The Obamas have the kind of relationship millennials aspire to.
Kanye West is a tough act to follow—unless you are a middle-aged couple slow dancing to tuba music. It's unlikely that anyone watching last month's Youth Inaugural Ball on TV noticed much difference between how the crowd of millennials welcomed the Louis Vuitton don and how they reacted, a few minutes later, when Barack and Michelle Obama took the stage. But if you were actually in the audience—like me, and my eardrums—the change was impossible to ignore. The young people screamed. The young people sighed. Several young people even began to weep. "I hope my husband looks at me like that someday," said one girl. When the song stopped, Obama leaned into the mike. "That's what's called 'old school'," he cracked. The new-school crowd responded like a bunch of banshees.
At the time, I attributed the scene to inauguration-induced hysteria. But since Jan. 20, a dozen peers have confirmed that what I witnessed in Washington wasn't a fluke. "Yeah," a friend admitted. "I'm totally obsessed with the two of them together." Which got me thinking: havethe president and his wife become for 20-somethings what the stars of "Twilight" are for tweens—the swooniest couple around? And if so, what does that say about us?
My hunch is that millennials are going gaga over Barack and Michelle because they want to be Barack and Michelle. It's not that other generations can't admire the Obamas' bond; their marriage—a union of self-sufficient equals—embodies the post-'60s ideal. But unlike their elders, most millennials have yet to experience marriage firsthand, and what they've experienced by proxy hasn't been particularly encouraging: a 50 percent divorce rate, a steep rise in single parenthood, a culture captivated by cheap celebrity hookups. Even America's most visible household hasn't offered much hope, veering from '50s-era subservience (the Reagans) to boomer dysfunction (the Clintons). But now the Obamas—two independent individuals who also appear to be (surprise!) in love—have filled the void. For young people who have rejected the tired "wife in the kitchen" template but resolved not to follow their parents to divorce court, it's a relief to see that the sort of marriage they hope to have—equal and devoted—can actually exist.
I'm a multi-disciplinary designer-strategist at HP. My passion is whole product design: the seamless integration of HW+SW+Web to deliver compelling experiences to users. I'm currently swimming upstream to bring Web 2.0-style community participation to HP's consumer printing business.