Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

From Jerry the appliance salesman to Joe the Plumber

Watching Joe the Plumber become one of the symbols of the 2008 campaign, I can’t help but remember the famous (or infamous, after it was repeated for the umpteenth time) “So Jerry, what’s the story?” ad from the early 1970s.

It was hard to miss. Unlike today, with our recording devices that let us time-shift away from commercials, you had to take it all back then, and if a station was feeling diabolical you’d see the same pitch several times in a half-hour.

As described here at the Web site The Big Apple and here in Time magazine from July 23, 1973, one of the biggest hucksters of that period was a fellow named Jerry Rosenberg who owned an appliance store called Jamaica Gas & Electric (famously called JGE) and appeared in its ad. He was a blue-collar-looking guy who explained the store to an off-screen voice that asked, “So Jerry, what’s the story?”

The whole pitch boiled down to this:

“The story is you go to JGE with the exact make and model number of the unit you want to buy. You show your union or civil service card at the door, and you’re in. Because JGE is not open to the general public, only to union members and their families.”

The voice asks, “So that’s the story, Jerry?”

And Jerry replies, “That’s the stor-ee!”

It’s important to bear in mind that this was before “union” was a dirty word, at least in New York City, before the financial crises of the mid-1970s and before Ronald Reagan decided that union people were not really people and thus their lives mattered little.

Of course, today a store that catered only to union workers would probably go out of business before it could get in trouble for not letting in others.

Still, it spoke of the power of unions, and is a far cry from today.

Well, today we have Joe the Plumber, who’s not a licensed plumber and, despite his concerns about having to pay lots more in taxes, probably won’t have to. He seems to be the new face of blue-collar America, deep in debt, non-union and seemingly bemused by all the attention that sprang from having a chat about taxes with Sen. Barack Obama at a campaign stop.

Well, it’s almost all moot now. Today is Election Day, and Americans will decide between Obama and Sen. John McCain.

So if you haven’t voted, do so!

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November 4, 2008 - Posted by | Politics | , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I’ve been reading along for a while now. I just wanted to drop you a comment to say keep up the good work.

    Comment by Mike Harmon | November 4, 2008 | Reply


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