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Political Culture Clash

01/27/04 12:00AM By Caleb Daniloff
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(Host) Considering that Howard Dean has set a new trend in politics, commentator Caleb Daniloff wonders if there are other ways Vermonters might influence the popular culture.

(Daniloff) While the Dean Presidential bid has cast a bright and sustained light on Vermont, it has also brought about a strange intersection of national and state consciousness. A surreal cultural reflecting pool of sorts.

Last week, instead of Vermont jam-band Phish, former governor Howard Dean loomed on the cover of Rolling Stone. Then in Iowa, the Green Mountain
candidate somehow channeled the spirit of wrestler Hulk Hogan in his pumped-up concession speech. This preceded by the news from Dean opponents that our Volvos are all pointed toward the nearest sushi bar, eager lips stained with the foam of soy latt s.

What next, I could only imagine.

The Burlington Free Press recently ran a piece about a study that had analyzed the names of U.S. babies born in the year 2000. The article was alliteratively titled: "Parents practice product placement in baby names."

Research revealed scores of boys who go by the name Chevy, Dodge, and Camry, even Courvoisier, after the cognac. And there are hundreds of little girls named Armani, Nautica, Essence and Cartier.

The study found high-end luxury goods to be a general guideline, but surely the hardscrabble spirit of Vermont could get in on the act. How about Hubbardton or Lamoille for boys, Casella for girls? Cabot could be one of those either-ors.

The baby-name study even found that vacation destinations served as inspiration, that somewhere in America were a handful of four-year-old girls who answer to the name Disney. Why not Stowe?

If Dean recovers his earlier momentum and manages to make his way to Pennsylvania Avenue, perhaps we might even see in the gossip columns 20 years from now Stump Hilton or Bucky Vanderbilt. Though in the end America's parents may just want to stick to simpler names like Ben or Jerry.

And while we're at it, what about Vermont-icizing the personalized action figure, another must-have of the hip and trendy? For around $900, you can have a set of 10-inch dolls made in your likeness. One website shows a series inspired by the photos of a goateed Six-Pack Joe, one of the dolls wearing a cape. The company suggests posing your action figures at the work station, so that your super-hero self can reflect back at you. In other words, you may now brim with self-confidence.

In the end, I didn't think this trend would catch fire in the Green Mountain State. Though the Vermont farmer immediately popped into my head as a worthy candidate. The Dickies, jack-shirts and workboots might be cute in miniature. Perhaps a cape with a Carhartt logo. Yet the telling details -- the cracks, creases, scars, bruises, gnarled joints, and most importantly, the heart -- would be impossible to render. But think of all the cool accessories.

This is Caleb Daniloff of Middlebury.

Caleb Daniloff is a writer and book reviewer.
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