Where (some of, but not all) of the minivan majority sleeps
I first read the term ‘minivan majority’ on LaineyGossip. I can’t recall if she explained it in that particular post, or if it was just a bit of vernacular whose meaning I quickly came to understand, but it’s stuck — both with me and with the blog in general.
Its immediate connotation is pretty clear: mindless suburbanites with minivans who may not be the statistical majority in this country but compose a ‘ruling majority’ when it comes to media and taste. But I don’t think that’s quite it.
Lainey generally uses the term pejoratively — but beneath her scorn lies a rather astute analysis of the morals, beliefs, and desires that drive media production, whether within the gossip industry or the entertainment industry more broadly.
It’s hard to define the minivan majority in a sentence, so I’ll start with some descriptors. Not all of these are necessary true of everyone in the minivan majority — and if some of them describe you, that doesn’t necessary mean you’re in the minivan majority (and I want to make it clear that I don’t dislike or disdain the minivan majority — but it’s important to know the identity of those quietly driving taste and entertainment in the country.)
Some traits of the minivan majority:
- You probably live in a non-urban space — either suburban or rural, but most likely suburban.
- You are probably white.
- You have no radical convictions. You are neither an arch conservative nor strong liberal. In other words, you are probably a self-described ‘moderate.’
- You love pictures of babies. Especially celebrity babies.
- You believe things that appear in print in the gossip magazines.
- You are not overtly racist, sexist, or homophobic, but you might subconsciously discriminate against people who are different than you or the people that you know and see on an everyday basis.
- You don’t like things that are too much: too gross, too sexual, too outrageously expensive.
- You might own something from Ikea. You almost definitely own things from Target or Wal-Mart.
- You style is a combination of Gap, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor Loft, Talbots, Coldwater Creek.
- You are a parent.
- You probably battle your weight, even if it’s just those pesky ten pounds.
- You may (duh) own a minivan — or a similar SUV type vehicle.
- You believe that people of any race, color, creed or background can make something of themselves with hard work.
- You believe in a higher power — most likely God — even if you don’t necessarily go to church every week.
- You are not generally an early adopter — of a technology, a political candidate, a new fad, etc.
- You enjoy the reliability of chain restaurants and all-inclusive vacations.
- You have a subscription to Cooking Light and/or contribute recipes regularly to allrecipes.com
Good clean fun in Gap khakis.
Now, some media products favored by the minivan majority:
- Jennifer Aniston
- Julia Roberts
- Tom Cruise
- Michelle Obama
- Celebrities who hit their career pinnacle about 10-15 years ago
- National Treasure (and other Nicholas Cage movies)
- Marley and Me
- Reese Witherspoon
- Jennifer Garner
- Michael Buble/Josh Groban
- Norah Jones
- Dave Matthews Band
- Two and a Half Men
- Desperate Housewives
- Sex and the City (latecomers — started watching Season 3 or later)
- Network television in general
- Jay Leno
- Martha Stewart and/or Rachel Ray
- Oprah. Oprah’s Bookclub, Oprah’s magazine, things recommended by Oprah.
- Entertainment Tonight
- People especially, maybe Us.
- Nicholas Sparks novels and film adaptations
- American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, The Bachelor/Bachelorette
Minivan Fav Michael Buble
Again, just because one or more of these describes you does not necessarily mean that you’re in the minivan majority. What’s key to observe here is how unoffensive each and every trait listed above truly is. (Sex and the City might be the exception — but it’s a dirty minivan majority pleasure, and it can be watched without the dirt on TBS)
Because when you get down to it, the best way to describe the minivan majority is conservative. And when I say that, I don’t mean conservative in its political Fox News connotation — although some most definitely fit that moniker — but in its more literal interpretation as those who would like to conserve the current state of things. (Whereas the ‘liberal,’ at times referred to as the ‘progressive,’ wants to MESS SHIT UP…and change the way things are.) (Another note: Lainey may have taken the alliteration of the minivan majority from the famous ‘moral majority,’ but they are not so much siblings as cousins….maybe the minivan majority is the slightly more morally liberal moral majority?)
Thus the late-adopter status: the minivan majority will adopt something new, but only after it becomes safe. The minivan majority of the ’50s, for example, was probably not okay with interracial marriage and most definitely not okay with homosexuality or sex outside of marriage…but as it became more and more commonplace, and more and more represented in the media, it became more acceptable. If you look to the minivan majority media diet, it’s almost entirely things that rehash familiar genres and formulas — whether that be the romance (Nicholas Sparks), the soft jazz singer (Norah Jones…oh, and I forgot to add Diana Krall), the man-loves-dog story (Marley and Me) or the American-history caper with tried-and-true star (National Treasure).
