Saturday, June 28, 2008

Why Wanted Will Tank Next Week

"Wanted," based on a graphic novel has surpassed expectations. Originally thought to be doing about $35 million in box office this weekend, Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood Daily thinks the movie will do about $52 million this weekend. One thing stands out, women are going to see this movie, and young men are not.

This is precisely WHY "Wanted" will tank next week. As a movie, it's no more formulaic or mechanical or nihilistic than much of anything Hollywood puts out, from "the Fast and the Furious" to "Hostel II." The problem is that men and women are different, want different things from entertainment, and are supplied by entertainment companies in different ways.

This is why "Wanted" will tank like Ang Lee's "Hulk" did about five years ago, with around 75% drop-off after the first week.

Commenters at Nikki Finke's site, many of them Hollywood insiders, completely miss the point. Men and young men in particular are under served in entertainment. About the only entertainment that caters to their preferences are big summer blockbusters. TV is a female and gay ghetto. There are a few places where men find things of interest: ESPN, History and Discovery Channel, and so on. "Ice Road Truckers" and "Deadliest Catch," but these places skew older, as does CBS's lineup of "Crime Time" men in their forties and fifties leading teams to fight crime and such. No one would confuse William Peterson or Mark Harmon with a young man's hero.

Moreover, most Hollywood insiders lack one crucial appreciation of how average boys and young men differ from themselves. Which is how they relate to women. The average young man did not, as a general rule, look like Ashton Kutcher nor have the power and influence of Michael Bay. Getting women and girls to simply consider going out with them, in the face of repeated rejection, was a major triumph. No wonder then, that the types of movies that young men like, and will see, again and again and yes, again, have in some form the guy (often like them) demonstrating courage, endurance, and worthiness that lands them the girl. Who must indeed be worth having.

Movies that don't deliver that set of story elements, and suggest, ever so slightly, that the young man sitting next to his date just might, maybe be somewhat akin to the hero onscreen, won't do well. Certainly movies that feature lots of action, but women in the lead, with the man a disposable or forgettable figure, don't do well. Why? Because the guys pay for and suggest the movie. They're not taking their dates to a movie that suggests, well they need not be with the guy who brought them there in the first place. Quite the reverse, they'll avoid it like the plague.

The Summer Blockbusters that do well do so by delivering that element, with an approachable and likable female character who is no one's cardboard cutout. This would include movies like "Spider-Man," where Kirsten Dunst was strong and independent, but well, needed the hero. Or perhaps even "Iron Man," where the main character is flustered and unsure around his love interest, who is presented as his equal in intelligence and bravery if not super-hero-dom, needs saving, and is grateful for it. Note as well, "Iron Man's" Tony Stark is happiest just building things on his own, a super-hero version of the garage tinkerer.

Angeline Jolie has a problem, in that guys don't find her an appealing romantic fantasy. She's too old for the teens and mid twenties set, has a tabloid image that is not flattering. She's of course an attractive woman, but not one most young men would imagine as their fantasy girlfriend. Worse, in "Wanted" she's the one who is often the lead, not James MacAvoy's character. Who in turn lacks any appeal to young men. That Jolie is older, heavily (for the movie) tattooed, and the leader of MacAvoy not the follower is a huge problem when it comes to next Saturday Night. Will young men plunk down $24 for themselves and their date that practically suggests, well the young ladies could do better? I think not. Particularly with word of mouth likely to be negative.

Summer Blockbusters of course take advantage that young men, unlike young women, have little substitutes for entertainment. No TV series, for free, oriented towards them. Little in the Emo crowd, pop tartlets, and American Idol rejects to draw them to pop music. They need some activity to take their dates to, that will put them in a good light. Traditionally, Hollywood has filled that need and it's been profitable.

Can Angelina Jolie use the success of "Wanted" to break out into lead roles that women will pay to see? It's quite possible, but, the field there is crowded. Entertainment, from "serious" Hollywood movies to free TV, is awash with stories aimed squarely at women. There are too many alternatives to allow actresses and female-oriented projects to break out to the level of profitability equaled by the original "Star Wars" or "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Even reaching the levels of their successor movies, "Spider-Man" or "National Treasure" or "Lord of the Rings" is going to be very tough. It's all due to the competition. Every movie oriented towards women is in competition with free night time soap operas, Lifetime movies, and so on.

