Media and Millennials –
II Explaining Why Hillary Clinton Has Not Won Their Hearts and Minds
Based on my son’s suggestion, I have what I believe might explain the strong reluctance of millennials not to support Hillary Clinton that goes much deeper than the surface reasons offered by them which I contend are often distorted. For my youngest son is even angrier at the media than at a nihilist and psychopathic liar like Donald Trump. He blames the mainstream media for creating Donald Trump. But which media? He watches television shows and follows the news on BBC, NBC and CNN, watches the debates and satirical news shows, but only online, and reads newspapers, again only online. Is there a difference between reading a newspaper online versus in print?
When he reads news online, he hates distractions. He wants his news to be factual, brief and to the point. He generally does not read my blogs, even when they are directly intended for his eyes (as in the Bernie Sanders series) because they are far too long and he regards my distributing them them as equivalent to his releasing his films incompletely edited. He would argue that they are unfinished and not just long. But are these the only reasons?
Four years ago, Liew Chee Kit and Gan Wei Teng wrote a paper, “Print Newspaper versus Online News Media: A Quantitative Study on Young Generation Preference.”
(https://www.academia.edu/6125892/Print_Newspaper_versus_Online_News_Media_A_Quantitative_Study_on_Young_Generation_Preference) In their study, millennials not only preferred online news to print media by a wide margin, but did so, not so much for convenience and saving money, but because online media is not only immediate but also interactive, even though most millennials do not respond with tweets. What matters is the ability to do so. What matters is that the millennials feel that they can at least respond to the “intellectual prison” and “handed-down frameworks” of the print media. It is this permissible use that goes far beyond printing a few letters to the editor in newsprint that most attracts those millennials who read newspapers online.
But look at the differences between print and online newspapers, at least as I experience them. Interactivity is irrelevant for me even when I read news online – which I do extensively. But I read differently. I read a print newspaper holistically. I read newspapers online intentionally, seeking out stories about which I am thinking. Reading online deepens my investigation of a subject. Reading a newspaper in print broadens my perspective. On the other hand, in spite of my very poor memory, I recall more, much more, from reading a newspaper and can usually place a story spatially on a page. I cannot do this with online newspapers, but what I can do is extract pieces that interest me and deposit them in reference files. This is probably another reason why I do not file these snippets in my memory; I file them in my computer. In newspapers, I skip over ads – with some exceptions – but they do not annoy me. I hate online ads.
Most important, I like the very thing that I believe many if not most millennials hate – being guided by what is on the front page, by the position on the page, in determining the salience of a story. Some even claim that they respect stories more if they are printed. I do not believe I do, but I may. But I certainly appreciate the aesthetics more. Of the three Toronto Newspapers, on the basis of aesthetic reasons, I think the National Post, the newspaper most on the right and the one most discordant with my own views, has the best typeface, spacing, margins and sizes of stories. For me, it is the most attractive newspaper to read. I do not read online news based on attraction, though, perhaps, I may do so subliminally, but I do not think so.
Further, unlike many readers of online material, length does not bother me and so I impose on my readers 2500 words on average even though studies indicate 1,000 word maximums – and even less – should be adhered to except for scholarly articles. Finally, the old-fashioned convenience of portability, especially for doing sudoku and crossword puzzles, ends up trumping online news. But I read far more online news that I get from newsprint, for online reading allows side excursions, checks and in-depth exploration.
So what is the difference between myself and my son, between my past-the-due-date generation and my youngest son, a millennial? It is not the media in itself, I believe, but the way we use it and the way we experience it. The alternative media sources and their characteristics do not determine preferences, but the questions I bring, the frameworks – intellectual and aesthetic – do make a difference. And millennials, I believe, now experience the world much differently than previous generations.
What issues bother him and many of his cohorts? I believe environmental issues are first and foremost on the agenda. Whereas my generation in the sixties faced down a nuclear arms race and feared Armageddon, we still believed we could get control of the nuclear threat. Millennials, on the other hand, prioritize environmental issues, but see their own behaviour and practices as frequently hypocritical, and the government policies attacking the problem as too little and far too late. The Armageddon they face is perceived to be even worse than a nuclear war.
