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Posted at 03:48 PM ET, 04/25/2012

Obama, Jimmy Fallon and the race for cool


Am I the only one who thinks he looks photoshopped in? (Carolyn Kaster - AP)
The battle for Cool in this election seems unfairly tilted in President Obama’s favor.

Both campaigns know that it is essential to pander to millennials. And they seem to have realized that two words describe us — “hip” and “overburdenedwithstudentloandebt.”

Both Obama and Mitt Romney oppose the scheduled doubling of rates on federally subsidized student loans on June 1.

Mitt Romney said it.

President Obama slow-jammed it. On “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.” At the end of the performance, he even dropped the mike.

Mitt doesn’t stand a chance. If we wanted this to be a fair fight, Obama would be required to go around in those mom jeans of his making jokes about spilled milk and salmon. And even then it would be close.

But how much do we care about mike-dropping? Was it cool enough?

It’s not a frivolous question.

From the time you turn 18 until some still-to-be-determined point in your mid-20s when you own collared shirts and have a time-share cat and consider yourself a Real Person, the “cool” factor is actually a non-negligible element of the voting choice.

The real walk of shame in 2008 was from the polls after supporting John McCain. Let slip that you hadn’t voted for Hope and Change and we fell on you, attempted an exorcism and tore you limb from limb. When you sat down in the cafeteria, people sniffed loudly and picked up their trays. “Shame,” they muttered. “Shame.”

Right now, on the liberal enclaves of college campuses, it still seems cooler to vote for Obama than Romney. But is it still mandatory?

Can you be a zeitgeist twice?

Before, Obama didn’t have to try to be cool. No singing Al Green, no showing up on late-night television. He simply was cool — not through any act of volition on his part but as something that the Internet generation had seized and hoisted aloft on our shoulders, like Chuck Norris or Betty White. His whole campaign was a meme. HOPE. Yes We Can. The slogans turned up everywhere. On cats. In music videos. In graffiti. The poster was adapted and readapted. The message was repeated and amplified and transformed by the playful octopus of the Internet.

But like most viral sensations — Strutting Leo or Wilford Brimley — it wasn’t what Obama was himself but what we put into him that mattered. Barack Obama is your new bicycle. Yes We Can Has. Obama Girl. Whatever Will.I.Am was doing.

He still features in memes. He’s still Popular on the Internet, as far as that goes. When he sang Al Green, Google went wild.

But he captured the zeitgeist in 2008 in a way that seems unlikely today. It’s not that he’s unpopular — college campuses remain a last bastion of high approval ratings. But he’s as cool as anything else that was Big and Defining four years ago — which is to say, we’ll all chuckle warmly if you reference it, but he’s not the unifying explosion of this moment. Why, Hillary Clinton ismore a meme than he is. If he wants to be viral now, he has to work for it. Croon. Do a Fallon cameo. Before, we did the work for him.

Then again, if Obama is worried about losing his cool mojo, the opposition should put him at ease.

Romney is a Mormon grandfather. Named Willard. Right now, his idea of appealing to Hip People is appearing on “Letterman” to read Top 10 lists.

It seems unlikely that Romney will become a meme any time soon. His entire pitch to Generation Meme is to tell us that he’ll safeguard our financial futures. We are not certain what this means. We are the worst-scoring generation on tests of basic financial literacy. To us, money is something you get from your parents. We still haven’t vested in our 401(k)s because vesting sounded like something Rick Santorum would do.

Mitt wants to help with our finances?

I don’t know, can he mike-drop?

Still, it’s not over ’til it’s over. And you might win the cool battle but lose the vote war. Cool only counts if it translates to mandatory. If the wave of memes translates into a flash-mob-like surge at the polls, then it was worth it. Now, no matter how cool or uncool you manage to become, the enemy is the same — the indifferent shrug.

By  |  03:48 PM ET, 04/25/2012

 
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