Meghan McCain and The Washington Post's television team can't be having a good day — they both woke up to scathing reviews of their current TV projects. Their main problem? Well, they think we're kinda dumb.
The complaint against both McCain and The Washington Post is that these two brands have no idea who their audience is. No one bothered to ask, why do people watch Meghan McCain? (A tough question.) Or why would someone want to watch The Washington Post's political team on camera?
In McCain's case, she's been touted as someone who millennials should like. Or rather, what the corporate definition of a millennial is. Earlier this week, Olive Garden said they paid someone to tell them that this amorphous group of people called millennials like tapas, so Olive Garden decided to take this person's word and make small plates. McCain's handlers, like the people who told Olive Garden millennials eat tapas, decided millennials were shallow and liked cursing. And that's why we have McCain saying lines like: "I’m gonna fuckin’ call myself a feminist in the same way I’m gonna fuckin’ call myself a Republican." Putting the word "fuck" in front of something doesn't make it cool, or sexy, or millennial. It's the corporate idea of being cool and cutting-edge. In reality, that's boring.
"The media wished that millennials, as a group, could be self-absorbed, entitled and unimaginative; Meghan McCain rose to the challenge," wrote Salon's Daniel D'Addario, completely unconvinced by McCain's outing.
Unimaginative is the key word here. Anyone who's followed MTV's largely ineffective Rock the Vote campaign — where celebrities told young people to vote without really explaining why they should — know that smacking something shiny on politics and trying to make it cool and edgy by dumbing it down and making it "younger" is largely ineffective, and it has no effect on voter turnout. And why does young have to be dumb?
If McCain or her team had taken a look at sites like Rookie, or Jezebel, or XOJane—sites where millennials go for takes on feminism—they would have recognized that millennials don't need to put a curse word of feminism to make it interesting. What you'll find on those sites are conversations on feminist aspects in American Horror Story or the pressure that made Julie Chen get all that plastic surgery.
The Washington Post's television team shortchanges its audience in the same way. PostTV is supposed to be the struggling newspaper's stab at finding a game-changer, and people who want to see journalism succeed want to see PostTV not be bad. Unfortunately, in its scramble, the Post hasn't decided who exactly its audience is. And they have, for one reason or another, sort of assumed that their viewer skews closer to uninformed than wonk. The New Republic's Laura Bennett explains:
"Hip hop is now so mainstream that first lady Michelle Obama is using it to sing the praises of vegetables—yes, vegetables," the anchor, political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson Henderson, says one afternoon, apparently targeting that remaining sliver of the American public that is unaware of the first lady’s pro-vegetable stance
And Bennett's description of Post star Chris Cillizza is equally unkind:
Cillizza is best known as the man behind The Fix, a blog of dumbed-down conventional D.C. wisdom that treats politics as a game. What happens when these two intrepid televisual Posties cut through the noise? Well, here’s a typical exchange, from a bit about politicians supporting college football.
Cillizza: “I should tweet out some pictures of my days from the Georgetown football team.”
Kucinich: “Oh yeah? What’d you play?”
Cillizza: “Left out.”
Kucinich: “OHHH! That just happened!”
Cillizza: “Walked right into it!”
The unavoidable question is why skew these shows toward the dumb? Why not trust the audience to know things like Michelle Obama's fruit, vegetable and exercise campaign? Why can't people at The Post seem to understand people are trusting them to decipher and explain to them what goes in D.C., the "most powerful city on Earth" according to Bennett?
Dumb is easy. Dumb is uninteresting. Dumb is thinking putting a curse word on something as complex as the political dichotomy of being Republican feminist. And The Post's readers and millennials have many places other than McCain and The Post to find it.