Media types like to talk about “the narrative”: News is just another form of storytelling, and certain plot lines grab you more than others.
The easiest narrative of all is anything involving young people. “I believe that children are our future,” as the late Whitney Houston once asserted. And, even if Whiney hadn’t believed it, it would still as a point of fact be true. Any media narrative involving young people presupposes that they are the forces of progress, wresting the world from the grasping clutches of mean, vengeful old men and making it a better place.
In the West, young people actually believe this. Thus, in 2008, Barack Obama, being the preferred choice of America’s youth, was by definition the candidate of progress and the future. In humdrum reality, his idea of the future doesn’t seem to be any more futuristic than the pre-Thatcher statist wasteland of Britain in the Seventies, but that didn’t stop the massed ranks of fresh-faced youth chanting “We are the Hopeychange!” in adoring if glassy-eyed unison behind him at every campaign rally. Four years later, half of recent graduates can’t find full-time employment; Americans’ college debt is now larger than credit-card debt; the number of young people with summer jobs is at a record low; and men in their late 20s and early 30s trudge upstairs every night to the same bedroom in which they slept as a kindergartner.
And that’s before they’re permanently buried by interest payments on the multitrillion-dollar debt and unfunded liabilities from Medicare. Yet in 2012 the rubes will still vote for Obama and be congratulated by the media for doing so. Because to be young is to vote for hope and change.