To be a lead actress who can consistently pack female audiences in, for movies with little to no appeal to men, is possibly Hollywood's toughest job. There's no evidence that Jolie is up to the task, despite her tabloid celebrity.
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Why the Beta Male Exists

Evolutionary Biologists and lay people like Neil Strauss ("the Game") and VH1's "Mystery" are always talking about the Alpha Male. How and why women prefer him, his role in society, how his presence is needed to defend society (Lee Harris, "Civilization and It's Enemies.") If you believed all the words written, there would be no reason at all for the so-called "Beta Male" to exist. Why then, does he exist?

We know what the "Beta Male" is supposed to be. A nerdy, often socially clueless man more focused on things and systems and tools than social dominance and leadership. Why does this type of man exist, if women prefer the "Alpha Male," the socially and physically dominant man? Evolution should have shoved him out of existence. Given that much of these traits seems to be inherited, as is size and the ability to dominate a social group.

The secret is that humans are different from all other animals. We use tools. Not just one-off minor tools, like chimps and birds. But tools that get better and better, constantly improved, or replaced by better tools. No other animal shapes stone to produce cutting and scraping blades, or fastens the razor sharp stone to spears. Providing a five to six foot "deadly tooth," particularly if poisoned. No other animal produces poison blow guns, bows and arrows, all sorts of body armor, metal knives, swords, spears, axes, hammers, and so on. That's not even counting firearms, which as the old saying goes, "God made man. Sam Colt made them equal."

Humans are not just social animals, humans are social animals who use ever-increasingly complex and effective tools, to dominate their surroundings. To hunt, raise domesticated animals, construct dwellings, clothing, make food out of almost anything with even a modicum of nutritional value (milled grain is far more easily digestible, and almost all peoples every place that had grain or grain-like plants milled it). Tools, and the need for better ones to not only extract the maximum amount of resources out of any environment, but beat the neighbors who wish to displace or erase your people, dominate human society. No wonder tool makers are so prevalent.

Not to mention, tools are the great equalizer in any physical confrontation, as pointed out in "The Alpha Male, the Beta, and Pitcairn Island, or Watch Your Back. A person with a better, more deadly tool wins. A man with a knife can beat a man with his fists only, a man with a sword a man with a knife, and a man with gun a man with a sword. In each case, the tool provides the ability to kill an opponent at ever increasing distances. The most deadly men in the Old West were often not particularly awe-inspiring physically, but had a habit of almost daily practice in their pistols, and kept them in good working order. The ability to practice obsessively, often alone, in an abstract manner is one sign of the "Beta Male." Even the Japanese Samurai were undone by better tools, as the Meji Restoration sought to catch up with the West. Japan learned with the arrival of Commodore Perry's Black Fleet that neglecting tools because it threatened the social order of the Alpha Male (by having those Beta Male peasants able to shoot the samurai dead at a distance) imposed it's own costs: Japan was at the mercy of the more advanced tool-users of America.

This is why there are so many "Beta Males," because success in any society depends on using the resources available to it. This requires ever more complex and effective tools, which requires ever more complex and gifted tool-makers. The tools don't just appear by magic, someone has to make them, and keep improving them.

The West's historic advantage over other societies starting around 1000 AD, and accelerating in the 1500's, stems from a greater mobilization and abundance of tool-makers. While China pioneered the use of printing, paper money, firearms, rockets, compass navigation, and a lot more, these tools never went anywhere useful. Because the tool-makers were almost always Eunuchs, who could not pass on their tool concepts to their sons and daughters for continual improvement by the next generation of tool-makers. There was nothing in China, or Japan, or Egypt, or Turkey, or Persia, or India, to compare with the Beretta Family. Makers of guns since the 1400's. Guns which got better every generation.

