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Friday, January 6, 2012

Amherst 9-year-old reveals GOP presidential candidates’ superhero alter egos

How would former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney look in blue tights and calf-high red boots?

Thanks to the inquisitive mind of 9-year-old Ari Garnick, of Amherst, the nation gets to ponder the matter this primary season.

It seems natural that the son of Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker Darren Garnick would want to pose a provocative question to the endless stream of presidential wannabes that come through our state every four years.

And what’s a provocative question to 9-year-old? “If you could be any superhero, who would you be?”

The result is a five-minute video, “The Superhero Primary,” which has gotten national media attention, including a clip and a conversation catalyst on “Meet the Press,” an analysis in The Washington Post, a column by Garnick in The Atlantic, and a mention about Ari on National Geographic Kids online.

Ari, a fourth-grader at Clark/Wilkins Elementary School, began asking the question to presidential candidates during the summer at Amherst’s annual Fourth of July parade – notorious for attracting Uncle Sams on stilts and campaigning politicians. Dad, Darren, recorded it all with a hand-held flip video camera.

“Ari and I love superheroes. We talk about them all the time. I wanted to get him involved in what goes on in New Hampshire during the primary, so asking the candidates about the superhero they’d like to be seemed like a perfect fit,” Garnick said.

Ari got his first two answers at the parade from Republican presidential candidates former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and Romney.

Romney was the first of most to declare Superman his favorite superhero, because, he said, he “kind of grew up with Superman … He could leap tall buildings in a single bound.” Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry also went for Clark Kent’s alter ego. (It’s questionable whether they considered the fact that the Man of Steel was also a member of the third estate).

Perry said Superman “came to save the United States,” while the former House Speaker only cited his age as a reason for his choice.

But of all those who answered his question, Ari said former candidate Herman Cain was his favorite.

“I liked Herman Cain because he liked the question.”

The Garnicks met up with Cain when he was opening his New Hampshire headquarters, before sexual allegations and other problems prompted him to drop out of the race.

On the video, Cain appears delighted by the question, smiling and answering, “because we have a super mess in this country and need a super man to bail us out. Superman, that would mine.”

Cain asked who Ari’s superhero was and why, and he told the candidate it was Batman, because he liked all his gadgets. “Oh, you’re a gadgets guy,” Cain said. “Well, I’m kind of into Krypton and Kryptonite.”

Huntsman was the only declared Spider-Man fan. “The idea that you could swing from building to building in any town and help people in need, that would be an awesome thing.” And Rick Santorum selected Mr. Incredible, a.k.a. Bob Parr, from the Disney animated film “The Incredibles.”

“He was a good dad, cared about his family, cared about his community and tried to do what the right thing was,” Santorum said.

While his dad’s camera batteries ran out when Ari approached Ron Paul, the Texas congressman did not answer his question but instead, “just walked away. I think he should have said something.”

That said, the elder Garnick already has elicited complaints from Paul supporters.

“Some of his supporters have thrown out some conspiracy theory on Web sites that we made up the fact the batteries died,” he said. “We certainly never intended to make Ron Paul look bad. He just didn’t answer Ari. It’s as simple as that.”

Also absent from the movie are Michele Bachmann, whom Garnick thought might come back to New Hampshire but never did in time for Ari’s film, although at the end of the video, her photo is shown with the message, “Michele are you Invisible Girl? Please come back to New Hampshire.”

The dynamic duo also tried to talk to Sarah Palin when it was still up in the air whether she would run. “We couldn’t get within 100 yards of her,” Garnick said.

Ari said he was surprised that most of the candidates defaulted to Superman.

“I would have liked it if they picked different superheroes,” said the fan of Batman and the little-known Martian Manhunter.

Garnick, a documentary producer, blogger and a freelance journalist who is a regular contributor to The Atlantic, said the film really wasn’t about the choices the candidates made as much as how they answered the question posed by a child.

“In today’s radical changing media, a dad with a flip camera can have as much impact as a network television camera if you’re in the right place at the right time. We live in New Hampshire, and that’s the right place.”

Garnick is the co-founder/curator of and has a passion for the quirky – especially when it comes to politics.

His 2004 documentary about fringe candidates in the 2004 primary race – “Crashing The Parties 2004” – aired on PBS, and he is currently writing “Why Can’t I Be President?” a comic book about long-shot candidates running in the New Hampshire primary, which is scheduled to be published later this year.

During the last presidential primary, Garnick produced the photo essay “The Baby Primary,” which, in his words, was his obsessive quest to get his (then-infant) daughter Dahlia photographed with all the presidential candidates. The project got him national attention, including a Jay Leno monologue mention on NBC’s “Tonight Show.”

Garnick said he wanted to take advantage of living in New Hampshire to teach his son about the election process and about America.

“There are a still a few days left for every parent to take their child to meet a person who just might be the next president. All we have to do is step out the back door and throw ourselves into history. We take it for granted that we have this much access to the candidates. Somebody in Nebraska would be grateful to see a Mitt Romney or Rick Perry even once. Here, we can say, ‘Do I want to see to go to Joey’s Diner to meet the candidate or Nashua City Hall?’ We know if we wait, there’s a good chance the candidate will come close to where we live.”

Dave Wright, Ari’s teacher at the Clark/Wilkins Elementary School, said he showed “The Superhero Primary” to his class.

“I introduced Ari’s project as an example of how we all can make a difference in our world and thought that it would be a great example of putting to practical use lessons we’ve learned in our lives. Ari’s interviews with each of the candidates provided the students with a chance to meet them – albeit through video – in a setting that was a bit more connected to their world.”

In the end, though, Ari said the most important lesson he learned was the similarity between superheroes and national leaders.

“Good superheroes do good things, and good presidents should do good things,” Ari said.

Stacy Milbouer can be reached at