Our beloved gonzo maverick

Whenever I pause to evaluate potential goals and aspirations for the future, I wonder if my efforts to achieve lasting success are being hindered because no one in the media has ever branded me with a unique, compelling label.

Ideally, such a moniker would define my special abilities in one or two words, and quickly spread into common usage across the country. My favorite example is Eric Hoffer. Back in the 1960s, if you mentioned the term "longshoreman philosopher," everyone knew who you were talking about. In the 1970s, Hunter S. Thompson achieved similar nationwide recognition as the "gonzo journalist."

Personal labeling is now a common thread in the pattern of modern society. As the pace of daily life accelerates, so does the national preference for quick answers and instant analysis. Many people want to feel informed about complex topics with minimal intellectual effort. Associating a well-known person with a label is part of this simplification process.

There is, of course, a huge downside potential if I get tagged with an unflattering designation. Countless news stories about the tribulations of Linda Tripp have pretty much guaranteed that her name will be forever synonymous with the words "former friend." I doubt that any label has evoked such negative feelings since various members of the Nixon administration were branded "Watergate conspirators."

On the other hand, Sen. John McCain is now riding a wave of popularity, thanks in part to media coverage which constantly refers to him as a "maverick" Republican. The term crackles with positive energy.

A maverick sounds like someone who is independent and tough-minded, without the irresponsible quirks of a "gadfly" or "loose cannon." But I'm not sure billing myself as a "maverick humorist" would bring me similar benefits. The word doesn't resonate as forcefully outside the political arena.

Some of the labels I see on book jackets are definitely worth considering.

"Leading authority" has the ring of credibility, but is more suited to academic pursuits. "Guru" implies total knowledge fused with ancient wisdom, and many Americans eagerly seek out popular gurus for advice on fitness, finance, and relationships. Could a "humor guru" attract similar legions of devoted followers? I frankly don't have the nerve to rent an auditorium and find out.

Other labels that would definitely boost my standing are plainly out of reach. "Acclaimed" can only be applied to someone who's received verifiable honors and awards. "Beloved" and "superstar" are usually reserved for celebrities in the film and TV business.

If I absolutely had to come up with a term to describe myself, I would probably opt for "highly touted." It's used a lot in the boxing world. Highly touted sounds like I'll give a good account of myself in the ring. The fans won't be disappointed. And someday I might even be a contender.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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