Much of this Western Advantage, the "secret sauce" stems from overt restrictions on the ability of the Alpha Male to dominate. Unlike the East, there were restrictions on even the Kings ability to maintain a harem. Mistresses abounded, but they were limited in number and always discreet. Polygamy was both illegal and considered a sin by the Church. Aristocratic "Alpha Males" could find the most desirable, beautiful women, but there were plenty left for men of lesser social status, and a dependable tradesman or merchant was a better bet than a rakish but impoverished soldier, no matter how dashing and masculine the latter might be. Even the less exciting men hovering over their workbench, or accounts, or scientific instruments, could be and were rewarded for creating ... better tools.

Now, of course, with a society that depends on ever-more complex tools, we face a direct conflict with societies that reject tools and tool-makers, except to use existing tools already produced by Western Societies. Muslim nations have almost no Chemistry, Biology, or Physics Nobel Prize winners. Their nations have no centers of scientific or technical learning. They produce no world-class tools, at best they can copy what the US accomplished in WWII (nuclear weapons) sixty years ago. In 2000, the non-oil exports of the Arab World were equal to that of Finland, population 5 million (but home to Nokia).

In this conflict, the two cultures (the West, and Islam) approach things differently. The West bets on ever-increasingly accurate and lethal tools: UAVs, satellite imaging, electronic interception of communication, data mining, DNA analysis, facial recognition software, bomb sniffing machines, and sniper detection software. Meanwhile Islam uses "will" to send men on suicide attacks with bombs or airliners provided by the West.

Can Islam "win?" Are the days of the Beta Male numbered? It's possible. One unsettling social change is the disdain felt for tools and tool-makers. Much of modern elite opinion holds "nature" as a god, and technology and those who create technology as the Original Sin and Sinners, respectively. Women find "nerd" qualities repellent, and the Alpha Male a better bet. No longer confined to merely a few Aristocrats limited to mistresses, the "bad boy" at all levels appeals to women, as the ever-decreasing marriage rates, increasing illegitimacy rates, and epidemic of single-motherhood across Western society. With only short-term interests, no desire or need for lifetime marriage, the nerdy toolmaker, the "Beta Male," is losing out to the Alpha Male inside the West.

Which makes the West's bet, the traditional one, on technology and the belief that "whatever happens, we have got, the Maxim gun, and they have not," as the poet Hillaire Belloc put it, increasingly shaky. Tools don't make themselves. Large numbers of dedicated and motivated tool-makers are required. At this point, it's an open question as to how long the West will have that large pool of tool-makers that create systems and weapons producing decisive advantages.
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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Alpha Male, the Beta, and Pitcairn Island, or Watch Your Back

There's been a lot of talk, from feminists like Naomi Wolf, to Pick Up Artists like "Mystery" and Neil Strauss, about Alpha and Beta Males. We are told by Strauss and "Mystery" that women prefer the socially and physically dominant Alpha Male. The take charge, confident, and macho man. The man who socially dominates any group. The leader. Wolf famously advised Al Gore to dress in earth tones to project the Alpha Male image.

Certainly, modern life in the West allows women the freedom to choose whomever they want. In Britain, most of Europe, and in the Black Community, what women want seem to be the macho, love-em-and-leave-em Alpha Males. Britain's illegitimacy rate is 50%, and some Northern European countries are approaching that rate if not surpassing it already (Norway, Sweden). In the US, illegtimacy among whites hovers in the thirty percent range, among Blacks it has jumped from 26% in 1965 to 70% nationwide (90% in the Urban core). Some have blamed birth control for this state of affairs, other the welfare state, still others feminism, marxism, consumerism, or Urban Life and it's endless choice coupled with anonymity.

But the story of Pitcairn Island, the romantic Fletcher Christian, and the need to watch one's back offers a cautionary tale.

First, let's review some of the more interesting books out that shed light on that subject. "War Before Civilization: the Myth of the Peaceful Savage" by Lawrence H. Keeley, and Nicholas Wade's "Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors" both touch on the rate and nature of personal physical violence among tribal and nomadic peoples. According to Wade (the excellent science writer for the New York Times), the current archaeological consensus is that behaviorally modern humans, who made jewelry, buried their dead, decorated trivial items, and so on, quite different behaviors than their predecessors, first show up in the archaeological record around 50,000 years ago. The first cities and agricultural societies don't show up in the record until about 12,000 years ago. In the meantime, people lived as close to a "state of nature" as Rousseau could imagine. And it was not pretty.

