Fanny pack politics: How an accessory lost the election

Years before Justin Timberlake put a dick in a box, there was this guy:

Image from

Yes, ladies and gentleman, that is a dick in a fanny pack. Okay, so possibly it’s a dick behind a fanny pack… but let’s be honest here, given our druthers, 9 out of 10 women* would rather that the dick be safely tucked away inside that fanny pack and not flopping around in the Speedo behind it. (*Source: How I imagine 10 of my female friends might answer this question, if I’d spent the last few minutes polling them instead of telling my 5 year old for the eighth time today that we do not spit out hunks of apple onto the floor, even if it is cool that you can use your toes to turn them into applesauce.)

A little detour, since everyone’s heard that the number one rule of doing anything in a public forum is “know your audience” and I happen to know that Australia provides a surprisingly attentive audience to this obscure little American blog: in North American parlance, “fanny” refers to the bit of anatomy that you call a “bum.” It does not refer to a woman’s vulva, in spite of the definition the rest of the English-speaking world applies to “fanny.” So, in short, a “fanny pack” is a waist bag, and not (1) an emergency obstetrical procedure, (2) a tampon, or (3) a reference to male porn stars.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s talk fanny packs. Because if you’ve been reading here in the last several weeks, something you know about me is that I’m a total political geek (go with me for a minute, I promise the dots will connect). I can’t add 32+59 without using my fingers, but I can work a dozen Electoral college scenarios and their relative probabilities in my head in less time than it takes Ann Coulter to put on her human suit (translation for people unfamiliar with warmongering reptilian humanoids: about 4 seconds).

I took this photo at the science museum’s Grossology exhibit. I think this lady’s name was Miss Gross – she welcomes visitors into a whole, disgusting world of human grossness. I took the photo specifically because I was amused by the resemblance between Miss Gross and Ann Coulter.

We’re now in that awkward post-election time known as, “Don’t look at me, it’s HIS fault.” Which means that the news media is flush with opinion pieces about why Romney lost. No one is really asking why Obama won, and let’s just be clear about why that is: it wasn’t his election to win. An incumbent sitting on a struggling economy is a nearly impossible sell. This race was the Republicans’ to steer and the result would be a referendum on the relevance of the Republican platform. And they lost. Why? For the love of Karl Rove’s resume, WHY?

The alleged reasons for the failure are piling up. Their message wasn’t clear. They were too conservative. They weren’t conservative enough. Paul Ryan was the wrong choice. Chris Christie is the devil. Hurricane Sandy was an Obama administration plot. The Democrats suppressed the vote (by running campaign ads. No, seriously, that’s what it says). Demographics are being selectively manipulated in an attempt to find one talking point, any talking point, that can succinctly explain a result that, to the right, makes no sense whatsoever. None of the explanations quite fit, and from here in the peanut gallery, I’m going to declare that the analyses are all barking up the wrong tree.

The Republicans didn’t lose because of anti-Romney ads or picking a VP from the wrong state or not focusing enough on abortion.

They lost because they failed to respect the fanny pack.

Once upon a time, the fanny pack demographic was firmly Republican territory. Nylon, zippered waist bags birthed into prominence during the Reagan years and promptly staked their claim above the saddlebags of conservative America. When Republicans would risk pilgrimages into our country’s liberal strongholds, modern-day Sodoms and Gomorras, to witness sinful spectacles such as Broadway shows and Renaissance nudes, they would do so only under cover of right-wing armor: stonewashed jeans, a Made-in-America t-shirt, and the ultimate cultural identity keystone – a fanny pack.

Image from

(Just for the record, Republicans weren’t the only ones who looked goofy back then; Madonna, after all, is a Democrat. The 80’s were rough on all of us.)

Fanny packs are representative of the American public. We’re inherently cynical and distrusting, and protective of the things we deem as our own. We already had purses and pants pockets to hold our stuff, but those weren’t enough; purses and pants pockets are mere vessels. What we needed was something more akin to a portable safe. Even after fanny packs hit the market, the quadruple-strength waterproof fabric and maze of zippers all smushed up against your belly button just wasn’t enough security for many, and word immediately began to circulate about how you could double down on the security of your fanny pack by filling it with unexpected extras. Like guns. (Or dicks.)

Fanny packs were slow to gain ground among lefties, quite probably because back in that bygone era of a moderate Republican party, most of the bohemians who voted Democrat didn’t actually have anything to put inside one. It became an accidental party line indicator; I bet you dollars to donuts that if we could go back in time we’d find a belt bag-free Dukakis rally, and Bush contributors who couldn’t fist their fanny packs fast enough. This status quo held for quite some time, until Clinton ushered in eight years of fading popularity for both fanny packs and the Republican party.

Then a funny thing happened.

Image from

Unbeknownst to the Republican party, liberals began to have a love affair with the fanny pack. Conservatives had taken the fanny pack for granted – neglected it and  tried to tell it that no one else would ever want it. And for a little while the fanny pack believed them, blamed itself for its dropping retail price, wondered if it had any greater purpose or would forever be relegated to storing crumpled dollar bills and guns for and dicks.

But while the Republicans were navel-gazing, the Democratic party had changed. They had cash now, too. In fact, they had so much cash that when they started courting the fanny pack, its retail price broke out of the sub-$20 category and catapulted into the thousands of dollars. It appeared on the runways of fashion shows and in the closets of stylists. The things that people value most began to shift, too, and it came to be that fanny packs were no longer stuck with dollar bills and concealed weapons permits. Now they carry green cards and marriage applications for gay couples and a cans of mace in order to fight off the next violating bastard who contributes to rape statistics that increase every 45 seconds. Rosaries and yarmulkes and Islamic prayer beads. Notes written in English and Spanish and Arabic and Chinese. Family photos with one parent, a mom and a dad, two dads or two moms, blended families with three or four parents, and sometimes no parents but loving grandparents, aunts, uncles, or others. It happened gradually until it just was… Instead of talking about being the great melting pot, the United States became the great melting pot. And this new face of America feels just as strongly about its fanny packs as midwestern Republican tourists did back in 1987:  Keep your hands where we can see ’em. This shit is ours.

Innovation is why the fanny pack industry bounced back. The right didn’t expect fanny packs to innovate. They were counting on fanny packs, and the people wearing them, and the stuff inside them, to stay the same. They failed to respect the fanny pack. And that made all the difference.

5 Responses to “Fanny pack politics: How an accessory lost the election”

  1. mfennvt

    Is that one fashion model carrying a purse as well as wearing a fanny pack? I’m so confused.

Comments are closed.