Suburban culture and voters summed up by Furbys, soccer moms, and two minivans

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made recent comments about who Democratic House members are and who are they are trying to appeal to. Her argument about these leaders being stuck in “90s politics” included this bit:

Their heyday was in the ’90s when kids had, like, Furbys, and soccer moms had, like, two vans. That’s not America anymore!

While a number of suburbanites and right-wing commentators have suggested her comments are off-base and are attacking a suburban way of life, she is both right and wrong:

  1. The American suburbs have changed. They are more non-white and poorer than they were in the 1990s. Ocasio-Cortez’s own life story is a testament to these changes. The suburbs today are much more diverse.
  2. She cites several material markers of suburban culture from the 1990s: Furbys and minivans. These were indeed real and to some degree are not as popular today. However, replace the minivan with the hipper SUV and there is little difference. (Additionally, she could have strengthened her case by adding McMansions to the 1990s mix since they arose as a term in this decade.)
  3. The “soccer moms” claim is the most interesting one to me. On one hand, it was political shorthand from the 1990s to describe a group that both parties wanted to target: women in the suburbs who drove their kids to soccer games and other activities. Those people still exist and, if anything, the number of suburban activities kids normally pursue has probably only increased. On the other hand, rarely do political candidates or prognosticators talk about soccer moms even as the current battleground is the middle suburbs. While Ocasio-Cortez has to think about her own potential constituents, there are still plenty of suburbanites who would be turned off by talk claiming that their time is over. Even if soccer moms is not a valid category (nor is NASCAR dads), suburban voters in their multiple strata are still worth courting.

To sum up, the majority of Americans still live in suburbs. Suburban communities and culture may have changed but the interests of suburbanites still matter in local, state, and national races.

American preferences for returning to a past decade shaped by when they grew up, their politics

The Economist reports on a recent poll that asked Americans which decade to which they would wish to return:

In our latest weekly Economist/YouGov poll, we asked Americans which decade of the 20th century they would most like to go back to. Most popular was the 1950s. The decade of economic boom following the second world war is regarded as a time of consumerism, conservatism and cold-war caution. It was an age of stay-at-home wives, novel household appliances and new suburbs—yet was also most popular among women. The haze of Woodstock and Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s rolled up in second place. Republicans in particular preferred the morally uncomplicated 1950s under President Eisenhower and the 1980s of Reagan; Democrats tended to opt for Bill Clinton’s 1990s. In general, people yearned for their youth. Over 50% of those over 65 wanted to revisit the 1950s and 1960s, while 45- to 64-year-olds pined for the 1980s. The youngest were torn between the jazz age of the 1920s and the 1990s, their own salad days.

On one hand, this might be somewhat meaningless: stereotypes of entire decades are much too simplistic and even The Economist falls into that trap in their descriptions. On the other hand, perhaps knowing what decade people would prefer to return to helps give us some indication of what people are trying to accomplish now. If your preferred era is the 1950s, you might pursue different social norms and policies compared to something who most fondly recalls the 1960s. Indeed, conservatives and liberals might both want to push such a narrative: Republicans to return to the prosperous and calm 1950s (maybe also their vision of the 1980s) while Democrats would prefer the more liberating and exciting 1960s (and perhaps also the 1990s).

Companies come, companies go: Blockbuster edition

Blockbuster has been on the economic edge for a while now and is apparently close to filing for bankruptcy.

Perhaps Blockbuster is a microcosm of the economic situation in America over the last 25 years: it quickly grew in size to fill a market niche, expanded to what too turned out to be too many locations, and then eventually has reached a point where it needs to seriously regroup due to technological change and some other reasons. I remember seeing them sprout in the Chicago area. Within a few years, we went from no nearby stores to numerous locations within 5 miles (and even more of its type if we were to count businesses like Hollywood Video). They were everywhere, including suburban downtown locations and strip malls.

I would be interested in reading a sociological study about how this company expanded but then had trouble adapting to the changing market for movies and video games. How did they successfully find customers early on and then lose those customers later on? How did Blockbuster’s growth accompany general suburban growth, housing patterns, and growth of other important retailers?