Crude comparisons between Alpha Males in Chimps and Gorillas and other primates to humans are often made. But bigger, stronger males don't always have the advantage in physical confrontations. Because humans, unlike all other species, constantly make and improve weapons. A tough, bruising NFL linebacker might beat a small Filipino man in a fistfight, it's another thing when weapons, including sticks but particularly knives, are involved. Check out History Channel's "Human Weapon" and see for yourself. Host Bill Duff has a lot of problems. He's just not quick enough, despite his NFL experience. With knives, it's even worse, being bigger means you're a bigger target and physically can't move as fast. It takes just that much longer to move your bigger mass, and for the signals from your brain to travel the neurons in your arms and legs. At the very least, a Beta Male ticked off with an Alpha Male can stick a spear into the Alpha when the Alpha is not looking. Weapons equalize the Beta male. They always have. They're why they are made in the first place.

Guess what? That's just what happened in most of human history, and still happens today in nomadic, hunter-gatherer societies. Both Keeley and Wade cite the extensive archaeological evidence, and anthropological evidence of pre-contact Stone Age tribes in New Guinea and the Amazon, showing male attrition rates to murder at around 4% or so each year. Not that women, children, and older people were immune either. They show up in grave sites as murder victims quite frequently.

These were not deaths caused by a cataclysmic battle on an open plain, but rather one man getting upset over another winning the affections of a mate, or a favored potential mate, and sticking a spear into him. Then the dead man's relatives seeking to avenge him, and so on endlessly. In tribal herding societies there are a few more social structures to moderate the violence, but mostly it happens on a slightly larger scale, with clan instead of family as the avenger of the dead.

For most of human history, the Alpha Male has not had it his way. Taking too many women and denying the Beta male a chance at a mate has led to violence and death for all concerned.

Only relatively recently, with urban-based civilizations that have castes, kings, and priests, large agricultural surpluses to feed and house and pay soldiers and guards, have the functions of the feud and personal revenge enabled by weapons, been suppressed somewhat by the overwhelming force of the Pharoah, the King, the Emperor, or the State. Often these civilizations end up in cycles of decay and violence as the Pharoah, or King, or Emperor take all the women (and resources) and finds that slaves don't fight very well, and that rebels in the mountains, deserts, jungles, and so on cause a lot of problems. Sometimes they simply end when the rebels overwhelm the old regime. That happened to Mehmed VI, the last of the Ottoman Sultans, when Ataturk proclaimed the Republic and sought to end many of the old customs. Including polygamy.

The problem for Alpha Males is that Beta Males are intelligent beings. Who don't like being locked out of reproduction and sex. And can often stick a spear into the Alpha when they are not looking. This was the case with Fletcher Christian.

Everyone knows the story. Brutal, tough, Captain Bligh (except of course, he wasn't, merely thin-skinned). Romantic, rebellious Fletcher Christian. Paradise in Tahiti, with beautiful women to meet every need. The mutiny on the Bounty. Christian seizes the ship, sets sail for Tahiti, the mutineers take on their girlfriends, and live in Pitcairn Island happily every after.

That's the Hollywood version. In reality, Bligh was a dedicated Captain who lectured where others whipped sailors, and whipped where others hung sailors. He carefully monitored the crew's diet and sleep to prevent scurvy, indeed split the crew into three watches to maximize their sleep, on the theory that fatigue made crippling or fatal accidents inevitable. Bligh was Captain Cook's navigator, and an expert seaman. Sent off with only a Sextant, pocket watch, and a few charts, but lacking a compass, Bligh and the loyal seaman (so many wanted to go with him that four were held back, and dropped off at Tahiti) who went in the small launch with him successfully navigated over 3,000 miles of open ocean to reach safety in the Dutch East Indies. He lost only one man, in an attack by natives, on an island they stopped at briefly. Bligh was exonerated in Court's Martial, and later served with distinction with Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen. A difficult, thin-skinned man, Bligh was nevertheless the more able commander of men, judging by his losses.

