Unfortunately, their elders keep trying to persuade them otherwise. Tuesday morning National Public Radio featured a story on a high school teacher trying to convince students that, yes, issues DO affect them and their little lives. Here was her rather desperate example: They like to talk on cell phones in the car, right? Well, some legislators are trying to ban that! Which would put a real crimp in their driving style. Ergo, their votes matter.
Now maybe talking on cell phones in cars should be banned and maybe it shouldn't. But implying that it's OK to vote strictly according to your own personal concerns strikes me as deeply irresponsible.
Until you're old enough to at least consider the other side of any argument, to weigh an issue's cost or benefit to society against its cost or benefit to you personally, you are not old enough to vote and good for you if you know it. A history teacher is the last person who ought to suggest otherwise.
Another source of fretting is the fact that many young people now get their news with a twist, from Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," rather than straight, from TV networks. But actually, not only is this cable parody news show a pretty good source of actual news, it's also a potent antidote to the standard diet of televised swarm.
Even Connie Chung seemed to recognize "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart as a legitimate fellow news announcer when she asked him last summer, apparently seriously, if he'd ever been offered Dan Rather's or Peter Jennings's jobs.
"She's very nice, but for God's sake, she married Maury Povich, what does that tell you?" remarked Stewart at a Comedy Central news conference in Los Angeles.
"Listen," he added, "that night she was bouncing between -- literally, the stories I think were arson, pedophilia, me and world soccer. I hate to say that she was actually serious. I honestly think she was still thinking about the arson thing."
"The Daily Show" just returned to its New York base after spending a week in Washington for its "Indecision 2002" election coverage. (As the "Daily Show" theme jingle put it: "Midterm elections! They come right in the middle. Midterm elections! They matter quite a little.")
Some of the show's segments were sharper than anything I've seen from the serious talking heads lately.
Stewart cut to the heart of the matter about far-right gadfly Pat Buchanan's third-party candidacies, for instance. Buchanan, who'd dropped by "The Daily Show's" temporary Washington set as a guest, argued that polls indicate his constituency is a sizeable minority.
"But you know, four out of five dentists recommend sugarless gum," Stewart shot back. "That means the remaining dentists -- 20 percent -- recommend sugared gum. So when we're talking about (these polls of Buchanan supporters), you're in crazy sugared-gum land."
And most political really aren't all that different than "Daily Show" correspondent Steven Colbert's fake one, which listed Colbert as "running for government office (TBD - to be determined.)"
"I believe that elementary schools should be FOR OUR CHILDREN!" Colbert announced. "But my opponent" -- flash to a quick headshot of Hitler -- "is against all that."
Then the music rose inspirationally as the camera returned to Colbert, just the way it did the other week on "The West Wing," when President Martin Sheen argued his points in the debate against Republican challenger James Brolin. The music was turned off silent when Brolin spoke. Naturally, "The West Wing" played this straight.
Stewart never plays anything straight. He is the master of the deadpan retort, which is of course far more effective than simply railing about what's wrong with the media.
"I thought it was the media's finest hour, the sniper coverage," Stewart said as a guest on CNN's "Reliable Sources" last weekend. "By watching the 24-hour news networks, I learned that the sniper was an olive-skinned, white-black male - men - with ties to Son of Sam, al Qaida and was a military kid, playing video games, white, 17, maybe 40."
One wonders how all this plays out internationally, now that CNN began airing a half-hour weekly version of "The Daily Show" called "The Daily Show: Global Edition" this fall.
The answer is that relatively little of it does. CNN International spokesman Nigel Pritchard said that the cable news network plans to cull "The Daily Show" for celebrity interviews and international topics.
Which is too bad, as much of "The Daily Show" essence is its parody of American peculiarities. Here's what Stewart had to say about Richard Van Phamm, the California fisherman rescued from his boat after floating from Catalina Island to Costa Rica.
"Finally!" Stewart gushed. "A story of a loner and a drifter that doesn't end with the discovery of a half-buried femur."
And I'd say that any international tourist who's looked around at Disneyland can appreciate "The Daily Show's" "Fatten Up for Fall" segment, with its urgent warning that "20 percent of Americans are still not overweight."
For his part, Stewart isn't exactly awed by CNN and its global audience.
"Basically, my feeling is this: if you can make it in Bahrain, you can make it in the United Arab Emirates," he said at the L.A. news conference. "We're just excited to have the opportunity to let down the entire world. CNN has bought the show, I really don't know why. I'm not sure they realize that we're actually making fun of them."
"I feel badly for the countries that think we're serious," Stewart continued, "but I have heard that in sub-Saharan Africa, irony is a real art form."
"Listen, this is not the first time we've been broadcast internationally," he added. "We have been in Canada for two years now. And may I say, without incident. As a matter of fact, I believe that our show has helped promote a healing between the two countries."
"I'm a corporate tool," Stewart noted. "You have to understand this. All I can do is my job, which is to host and sort of be the content arbiter. If they want to put it on Lifetime and say that it's really relevant to women's issues, you know, I'm fine with that. My middle name is repurposing. I don't know if you knew that."
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