Years ago, when I was a cub reporter in Las Vegas anxious to take any assignment, I interviewed Lynda Carter, the actress who played Wonder Woman on a hit TV series.
With the trademark twirl that magically transformed her into an invincible superhero, complete with tight-fitting outfit, she had become something of a walking metaphor. You can check out her film and television credits on the Internet. She did a lot of things and played a lot of roles, but she forever will be known as the personification of the Amazon warrior princess who stamps out injustice.
When I talked to her, she was OK with this. In fact, she was proud of how well the show was doing in syndication.
As other stars have learned — Bob Denver (Gilligan) and Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeannie) come to mind — it's easier to give in and try to capitalize on a stereotype than to try to fight it.
Which leads me to the Republican voters in Ohio's 9th congressional district, who decided to elect a metaphor to represent them in this fall's election.
His real name is Samuel Wurzelbacher, but you can forget about seeing that on any bumper stickers in or around Toledo this year. You will, however, see plenty inscribed with his alter ego, "Joe the plumber."
Sam ... er, "Joe," barely beat out Steve Kraus, who was described as an auctioneer and real estate agent. Now he gets to face Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who slaughtered her opponent, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, in the Democratic primary.
After the 2010 Census, Ohio had combined parts of Kaptur and Kucinich's districts. Kucinich, who once called for George W. Bush to be impeached over the war in Iraq, couldn't cut it. "Joe," on the other hand, found just the right tools.
OK, forgive the pun, but you're probably thinking of a few of your own.
Almost immediately after "Joe" won, Twitter started vibrating with comments such as, "Just as the GOP clown car door shuts, another joker pops out to join the circus. he's baaack!" And this: "It all started with a man, a plunger, and a dream!"
Not long after, National Lampoon came out with a list of potential campaign slogans. Among my favorites were, "Joe the Plumber: Jiggling the handle of American Standards," and, "Joe the Plumber: He'll fix D.C., but first he has to go to the hardware store and get a part or two."
To say Wurzelbacher stumbled into the limelight would be an understatement. He merely showed up at a 2008 Barack Obama campaign stop and asked the future president a question about his policies, prefacing it with his own desire to buy a small business and his concern about taxes.
Obama's response, which included a line about the need to "spread the wealth around," is what preserved the moment in amber.
The next thing Wurzelbacher knew, he was on the political Tint-A-Whirl. Republican candidates, notably Sarah Palin, were calling him, "Joe the plumber," and using his encounter as a symbol of the plight of small-business owners. He even lost his job because, despite his new identity, it turned out Wurzelbacher didn't really have a license to do the plumbing he was doing.
So, is it nutty that a simple question at a political rally can set off a chain of events that catapults an average person into a serious congressional candidate?
Sure it is. Wurzelbacher is no more qualified than anyone you may encounter today to run for Congress.
But then, you could say the same for some actors, lawyers, auctioneers and real estate agents, or even incumbents who call for impeachments over a war.
What is equally nutty is that both sides in the race are likely to keep the stereotype in sharp focus — one because it stands for a constituency that sees absurdity in a taxing philosophy and the other because it reduces any ideas he might have to absurdities.
People who demand easy, superficial judgments of the world around them generally get what they deserve. In politics, as in television, sports and high school reunions, they love labels that are hard to remove.
Unfortunately, people who want substance have a much harder time of it.