Politics and anyone under 35

It is a commonplace around C3 at MIT that most people under 35 are pretty good at detecting the grammars that produce media and marketing.  They see through the TV show, the movie, the advertisement to the strategic and creative strategies from which it springs.  (But of course this is not only an MIT understanding.  It is shared by millions of people under 35.)

Yesterday, I was looking at the Crest ad for that spinning toothbrush thingy.  It featured a woman brushing with gusto.  It was corny and stupid in the grinning, idiotic way that so much 1950s advertising was grinning and idiotic.  This is precisely the sort of thing that got repudiated as we entered a more sophisticated era in the 1960s and beyond.  And it is precisely the thing that has been let back into marketing practice by the new sophistication of those under 35.  In a still more sophisticated era there is no point trying to be hipper and less obvious.  Everyone gets what’s going on here, so we might as well be utterly obvious.  Indeed, it is more authentic for us so to be.

We have in a sense gone full circle: from corn to subtlety back to corn again, riding that great tilt-a-whirl that is contemporary culture.

But I think things are a little different in the world of politics.  Here, the real sophistication of the under-35 voter means that you really have to watch it, and when you don’t, this voter will make you pay. 

Hence the article today in The Onion.  This captures precisely the sensibility of the under-35 vote quite precisely.  (With the proviso that The Onion is necessarily a little more observant and unforgiving.)  In this wonderful piece, The Onion nails the Obama camp for its artifice in image building.  Look, it says with glee, we see what you’re doing.  And it’s precisely because you appear to think we cannot see the artifice here that we must point it out and make you pay.  Play us if you must, but don’t play us for fools. 

The entire piece is worth reading (see the link below), but if I may let me quote my favorite passage.

Obama has reportedly been working tirelessly with his top political strategists to perfect his looking-off-into-the-future pose, which many believe is vital to the success of the Illinois senator’s campaign.

When performed correctly, the pose involves Obama standing upright with his back arched and his chest thrust out, his shoulders positioned 1.3 feet apart and opened slightly at a 14-degree angle, and his eyes transfixed on a predetermined point between 500 and 600 yards away. Advisers say this creates the illusion that Obama is looking forward to a bright future, while the downturned corners of his lips indicate that he acknowledges the problems of the present.

Oh, sublime.  So much of politics is an exercise is posturing (figurative and here literal) that it is hard to image what politics can look like once the new voter is factored in.  In the meantime, we leave it to the likes of The Onion, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart to point out to the would-be emperors that we can see right through that clothing they don’t have on.   


Anonymous.  2008.  Obama Practices Looking-Off-into-Future Pose.  The Onion.  Issue 44-22.  May 28th, 2008.  here.

6 thoughts on “Politics and anyone under 35

  1. Tom Guarriello

    And so, now, we have reached the point at which it is impossible for anyone who spends sufficient time in the scrutiny of the media to say or do anything, move, glance or gesture in any manner which will not be interpreted as affectation. All may, truly, be lost!

  2. Will

    I’m under thirty five, and this post reminds me of sitting around my college apartment watching comedy central smoking pot and realizing, whoah man, the comedy channel is the only place where they tell the truth on television. I’m not claiming this was an impressive insight, what with the jester in the kings court goes back to time immorial, but reading anything more into “it’s only funny because it’s true” is a bit of a stretch.

    It’s funny for the people who read the onion, hardly a majority of the under 35 crowd. But it seems anyway that you don’t really read the onion much. The idea of the stories is the headline itself — this is what is pitched and debated about when doing the story. That’s the idea, which then is backfilled with story — and this point of this is to see how long you can sustain the underlying artifice. While it takes the form of a newspaper story, the structure is in fact opposite: headlines in the news are written after the story to summarize the content, while onion stories are written in order to expand the absurdity of the headline.

    A good example is this: http://www.theonion.com/content/node/28498

    And more about how the onion works: http://thislife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=348

    In short, I certainly laughed, but it’s not talking about Obama in the way that you think it is.

  3. Irene

    “it’s precisely because you appear to think we cannot see the artifice here that we must point it out and make you pay”

    This perfectly describes the sort of celebrity gossip practiced by TMZ, Defamer, etc. It’s brutal and mean because it’s a reaction to the packaged, fawning, flack-approved entertainment news featured on Access Hollywood or E! TV shows.

    This also sorta explains the appeal of Kathy Griffin’s act.

  4. Michael Powell

    This is also an interesting analysis in lieu of Scott McClellan’s new book, which hit the newswire yesterday. The former Bush Press Secretary gives us a portrait of a leader who deceived even himself and a bunch of cronies who fed the press misinformation. It seemed like such a dated way of approaching the press (i.e. the old version/paradigm of marketing) that I almost couldn’t believe the administration would pursue such a strategy. It will be interesting to see if Obama can stick to a more contemporary form of marketing and if so, to what result. Clearly, he will be subject to critique from Jon Stewart & The Onion, but that’s to be expected. The real question will be, how will he respond: Deception or transparency?

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