Review: Millennial Makeover

Millennial Makeover by Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais



The subtitle of Millennial Makeover is deceiving. The subtitle “MySpace, YouTube, & the Future of American Politics” makes it sound as if Winograd and Hais are discussing the effect of modern technology on politics. To some extent, of course, they are–but their main focus is less on modern technology and more about the generation that uses them most…a generation that is quickly gaining the right to vote in massive numbers.

Winograd and Hais take several steps back to observe the big picture and look at the patterns in American politics since the dawn of the United States. They argue that American politics is cyclical, and that these cycles always contain four specific types of generations–idealists (currently Baby Boomers), reactives (currently Generation X), civics (currently Millennials–those born between 1982 and 2003), and adaptives (the unnamed generation born after 2003). According to Winograd and Hais, political realignment occurs when the two most active generations–idealists and civics–mature to voting age, giving each political realignment a life span of roughly forty years. The forty years of the Baby Boomers are drawing to a close, says Millennial Makeover, and the Millennials are taking over. The question is, which party will gain the support and trust of the Millenials at this crucial juncture in American politics?

I find Winograd and Hais’ system of generational cycles fascinating and extremely useful, from a political standpoint. Instead of focusing solely on the 2008 election, they pull back and look at various generations over the years, especially the political realignments since the 1800s. As they continuously state in the book, technological change and a generational change will give rise to a political realignment, be that technology radio or television and that generation a civic or an idealist one.

Winograd and Hais back up their claims with proof–overwhelming amounts of proof. While I’m quite pleased that there’s so much information supporting their theory, it can be a bit tiring to wade through pages and pages of data proving the same point. It certainly gets repetitive and dry. This wears off towards the end of the book, as they begin to deal with current events, but not by much.

I’m not sure what audience Winograd and Hais is aiming at with Millennial Makeover. When they go into detail about exactly who the Millennials are, they try too hard to appear hip to the Millennials’ pop culture, comparing the advent of sound film with the advent of the iPod–certainly true, but I found that comparison too trite. I winced when a reference to High School Musical was made, comparing Obama’s victory speech extolling the virtues of community to the song “We’re All In This Together”. Those occurrences make it feel as though they’re aiming it towards the very Millennials they’re describing, but when they begin describing the technology Millennials have mastered, they retreat into almost sarcastic quotation marks to describe the various terms associated with social networks such as Facebook. “Friending” someone sounds a little more insincere than simply friending someone, no? Most likely, this is just a stylistic choice I don’t like, but I do find it a little odd in context.

In their foreword, Winograd and Hais promise to try and be as nonpartisan as possible. While I certainly think that the Democrats have taken to the Millennials’ platforms of choice quicker and better than Republicans, it feels a bit as though Winograd and Hais are simply glossing over the handful of success stories the Republicans have had with online campaigning in order to get to the failures. I certainly don’t blame them–Senator George Allen’s political downfall via YouTube and his own racial insensitivity is a sight more spectacular than the success stories.

Millennial Makeover was originally published in 2008, but the paperback edition, published this March, includes an afterword about the 2008 election and how it lived up to a great deal of predictions put forth in the original text. It’s quite interesting to see exactly how Winograd and Hais’ predictions and claims played out.

Bottom line: Despite its truly overwhelming and dehydrating amount of data and a bit of confusion over exactly who their audience is, Millennial Makeover makes a fascinating and thoroughly sound point concerning the cyclical and generational nature of American politics.

I bought this book from my college bookstore.

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