There is another issue that made Bernie so appealing. Though many of their upper middle class friends who graduated from university do not bear the huge educational debts of their other friends who were not lucky enough to grow up in families that could support their education, those who are better off see the burden that their other friends carry who were not blessed with parents who could pay the costs of their education. They also see how that burden impedes their life prospects. Further, many of their compatriots in their mid-twenties still live at home and many of them believe they will never accumulate the capital on their own to buy and own a home – especially since the group he hangs out with are downtowners.
Because of the economic burdens they carry and the economic prospects they see before them, they can ill afford the disproportionate share of that money on media, electronic media in particular, compared to what we spent on all media when we were that age. And this at a time when house prices have increased twice the amount of the purchasing power of money! So they generally find ways to get the information and visual views they want in the least expensive ways, even if that way is at the expense of the producer. They take Uber drivers at the expense of the careers of taxi drivers who have their own families to support. So their social concerns are not with the undereducated working class. Though they might come from upper middle class families, their goals – and this is true of all the ones I know in my personal experience – do not include wealth accumulation as having a significant priority. Happiness and work satisfaction do. Millennials do not want to and are very reluctant to work in jobs they do not like. On the other hand, they see no inherent fault with wealth accumulation.
What unites almost all of them in my eyes is that they are products of the new electronic media age. They are not entirely enamored with that media. Although they are most familiar with and embedded in the electronic media with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., they also recognize that those networks are infused with crazy and outlandish beliefs and even prejudices. Further, they have all personally witnessed the transformation of these media from vehicles for enhancing communications among friends to tools for pushing products and services.
The new social media have, I believe, had a potpouri of results, assembled in no particular order and without elaboration:
• An emphasis on speed and immediacy of retrieval, a propensity not to be equated with narcissism and an indulgent emphasis on self
• An emphasis on originality and almost a visceral gut hatred of the repetition of traditional TV news, though, in contradiction, most watch shows with repetitive themes and storylines
• An emphasis on their choice and a hatred of anything fed to them
• They are very comfortable with the use of technology, but some of them, the critical ones, are also very uncomfortable with the results – when they see a mob chasing a Pokémon on private property, and that many in that mob may come from their age group, they are appalled
• The reason some are appalled is that they see within themselves and among their cohort an increasing inability to separate fact from fiction, a problem they all face; in fact, given the current age, all of us are prone to see reality as fiction and to take fiction for reality – Tina Fey’s comic sketch that portrayed Sarah Palin as able to see Russia from her house, was never uttered by Palin, but try convincing most millennials or even most older viewers of Saturday Night Live
• Donald Trump is at the extreme, an individual who cannot discern the difference between reality and the products of a fevered imagination; they hate Trump, I believe, because he represents the parts of themselves that they hate
• The nature of the media that allows instant communication undercuts the need for forward planning and social commitments, but that is replaced by valuing spontaneity and improvisation, on the one hand, and a permanency and consistency of belief on the other hand as the place to find solid footing in a very slippery world
• In spite of their resistance to fixed plans in the future, they almost all see themselves as living in the future rather than the present; that is why they are mostly not narcissists even though they take millions of selfies
• They are disgusted by their elders and with themselves for looking at politics as entertainment, but primarily hold the media responsible for enhancing the phenomenon when moderators do not moderate or hold politicians to time limits; these moderators do not turn off the microphones of their guests when they evade answering questions (the guests are pivoting), and when the guests tell outright lies; instead, rather than interrupt the drama of the occasion, they (and we) are forced to wait until afterwards for these egregious failings to be pointed out in fact checks “after the fact”
• The media rate winners on style and follow trends instead of providing much more leadership on discussions of substance
• In the name of balance, outright dissemblers are permitted on stage as performers
• They recognize that they live in a world in which imaginary friendships brought on through the accessibility of information with others seem to be as real as intimate relationships and that makes them long all the more for authenticity and the fixity of values and points of view
• They recognize that people live in bubbles, strengthened and reinforced by their exposure only to media that reinforce their own values whether liberal, conservative or anti-establishment
• They are not political institutionalists and totally underrate and even ignore the importance of institutions in preserving values and trust; instead, they tend to believe that those values are imbued in individual persons and are not protected but undermined by institutions.
