How Many Demographic Groups Does it Take to Get to the Center of a Tootsie-Roll Pop?

August 30, 2008

We at the Salad are kind of shocked and awed that John McCain picked Sarah Palin to be his running mate–if only because we were sure that Bobby “The Exorcist” Jindal would be nominated for VP to play up the whole Joe Biden Indian 7-11 Incident. But we’re even more shocked at the rationales people use to defend the pick. Here’s a truly perplexing reader email that Andrew Sullivan just posted at the Daily Dish:

…In addition, I predict a bonus unintended consequence for McCain among middle class/educated/post-college/pre-adult white males. A demographic label that follows many into their late 30s and currently trends for Obama. Basically the gamers/Gen-Xers/Seth Rogen/Will Farrell crowd. The GOP has already rolled out video of Palin in snugly tailored fatigues, combat boots and tight t-shirt brandishing a weapon at a meet-n-greet with the Alaska National Guard in Kuwait. I’m sure they’re scrambling to find more. “Sarah Palin as Laura Croft” will leave these guys drooling like zombies.

First off, it needs to be pointed out just how many demographic groups have been unfairly rolled into one. Just look at all the slashes! What does it even mean to be post-college/pre-adult? Is our reader referring to the Dougie Howsers of the world? If so, they represent a minute constituency and are, more importantly, ineligible to vote as they have not yet reached the age of majority. I also find it hard to believe that there is an electorally significant constituency of emotionally stunted “pre-adult” post-collegiates who nonetheless feel the social responsibility to vote.

This is not to mention my immediate skepticism towards a grouping of  “Gen-Xers” and “gamers.” These terms are meaningless: one tells us nothing about demographics, while the other tells us nothing about the stance on the defining question of Generation X: Ginger or Maryanne?

As your film correspondent, I’m more capable of responding to the “Will Farrell/Seth Rogen” statement. Both are funny, and I’ve obviously seen movies with both of them, but I don’t believe one can place them under the same rubric. They represent different comic traditions (SNL/funny or die vs. Apatow), and approaches to acting. (Will Ferrell” is a surprisingly good dramatic actor–see, Stranger than Fiction and don’t see, Melinda and Melinda.) Yes, they both regularly play infantilized, repressed Americans, but they approach this question with different levels of earnestness, and moral rectitude. Besides, Ferrell, more often than not, plays with mental immaturity, whereas Rogen plays that “pre-Adult,” albeit one who understands the eventual need to mature.

This is to say nothing of the medium. Despite Lara’s success as a video game character, she was less successful as a film character, and, most likely, would garner almost no votes for higher office. The success in one medium does not mean success in another; adaptation is an art. Of course, Lara Croft is making something of a comeback, (I refer you to Notwithabang…’s review of the Tomb Raider anniversary edition) but it’s still a bit soon for even Karl Rove to mastermind her to victory. Oh, and did I mention the character’s British?

Lastly, the problem with the letter has nothing to do with the bizarre demographic categories, and everything to do with the trivialization of a significant group of American men by the letter-writer. We–and, for arguments sake, I’ll reckon myself a part of this unclear category–have been maligned as incapable of voting on merits, and positions, and instead vote on looks and image. In large numbers, no less. Our support of Obama has everything to do with his positions and beliefs, and much less to do with his image. The war and climate change are the defining issues for young people this cycle, and Palin’s positions on these matters are problematic. Does she have anything resembling a strategy for Iraq? We know she doesn’t believe climate change is man made. Younger Americans are perfectly capable of seeing beyond a candidate’s looks or image and voting on the issues. In fact, I think you’ll often find that younger Americans care more about the issues than older Americans who often care about personal lives (remember, we came of age during the Clinton presidency) and other external factors.

And, for what it’s worth, I knew Lara Croft, and Sarah Palin is no Lara Croft.

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