By contrast, Christian also took on board the Bounty besides the eleven Tahitian women and the nine mutineers remaining, six Tahitian men. The sexual imbalance, and the enslavement of the Tahitian men by the mutineers upon reaching Pitcairn Island, soon led to lethal warfare. When the American seal-hunting ship Topaz visited the Island, in 1808, some nineteen years after the mutiny in 1789, only mutineer John Adams was alive. All the others had died in drunken accidents or been murdered. Fletcher Christian was shot and killed when he was found alone with his wife. Only Adams survived. Given the history of sexual abuse allegedly taking place for decades on the island, it seems that things have not changed much.

Alpha Males may have it their way for now. But history suggests: Watch Your Back. Weapons are the great equalizer.
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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Call Girl TV and Cultural Change

We live in a very feminized world. This is primarily due to marketing, as consumerism dominates most of our culture. Marketers believe (young) women both form brand preferences for life early, and make most lifetime purchasing decisions. Thus the constant, and ever-present marketing emphasis on catering to young, hip women. Despite their small numbers, young women wield enormous cultural influence. That influence, however, may be in for a big change.

The marketing realities in strange opposition to demographic reality accounts for "Call Girl TV" on Showtime. The returning series "Weeds" about a suburban widow selling pot, and the new series "Secret Diary of a Call Girl" with "Dr. Who's" Billie Piper.

Going just by the numbers, women don't outnumber men until middle age, and don't significantly outnumber men until over 65. Once again, the US Census Bureau has the relevant statistics here.

You can see by the graph below, created from the 2007 Census Estimate, that men slightly outnumber women in late childhood and early adulthood. Theoretically, marketers would allocate ads (and favor TV programs) just slightly more towards men, excepting Seniors where women are more numerous.

But that's not the case. Of course, Showtime is a pay-TV service. No ads. So what's going on? Brent Bozell of the Culture and Media Institute thinks that the two series are "soft core porn" aimed at men, but that's laughable. Real porn is freely available on the internet, you don't have to sign up for Showtime's "soft core" version when the real thing is available elsewhere.

Nope. These series are aimed squarely at women, ages 18-34, and their success tells us who our entertainment is aimed at (for the most part).

There is very little to attract men to the female characters in either "Weeds" or "Secret Diary of a Call Girl." The suburban widow in "Weeds" is played by 43 year old Mary Louise Parker. A beautiful and talented actress, but too old to be the subject of young men's fantasies. "Secret Diary of a Call Girl" concerns the "glamorous" life of a young call girl. There's lots of soft-core sex, but little romance. More importantly, the story lines and characters are aimed at women in a consumerism fantasy.

With "Weeds" the story is all about how the formerly staid and stay-at-home Mom becomes, hip, cool, and sexy dealing marijuana to keep the family afloat. It's a very personal way of breaking the rules, and in an age where there's very little to rebel against, most of society's strictures having been thrown out the window decades before, appeals to the desire of women to be a "rebel." Not in the typically masculine way of achieving a result in way contradicting the conventional wisdom, but rather in living an unconventional life. Suburbia is "boring and stifling" while Parker's character Nancy Botwin experiences thrills and excitement (personal and sexual) in her anti-suburban criminal career.AMC's "Breaking Bad" about a suburban High School Chemistry teacher dying of lung cancer who becomes a meth cook to provide cash for his family probes much of the same territory.

"Secret Diary of a Call Girl" might as well be about the romance between Piper's character Belle and the life of consumerist luxury and fake rebellion, than the sexual exploits of the character. Again the object of rebellion is conventional, middle class life. Neither "Belle" nor "Nancy" would be the object of young men's fantasies, one is an older widow wrapped up in her own struggle to maintain her standard of living while exploring her wild side, the other an out-and-out prostitute. They don't bring romance to mind.

