There are many things to dislike about this Presidential election: the insinuation of fraud at the ballot box and the mail box; the negative campaign ads; the endless crossfire of the TV news shows trying desperately to show both sides; the zillion phone calls asking for money and now trying to get everyone to the polls.
I burned out on the campaign itself months ago. But lately I’ve been excited by one thing — the numbers of young people who have been registered by P.Diddy, Drew Barrymore, and all the other entertainers who didn’t even themselves know how the system worked before this year. Using their star power (about time they used it for something), they have somehow made it hip to register and vote. They have used the popular culture on behalf of the populace. We’ve been talking about something besides the sex lives of movie stars for the past few months.
To me, this insures our democracy for the future. I was energized by John F. Kennedy in 1960, but too young to vote. After his assassination, I went into a kind of civic funk and just didn’t care who ran or who got elected. Only after I moved to Arizona and entered my 30’s did I begin to vote, and then only at the behest of my dear friend Hattie Babbitt, who virtually shamed me into it. It takes a pretty personal connection to persuade a non-voter to vote.
I’m not proud of that ten year hiatus, during which my intelligence and energy may have made a contribution to society. But I watched my own kids go through the same process: big interest in political science in college, followed by indifference as young adults. And I wondered why it happened. Too much else happening in their lives, perhaps.
But this year, young people have finally begun to think voting counts. And that’s because there are a slew of “their own” people out there trying to energize them, from the creators of “South Park” to Jon Stewart, to Christian Rock Groups. While the often one-sided view of politics they get from the entertainment industry might be in some ways unfair, at least it gets their attention. There are some two dozen Christian rock groups touring the country for George Bush, while this morning Bruce Springsteen kicked off a Kerry rally.
I didn’t think “Fahrenheit 911” was the world’s best movie, nor do I always agree with Michael Moore. I do, however, admire the energy with which he travels the country in his Slacker Uprising Tour, urging his young audiences to vote while himself fighting pneumonia.
Jon Stewart, host of the “Daily Show” on Comedy Central, is brilliant in the way he has taken to exposing the media’s inability to report accurately what is happening in Iraq — he calls it “Mess O’Potamia.” This may encourage college students to remember that the area is located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and was the birthplace of modern civilization. It will be on the exam at the end of the semester, trust me.
Stewart doesn’t care what party you are from, when you get on his show you put your reputation in his hands. He wants only to be funny. You should have seen what he did to the former director of the Red Cross on the subject of flu shots.
And the creators of “South Park” have released the most amazing movie I have seen in a long time (please don’t go see it on my recommendation, because it is absolutely filthy and you have to be a trained film reviewer to dissociate yourself from it )– a satirical musical using marionettes to spoof the world situation.
Step back and think about what a wonderful popular culture this is, producing all these divergent views. “Team America” (the South Park guys’ film ) does not take sides; it skewers EVERYBODY from Sean Penn to Kim Jong Il.
More than ever, this election reflects the commitment of the American people to our freedom, our constitution, our Bill of Rights, and our democracy (which is really a republic). Although we can all find the negatives, and should be aware of them, I suggest we look at the positives: the highest voter turnout in our history will probably happen next Tuesday. Democracy ain’t pretty, but it works.