Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obama and the Twilight Generation: Marketing Adulthood

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 1/26/09

There must have been some disconnect between President Obama and the crowd during his inaugural speech.

His phrase, “It’s time to put aside childish things,” could have only been geared to that generation – mine - which rose into the seventies admonished as a culture of narcissism by Christopher Lash and again in 1992 by the legendary John Kenneth Galbraith in The Culture of Contentment.

But one group is definitely on the same page: 13 year olds.

“My mom always says I was born thirty-five years old and that I get more middle-aged every year,” says 17-year old Bella.

“Well, someone has to be the adult,” replies Edward.

These are the gods and idols of the rising generation. They are what Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were to my generation; they are what Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio and Elvis were to the post-war group. Texas psychiatrist David Rosen has an instructive book, The Tao of Elvis, on how archetypal figures like this whisp through a generation. They are Anima and Animus, as psychologists say; the organic yin and yang paradigm which will awaken, rise and mature within the generational group over the next 20 years.

Bella and Edward are teen idols. They are the characters of Twilight and if your kids are older than 16 they probably won’t get it. But Malia and Sasha will and most likely so will Barack and Michelle.

But the vast chorus of professionals is still in denial. The novel Twilight by Stephenie Meyer has sold over 25 million copies and my daughter and her friends have all read the book and seen the movie at least twice and are anxiously awaiting the release of the DVD.

Hollywood and the zeitgeist are still pitching President Hillary and her hard-boiled, sweaty, overwrought and over-cooked protector Jack Bauer in a virtuoso Mao Theater of influence for the leisure class that completely misses the point.

But Obama’s inaugural speech was a marketing coup, not unlike one Bob Dylan engineered early in his career.

There is a legendary marketing story about Dylan’s recording company refusing to release Like a Rolling Stone, which became a generational anthem. The big producers knew that it would change everything and would diminish the value of their existing artists.

So the tape was surreptitiously played at Arthur’s, a popular New York club in the day. Disk jockeys heard it there for the first time and began playing it on the radio in the morning. It changed everything; the generation, the music, the world.

Obama did much the same thing at his inauguration. When he finally got the stage to himself, when he didn’t need to watch the polls and market surveys, when he didn’t have to listen to the press, when no one could stop him, he brought forth a radically new idea: Adulthood.

That’s going to be a tough sell marketwise, and will take some radical transitioning.

Change will start with Bella and Edward and their 25 million. And as it did with the release of Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone, it will change everything.

Adulthood, that is, will be a tough sell. But it will change everything.