What they do provide is a fantasy vehicle for pretend rebellion against social mores that are already dead and gone. The sort of "exciting" and "glamorous" lives of female celebrities, who often form the basis for junk reality shows: E's "Denise Richards: It's Complicate" and (mother of Lindsay) Dina Lohan in "Living Lohan." Limousines, personal assistants, personal trainers, manufactured personal melodramas, and stints at luxury spas form the landscape of these fantasies.

This is the logical extension of fake rebellion as a mass-market consumer item.

Of course, lots of people get left out. Older women, who have the maturity and experience to offer advice to younger women and men, are invisible on TV and in movies. They have money too, and form the largest part of the population (see my post "Senior Nation"). They resent being invisible, not having a place in America's Cultural Landscape, and this resentment forms the undercurrent of American culture. Young men, and older ones too are left out. Neither tween-teen female shows like "Gossip Girl" or older skewing ones like "Secret Diary of a Call Girl" are attractive to them. One of the untold stories in entertainment is how quickly men bailed out of watching TV, in favor of the internet or video games. Both older women and men are under-served in entertainment. The exception being of course, "blockbuster" type summer popcorn movies aimed squarely at young men.

Marketing dogma has made US Culture and Entertainment rest almost entirely on young women. Taking the data from the US Census Bureau 2007 estimates, and using the age ranges of 10-34 years, that's about 16% of the population.

Amazing, and likely a product of decades-long economic expansion making both marketers and entertainment purveyors fat and lazy. With hard times on the foreseeable future, America may be on the cusp of a Cultural change, as the marketing/entertainment strategy based on only 16% of the population is simply unsustainable.
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Monday, June 23, 2008

Senior Nation!

America is a Senior Nation, forget the hype. As described in my Post "Can Obama WinWith The Youth Vote?", Seniors outnumber the 17-26 crowd by 8 million. The biggest bump of course is in the middle, with people in their thirties, forties, and fifties numbering about 145 million. Demographics is destiny. What people forget in all the hype about the Youth Market is that the hype is just that, hype.

America is a Senior Nation, not a Youth Nation, and that will drive both the politics and culture of America in ways we have not seen before.

"Gossip Girl" on the CW, successor to the WB Network, may generate hype and "buzz" and lots of mentions in the media. But it only gets about 2 million viewers a week. There just are not that many young people, no matter how desirable they are to marketers. [Marketing dogma holds that young people form lifetime brand preferences, at young ages, therefore it's worthwhile to spend lots of money to reach your future lifetime customers.]

But in a democracy, whoever assembles the most votes wins. No matter how uncool and unhip they are to the Media, driven by marketing hype to deliver "the right" types of readers or viewers. The votes are with the Seniors, and people who will soon be Seniors.

The Politics of America are going to change, indeed they are changing already. Seniors want stability, safety, and security. They don't like risk, which has very little upside for them. They're not socially or physically mobile. They often own their own, modest homes, living on fixed incomes. Deteriorating neighborhoods leave them trapped, prisoners in their own houses. Crime is a serious problem for Seniors, who are the most vulnerable and the most frequent victims. When Barack Obama, or other politicians decry the fact that far more young Black men are in prison than in College, Seniors breathe a sigh of relief. Obviously, not every young Black man is going to be like Mike Tyson, who at 17 earned pocket money by mugging old ladies for their Social Security checks. But enough are like him, that Seniors by and large will be happy with more young Black men in prison than in College. In prison at least, their victims are not Seniors. Not THEM. Seniors just don't care about what the Media hypes. A mugging at age 80 is no joke. While it's an inconvenience to a man of 25, a story to be told later over beers with one's peers about how cool one played it, for a man of 80 it's likely to lead to fractured hips, bed sores, and a slow death of pneumonia during a lengthy hospitalization.

Crime, and the desire for Seniors to drive it down to ever more lower levels, is going to dominate American Politics, because that's where the votes are. Needless to say, people in their Thirties, Forties, and Fifties who own their own homes, and have children, hate Crime as well. They don't live in cities and dwell in far off "exurbs" just to get away from crime and unsafe schools. Democrats are at a strategic disadvantage here, because minority coalitions (Black, Hispanic) that support "soft on crime" measures such as gang outreach, lower prison sentences, community group funding run counter to the desire of Seniors and Middle Aged people to lock up criminals and keep them locked up. Something the minority coalitions press Democrats to oppose.