The minivan majority is attracted to and endorses stars who uphold beauty standards — not people who introduce new standards of beauty. Thus Jennifer Aniston — who has an amazing body and great hair…but is in no way remarkable, either as an actress or in beauty. (She certainly doesn’t try to form a mini United Nations family, steal husbands, get tatoos, or speak out about genital mutilation…)
I could go on and on about the different characteristics and media consumption patterns….and please do so yourself in the comments….but I want to close with a bit on why the minivan majority is such an important entity in the gossip world.
To put it bluntly, the minivan majority controls the gossip market. While the movie market is controlled by the tastes of 17-year-old boys (and I’m not kidding here — it’s the target demographic: make something teenage boys will love and everyone else will come) the minivan majority drives a secondary, equally lucrative market — the market defined by rom-coms that generally come in 3rd place but cost far less money). In fact, those teenage boys are by and large the sons of the minivan majority — and will grow up to be part of the minivan majority itself. (For more on how the blockbusters since JAWS have catered to an audience far more conservative then the counter-cultural generation on the late ’60s, see Jon Lewis’ incredible article “The Perfect Money Machines.”)
With the help of Oprah, the moral majority can and does change consumption patterns — such as when she prompted millions of women to buy Pearl S. Buck, Faulkner, and Toni Morrison – but they generally reinforce established patterns. They can be relied upon to make the Sex and the City movie, however lackluster in relation to its source material, into the #1 R-rated opening weekend…EVER. (Last weekend’s The Hangover comes in at #3….after American Pie 2. Go figure.) The women at the head of these minivan families also hold the purse strings, and are thus an enormously lucrative market. And lucrative market = powerful market.
And they also drive the tone, tenor, and subject of gossip. In my last post I outlined the ways in which gossip is used as a policing mechanism — a way to bring offensive, ‘progressive’, or different elements back into the fold. The gossip mags, taking their cue from their number one consuming public, enact this process. While Vanity Fair and The New Yorker‘s own brand of high fallutin gossip focuses on taking down bigotry, harlotry, and those brazen enough to cross the New York upper crust, these mags, like any other smart publication, aim to please their readership.
They do so by affirming the illusion.
You think Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were a match made in heaven? That Tom Cruise is the most romantic man in the world? That ‘Sully’ from the Miracle on the Hudson is a modern day American hero? That Kirstie Alley really is going to take that weight off? That it’s wrong to criticize Tyra’s weight? This magazine will support and feed that belief.
But they also do so positively. This is where People and Entertainment Tonight figure so prominently. Unlike their ugly stepsister (Us Weekly) and stepbrother (TMZ) these two make you feel good about yourself, what you’re reading/watching, and the world around you. You’re not reading smut — you’re just reading about humans! That’s why People still publishes human interest stories (and, during a dry gossip week, will put them on the cover — see “Sully”) and Entertainment Tonight has Mary Hart as its host. Why their fonts are bubbly, their pages are draped in warm, soft colors and their address is inviting. Why neither stoop to lambasting stars so much as elevating those in the minivan majority’s favor.
Lainey Gossip blames the conservative tastes of the minivan majority for the failure of Friday Night Lights (they’d rather watch Dancing with the Stars). I like to think of it somewhat differently — NBC never figured out how to market their show to the minivan majority. I mean, Kyle Chandler is a minivan heartthrob waiting to happen. Anything that’s not too crazy can become a minivan mainstay — and a People darling. It’s just a matter of marketing.
Appealing to the minivan majority doesn’t necessarily mean dumbing something down or making it blandly palatable. Angelina Jolie has done an ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT JOB of turning the majority (and People) on her side — mostly by having beautiful babies, encouraging the affection for Pitt to extend to her, and allowing stunning pictures of the family to be published in its pages (and then donating the millions of dollars paid for those photoshoots to charity. Nicely played, indeed.)
In other words, it’s a matter of knowing your audience, understanding their quiet yet persuasive power, and playing to it. The Obama family on the cover of People? Absolutley brilliant. They don’t say he’s the smartest president in decades for nothing.
Want to add your own thoughts on the minivan majority and its quiet yet persuasive power? Comment away.