Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame did his first dry run for public office by giving Congressional testimony a recently. He addressed the skilled labor gap before Congress.
That’s not bad– but it’s not the gold medal. That would go to someone else. I’ll explain that later.
In case you don’t know, Mike Rowe is the host of Dirty Jobs, and if you don’t know that you should go back to nibbling on your scone and drinking your pomegranate bubble tea.
But before going forward, full disclosure: I love Mike Rowe. His self-deprecating humor is genuinely compelling; he readily jumps into doing jobs that I wouldn’t touch; and he displays a self-awareness about his inability to actual do blue collar, hazardous vocations (or at least effectively projects that into the camera). He is also one of the few buffers preventing the Discovery Channel from devolving into a farce of its former self, relying on reality TV of motorcycles and repo-men. The borders of his show’s boundary are consistent– you won’t see him doing a hedge fund, Starbucks, or call center episode anytime. But, here’s the deal, I would probably watch just about any show he did, even an HBO series about an unlikely male gigolo tenuously balancing his secret moonlighting endeavor with his turbulent personal life, but I guess that could also be a consider dirty job (zing).
So here’s the road map – the starting point of this article is “Mike Rowe the opera singer,” the end point (or current way point) “Mike Rowe the Cesar Chavez.” We get from Point A to Point B due to two important factors, (1) a solid, media-saturated personal brand and (2) a political vacuum. The latter is a simple question: Who shall be the blue collar, ass-kicking, unassailable paragon masculinity to put the steel toe of his Wolverine to perpetual crier John Boehner and our favorite plastic survey addict – Nancy Pelosi?
Easy, a full-aria cum hammer-wielding media giant.
This path is not unique; this is now how we vet the political-elect. If you have any doubts, ask Al Frankin how he replaced Paul Wellstone, look at how Schwarzenegger became Conan the Questionably Effective Governor, and marvel at how a soft-core porn model became Sen. Scott Brown (R) (Great American, Great Family Man). Get brand, get media exposure, get elected– and if you are a celebrity or at least have been on the media radar, you are already 75% there.
But these are all pretenders to the throne for one HUGE reason. Over the last six years, Mike Rowe has become an advertising force of nature. He inks endorsement deals like a pre-text message Tiger Woods– that buttery, baritone voice could even sell Buicks. Companies know this– Ford, Caterpillar and Levi Strauss got in on the ground floor. (oh and Motorola, but I prefer Verizon). If you are keeping score that is a Fortune 20, Fortune 100, and a damn good pair of jeans (made by a Fortune 500 company).
That’s the difference, Mike Rowe is pumped into our living room like a Patriotic utility. His advertising is tied to the “correct” companies in the correct sectors. In short, he earns lucrative jobs which only further his narrative. Shrewd move Rowe, shrewd move.
Google “Arnold” “Japan” and “Commercial”– I love you Japan. And even though the insanity of the kaleidoscope of an acid trip is pure insanity; Stewart Smalley never even got that cardigan deal– (that went Mr. Rogers, who you will see is relevant to this discussion), and Ventura… well you can’t put a ‘roid commercial on network TV keep auditioning for the feather boa print ads. Advertising is powerful.
Advertising is the shortcut to getting on O’Reilly. What? Rowe was already on? Ok, then John Stewart. Jesus, that too? Charlie Rose? Holy God… Wait, that’s JOHN Rowe, whoever you are, THANK YOU,
We are already watching the opening narrative of R0we Rising whether he knows it or not.
But to make sure he keeps his rocket fuel, he has to keep the integrity of his brand and hide any conduct that detracts from the brand’s “authenticity.” Read: opera. I dare you to try and find a single video on YouTube of him singing the Marriage of Figaro or even Andrew Lloyd Webber. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
If I had to make a Vegas wager with my Roth IRA, I would take “finding the Lochness Monster in El Dorado” before doing that fools-errand. The closest thing, which is of course was shot away from prying eyes, reveals that he’s actually pretty good.
If you do try to out him on national TV… he doesn’t roll over like I predict for Anderson Cooper. Check out Mike here at 1:33. (Embedding disabled for this video on YouTube.)
“What was that? Oh my career, its gone.” Oh Mike, don’t be silly. You know you can deal with that without any trouble. Wow, he turns that attempt to overcome your brand with accepting the challenge and singing, that is singing the right song. That recovery netted him a 9.2 from the West Virgina judge in the blue-collar Olympics and a golf clap from the audience.
Keep the brand; disavow all conduct pre-2006; and dear God if you showcase the pipes on the show, make sure a goddamn banjo is in the frame.
All this said, I am not saying that his brand is a bad thing, or even saying that Mike Rowe is doing this all in a game of political and social chess. Some are born great, Some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them. Since Hoffa has disappeared to live with Elvis, the labor bloc has been slow-bleeding for 35 years with no direction and no leader to get behind, all while hobbling along waiting to drown in the rise of the service economy. These rapidly dying laborers are trying to feed their families during the swan song of their industrial way of life. Mike Rowe could be the personality who can stroke the newly created Wisconsin gas main into a revived political fireball. The situation is there; he just has to decide if he wants to continue the endorsement deal path or take the wild ride up the political river.
But if he is going to do it, he should take cues from the master of Congressional testimony AND NOT READ FROM HIS PREPARED NOTES —
As you can see, (a) you don’t mess with the Rogers and (b) you don’t go to Congress without being able to extemporaneously lay out your real personality, not your brand; genuine beliefs, not views tailored to your market, packaged in n a compelling vehicle to the instant decision makers. To be able to impact policy makers as well as everyone’s cardigan-wearing neighbor, Rowe will have to walk a tight rope, protecting his branding, while avoiding artificial advocacy, and the appearance of a manufactured advocacy. He can’t do the latter if he prioritizes the former. And if he can’t do that, it’s ok, because he has made the world special just by being himself…
Oh, and as a side note, you can all thank Mr. Rogers for being able to own a I told you that you don’t mess with the Rogers.