Republicans therefore have a built-in advantage over Democrats on Crime.

National Security is another issue that is going to be driven by America's new status as a Senior Nation. The name of the game is risk avoidance. For the young, a dirty bomb that kills relatively few but leaves housing and property contaminated and useless is time for adventure. An opportunity to demonstrate one's caring and daring, in the endless positioning in the dating and relationship market. It is not something to be feared. "Fear" is something to be disdained. But for older people, fear is a constant companion. Fear of an attack that leaves one homeless, having to start all over again at age 38, or 45, or age 57, or worse in one's 70's or older. Losing not just property, but priceless photos and other treasures that may be the only link to loved ones long dead. Being poor and old is a constant fear. One the young generally cannot understand.

Terrorism does not just strike at a few, rather it is a message to the rest that if they are not killed in future attacks, they can be left poor and alone. For Seniors, that is a devastating message. One they respond to with fury. People who have worked hard all their lives do not take kindly to the idea that for the "greater good" and "America's respect in the World" they'll have to risk being left on the street with nothing. Or dead. People in walkers don't move so quick out of the way when an attack comes. Seniors don't plan to Summer in Europe, so they don't care what the rest of the world thinks of us. They only want to be safe. From foreign terrorists as much as domestic criminals.

The advantage in the Senior Nation is to Republicans, who have advocated doing whatever it takes to secure the US against terrorist attack. Democrats have consistently argued that how other countries view the US matters more. Which might have provided the balance for the 2004 Presidential Election.

Culture too, is changing in Senior Nation. More people watch "American Idol" [at around 25 million per week] than youth oriented CW's entire broadcast schedule combined. Solidly middle aged, and stolidly middle class, "American Idol" satisfies the desire for wholesome, "non-edgy" and "non-hip" entertainment. Pushing the envelope is a young man and woman's game, but we are already at a point where there just aren't that many young people anymore. Not enough anyway, to make the "hip/edgy" model work in anything but niche entertainment.

The mass-market still rules in entertainment, which has many substitutes (video games, music, the internet, TV, movies, DVDs, and books) for each segment. Movies that are hits become hits not just with teens and twenty somethings, but men and women in their thirties or gasp, even older. "American Idol" has many viewers in their fifties, but advertisers still clamor for spots on the most watched show on TV. "Iron Man" may bring in teen boys, but also men in their thirties and forties. It's no accident that CBS's popular, but older skewing schedule has many "manly men" of ... mature years as the leads. William Peterson in "CSI" or Gary Sinise in "CSI:NY" or David Caruso in "CSI:Miami" or Mark Harmon in "NCIS" or Anthony LaPaglia in "Without A Trace" or Kiefer Sutherland of "24" or Dennis Haysbert in "the Unit" are not the young, pretty boys of movies, but bring in the viewers. Who tend, unsurprisingly, to be older themselves. "Older" virtues of loyalty, patience, wisdom, maturity, and judgment are likely to be more prominent, and displace somewhat the "youthful" virtues of impetuosity, willfulness, and vigor.

What this all boils down to is a more conservative temperament in the body politic. We're getting older. No longer willing to party till three AM, looking for the next girlfriend or boyfriend, hopping from job to job, city to city, seeking the new and exciting. Safety and security are the watchwords, with demographics pushing a tough on crime domestic policy, tough on terrorists foreign/national security policy, and return to maturity in popular culture.
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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Can Barack Obama Win With the Youth Vote?

Can Barack Obama win with the Youth Vote?

That has been the assumption that many pundits have made, and it's a mistake. He can't win with the Youth Vote alone. Why not?

Well, for starters there are not that many youths around. Remember the Baby Bust? Too many pundits, and I suspect Barack Obama's campaign advisors, remember the Youth Vote in 1968. Which for all it's sound and fury, didn't stop Richard Milhous Nixon from being elected President of the United States. Or being re-elected in 1972, over Youth favorite, George McGovern.

