August 24, 2012

American Royalty and Mindsets of Future Generations

Hawaii's Royal Iolani Palace
The United States of America, being a constitutional republic rather than a constitutional monarchy, lacks a royal family by design.  The founding fathers rebelled against royal entitlement!  Yet, as a culture, Americans seem enamored with the idea of royalty and many Americans follow the events of British royal family more closely than many legitimate members of the British Commonwealth actually do.  For the record: the State of Hawaii actually does boast a genuine royal residence known as Iolani Palace where the former Queen Liliuokalani of that island monarchy-turned-U.S.-state once lived, and today it's a museum you can tour and visit.  Nevertheless, because of our preoccupation with royalty, the popular press also has something of a habit of claiming various individuals and families to be "America's Royalty".  Yet, many believe the traditional press is dominated by oldsters, and today's youth may not see them as particularly up-to-date on today's reality.  In fact, today's youth may not even see the printing press as necessary, and bloggers are now a collective force to be reckoned for chronicling their memories.

For a number of years, the Kennedy Family of Massachusetts was dubbed by the media with the title of America's Royal Family, and indeed, seemed to bask in it.  But that particular family, whose wealth was allegedy derived (at least in part) from bootlegging liquor during Prohibition, and also from some stock market maneuvers that were technically not illegal at the time they occurred, but were subsequently outlawed (the term insider trading comes to mind today) by Congress perhaps as a result of excessive stock market abuses prior to The Great Depression.  Regardless, the so-called Kennedy Curse seems to have extinguished a fair number of this family, and normal deaths due to aging combined with low fertility rates means their family legacy with a media-proclaimed title as America's Royal Family seems to be be over.

Ironically, an entire new generation of Americans have absolutely no recollection of the Kennedy Family other than through their study of U.S. Presidents and Congressmen in American history.  Some of us think this is a welcome change.

For example, Beloit College in Wisconsin has been publishing what it calls it's "Mindset" just before the newest crop of freshmen report for class each August.  Mindset is a list of some of the cultural touchstones that help shape the lives of students entering college this fall which basically summarizes what freshmen do and don't know about life, notably pop culture, science, technology and politics.  The newest "Mindset" list for the class of 2016 was published just a few days ago (see for the current mindset list) and consists of approximately 75 factoids about today's college freshman (there are also archives going back to the class of 2002).

Notable was #4 on the list, which states "Michael Jackson's family, not the Kennedys, constitutes 'American Royalty.'"  However, the Jackson family's rein in that position could be short-lived, as the original Jackson Five has lost youngest member (Michael), and again, low birthrates among the Jackson children mean there may not be many more young Jacksons to safeguard their "monarchy".  But more to the point is that many younger people have no recollections of many so-called "key events" that defined earlier generations of Americans' via pop culture, which suggests the relevance of retaining some of those elements (one that comes to mind is the so-called "Summer of Love" that defined the Baby Boom in 1969) is anything but certain.

Their blog lists the following teaser into the most recent list:
  • The class of 2016 was born in 1994.
  • What world famous figures have always been dead?
  • What famed class members might be in first-year orientation?
  • When they miss the news on The Daily Show, where do they watch it instead?
  • What celebrated actor is unknown to them in the roles that made him famous?
  • What do they mean by the "twilight zone"?
  • For their grandparents the leading paradox was, "we had to destroy the village in order to save it." What's the leading paradox for this new generation?
I can share a few interesting excerpts from the Mindset list for class of 2016:
  • They have never seen an airplane "ticket".
  • Women have always piloted planes and space shuttles.
  • Bill Clinton is a senior statesman of whose presidency they have little knowledge
  • History has always had its own channel.
  • Exposed bra straps have always been a fashion statement, not a wardrobe malfunction to be corrected quietly by well-meaning friends.
  • Before they purchase an assigned textbook, they will investigate whether it is available for rent or purchase as an e-book.
  • They have lived in an era of instant stardom and self-proclaimed celebrities, famous for being famous.
  • White House security has never felt it necessary to wear rubber gloves when gay groups have visited.
  • Genomes of living things have always been sequenced.
  • Point-and-shoot cameras are sooo last millennium.
  • A significant percentage of them will enter college displaying some hearing loss.
  • They can't picture people actually carrying luggage through an airport rather than rolling it.
  • Their folks have never gazed with pride on a new set of bound encyclopedias on the bookshelf.
As for the direction of the foreseeable future, I think while the current unemployment rate could indeed motivate this group to elect a person that today's Millennials see as likely to restore growth to the U.S. job market, any presumption that this group will necessarily adhere to a particular political philosophy or ideology seems a tad like wishful thinking among those trying to preserve the status quo.  For example, few in this generation seem to have interest in preserving any form of social conservatism, indeed, many say they find that concept repugnant and anti-American, hence candidates that espouse that may not appeal to today's youth and might push them in the opposite direction.

As to whether that could mean more moderate political discourse into the future, that remains to be seen.

Presently, the U.S. political landscape is marred by dysfunction caused by unwillingness to moderate their partisan positions, and both major political parties seem to be working overtime to eliminate any form of compromise despite what the parties may say.

Gen X Redux: Class of 2016 Agrees That "Reality Bites"

No, I'm not referring to the 1994 movie starring Ethan Hawke, Rinona Ryder, Janeane Garofalo known as "Reality Bites" that was considered a hallmark of the Gen X ethos at the time.  However, the Beloit Mindset provides some interesting insight into what has shaped the perspective of today's college freshmen.

For reference, check out their Guide to the 2016 Mindset List at for a very interesting narrative of the current Mindset of today's college freshmen, and be sure to check out the Mindset List webcast at  What I find most interesting is the fact that in the webcast video, the speakers at Beloit posit that today's freshman may share a similar mindset to Generation X, describing the Gen Xer outlook as "The Baby Boom Got The Party, and Gen X Got Stuck With The Hangover", and today's freshmen may have a very similar perspective based on the world they've matured into.  But unlike the Baby Buster/Gen Xers, this is part of a massive cohort known as the Millennials, but unlike massive Baby Boom, that group may not be as cohesive given their lack of shared cultural experiences and vastly diverse upbringings, educations, etc.

Whether this group proves as adept as Gen Xers have been at navigating between two larger generations (Gen Xers are like chameleons, and may mirror the older Baby Boomers or younger Millennials depending on the situation), or how much they'll differ from their older Millennial counterparts is also unclear.  For example, Gen X doesn't often get credit for it, but it was Generation X who built most of technologies to help "bridge" legacy-system technologies (such as mainframe computer systems) with web-based Internet technology, which provides a virtually seamless connection to users between older and newer technologies.  There will always be a need for people to bridge technologies (and perspectives!), and perhaps the class of 2016 will be the people to help do that.  And, of course, everyone will be watching just how the class of 2016 behaves at the ballot boxes this year and into the next decade.  Stay tuned!

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