Media have indeed transformed the world and has transformed the millenial generation and the future of politics. So how could Patrick Caldwell two years ago in Mother Jones write that “Millennials Love Hillary Now”? (www.motherjones.com/authors/patrick-caldwell ) Well then she had 58% of the 18-24-year-old population; now she has less than 32%. Then Senator Elizabeth Warren, now a heroine for millennials, ran almost 10% behind Hillary in the support she drew from them. The explanation – Bernie Sanders came on the scene in a big way and did what Barack Obama did in 2008, showed her up as both wooden and programmed, on the one hand, and a shape-shifter in comparison on the other hand. But Bernie did it as an ideologue rather than as a soft shoe salesman. Bernie spent months and an enormous amount of money that in part strongly served the agenda of the Republican Party in instilling that portrait of Hillary.
Millennials believe that an authentic guy like Bernie stands outside the accusations they level at advertisers. They seem to be uncritical of the degree to which their views have been infused by repeated exposure. So all the efforts Hillary put in to appeal to millennials were undermined by Bernie. It certainly helped that Bernie projects himself as a more authentic individual and authenticity is where millennials hang their petards. Bernie was double-digits ahead of Hillary among millennial voters. And the suspicions of Hillary continue because pragmatic politics, because shifting position in the face of changing circumstances, this great virtue among traditional politicians, is viewed as a disability on both the right and the left. And although Hillary Clinton managed to win their support for a period, she never won their hearts. She never won their minds. And without the allegiance of the heart, the heads of millennials tend to grossly exaggerate Hillary as simply a politician who changes just to meet the requirements of gaining votes.
The explanation again can be found in the nature of the media and in the shift to gender egalitarianism that Hillary Clinton surely represents, an explanation to which I alluded in my third paragraph of part I. Women are now the majority in medical classes (they were restricted to 10% when I was in medical school), in law classes and, over time, may even become the majority in engineering schools. Women come in all shapes and sizes. But a man like Trump still lives in the locker rooms of the fifties with an attachment to the superficialities of the greater sex. Ivanka Trump can be brighter and exhibit greater ability than her brothers, but she still conforms to Trump’s singular vision of a beautiful woman. So do most of his female surrogates. And many women, experienced with and having created shields to gender marketing, know that branding distorts women into a single mold to sell products. The revolt against this idolatry has been instigated by women and adopted by the millennial generation, except by white males who still cling to Trump’s artificial vision of the female universe.
Has Ivanka Trump altered her appearance by surgery? That is no longer absolutely necessary since photoshop can achieve the appearance of the same result; many if not most partners meet as a result of media images through dating services now. In my experience, women can spot inauthenticity in appearance a mile away. And authenticity is physical as well as emotional and intellectual for millennials. Hence, the reference to Hillary as wooden and an automaton. It is her body language that is primarily seen as inauthentic even when they claim it is her shift in positions. Millennials want to view the same body that avoids shape shifting mentally or physically. And constricted body movement are viewed as inauthentic even when they are the result of seven decades of institutional pressure and shaping.
The irony then is that millennials have this intensive desire for a firmament beneath their feet based on an anti-idol approach to humanity, but without a divine presence. This does not mean one is necessary. But like all religious seekers, including those who are absolutely secular, they are attracted to absolutes. They crave stability in the fleeting world of the media that veers between the attention span of a two-year-old and the equally compelling nature of repetition loved by young children. Hillary Clinton simply disappoints them and men, at least intelligent ones, now follow women in this revolt. That is why a seventy-five-year-old democratic socialist with fluid arms and a flexible visage could win their hearts and Hillary could not. Millennials are desperate for a very different kind of fluidity than the one Hillary offers, and a stability and security that the media fails to provide for a generation so dependent on that media.
With the help of Alex Zisman