But, as Emilio Estevez said, that was then, this is now. Pundits now tell us the Youth Vote is fired up, highly motivated. Even though of course, for all the Iraq War's unpopularity, there is no draft, only an all-volunteer military, and the Iraq War has disappeared from TV screens and newspaper headlines. Doubtless because the progress, unsteady as it is, both embarrasses the pundits and doesn't help Democrats, who opposed the Surge and predicted it's failure.

The Youth Vote is supposed to be a tidal wave of new voters. This time, we're told, it will be different. Obama inspires Youth voters into a messianic frenzy. They'll turn out in record numbers, registering to vote and making sure their peers do as well.

But ... how big is the Youth Vote, really?

To find out, I went to the handy US Census Bureau. They have 2006 statistics available on the web right here

You can see the graph I made out of the data provided here:

It turns out, there's not that many Youth Voters. There's 42 million of the "Youth Vote" which I defined as 17-26. The next biggest group is people in their Thirties and Forties, which is 84 million strong. That's twice the Youth Vote folks. Then we have people in their forties and fifties, who are 61.5 million in total. Finally, we have Seniors, in their Sixties or older. There are 50.6 million Seniors.

Here is an aggregation graph of the populations (note that data is from 2006, so two years have been added to normalize the data for 2008):

Yes, Seniors outnumber the Youth Vote by about 8 million. Unlike the Youth Vote, which has never yet participated in elections in large numbers, Seniors vote. Astonishingly high percentages of seniors both register to vote, and then vote in each election. Do we have any data for this? Why yes we do. Again, the US Census Bureau is quite helpful with data from the 2004 election, here.

As you can see, young people just don't vote. They register to vote at only 51.5%, and actually show up at the polls at 41.9%. Both registration and voting steadily increase as people get older. This makes sense. Young people are most concerned with dating and socializing. It's where most of their energy and time are directed. Older people have fewer social concerns, and are more likely to be imbued with civic responsibility.

But there are other differences as well. Young people, with few responsibilities, and no real concerns over a draft, are relatively immune one way or another to what government does. Their main concerns are their own relative positions in the dating and relationship market, do they have the right clothes, musical tastes, movie tastes, and politics to succeed? People with houses, mortgages, children and families to consider have a much greater risk in terms of interest rates, crime, schools, the stock market, returns on their 401Ks, and so on. Elderly people on fixed incomes lack social and physical mobility. They are extraordinarily sensitive to crime, and inflation. A retiree of 72 is not going to be trading in his perfectly good car or SUV which is paid for, in order to tool around in a Prius. For one thing, he can't afford it.

I am so far not impressed with Obama's campaign. True, he leads in the polls, but Democrats always do in this stage of the campaign (after the nominations have been secured, before the conventions). Media hype about the "New Prince" whether it's Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, or Kerry always tilt the opinion polls. More times than not, however, voters choose Republican. Why?

Security. Older voters crave stability and security. "Hope and Change" are attractive to younger voters who are small in number, and participate less, than older voters. Messages that Obama, and traditionally most Democrats save Bill Clinton, have aimed at the electorate seem to assume that the electorate is the same demographics as say, "Gossip Girl" on the CW, which pulls in about 2 million viewers a week. Messages aimed at younger voters of course tend to repel older ones. Older voters want ever lower crime, as they can't run away from criminals or move away. They must have lower gas prices, a retiree with a walker is not going to be biking to the market. They don't care about social positioning, and often resent it, being self-consciously "uncool" and "unhip."

Obama so far has come out in favor of higher gas prices, and higher electricity prices, as necessary to combat Global Warming. Something near and dear to the College Kid crowd but irrelevant to middle aged and senior voters. He's complained about the number of young Black Men in prison, and Bush's aggressive measures at home (wiretapping Jihadis) and abroad (Iraq, anti-Iran sentiment). Young people and the Media like these messages, for older voters the messages incline them to vote for McCain.

America is an older nation already, and much of the Media and Obama's campaign don't understand this reality. McCain, all things being equal, is likely to win in November from demographics alone.
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