thing, or just some thang that is neither good nor bad?
Very curious to hear what everyone has to say…