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Writer Sets Out to Find the Average American


"John Q. Public." The "man on the street." "The Average Joe." "Joe Schmo." And, given Americans' fondness for beer: "Joe Six-Pack." All, names for mythical ordinary Americans -- a lot of whom, apparently, are named "Joe" and are male. As close as we come to an Average American woman is somebody we call the "Girl Next Door."

Politicians love to talk about what Average Americans want and need. Population experts try to define them by education, income -- even by how close they live to fast-food restaurants. And reaching the Average American is critical to companies that mass-produce products.

Now a lot of people say there could never BE an Average American, because we are so diverse geographically, racially, ethnically, and politically.

But that didn't stop Kevin O'Keefe. He set out to find not some hypothetical, composite American but a real person: the nation's most ordinary citizen. And Mr. O'Keefe, who's a New York City marketing consultant, has described his search in a book. He pawed through mounds of statistics and polling data. Then he traveled the country, visiting lots of typical communities, or "Averagevilles," as he calls them. He even developed a test that readers can take to see how close they come to being ordinary.

And indeed, Kevin O'Keefe says he FOUND the "Average American." He is white, a school maintenance worker, married, father of two, who lives in a one-story house, not surprisingly, in the middle of the country. We won't spoil the rest of Mr. O'Keefe's book, The Average American: The Extraordinary Search for the Nation's Most Ordinary Citizen [published by Public Affairs, a division of Perseus Books], except that this Average American isn't named Joe. It's Bob!

More essays in Ted Landphair's Only in America series

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