Lack of political awareness concerning; comedy offers alternative news source


While many of today’s teenagers tend not to keep up with politics, they should realize that this subject can be very interesting. Political comedy or satire should receive more recognition for its profound influence on young people.

A March 20 Newsweek article entitled “How Dumb Are We?” found that 38 percent of Americans failed a U.S. Citizenship Test. Read the article, or take the quiz for yourself, to discover that an overwhelming majority of citizens couldn’t correctly say why we fought the Cold War, identify one power of the federal government or say how many justices serve on the Supreme Court. If America stands any chance of retaining its status as a world power, its citizens must become less ignorant toward the world of politics, history and current affairs.

The way in which young people are typically introduced to politics-in school, from family members, or from the media-seems to be insufficient. Teachers may talk about how politics determines our elected officials and what policies those leaders pursue, but they fail to put emphasis on one of the most rewarding reasons to keep up with the news.

Rather than tell teenagers that politics are important, the conversation should start by saying that politics are fun, interesting and exciting. Teaching the subject in this way satisfies the “what’s in it for me” mindset and would be far more effective than teaching the dry significance.

Studies of political socialization, or how people find out about politics, show that teens often get their news from comedy rather than traditional sources. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, political satirists of the Comedy Central network, have acquired huge followings from young people. Their talent lies in their ability to present the news in a way that is humorous. While some may fear that these two men are contributing to political ignorance, their shows are actually what we need to solve the problem.

To start, Stewart and Colbert are both extremely intelligent. Colbert graduated from Northwestern University and Stewart is a climate scientist. Furthermore, saying that satire contributes to political ignorance doesn’t make sense because people couldn’t understand their humor without already following the news. When someone watches these shows, he or she will end up further studying the news to understand the comedians’ material. If watching Stewart or Colbert is an incentive for keeping up with the news, then turn the channel to Comedy Central.

Thomas Jefferson once said “there has never been, nor never will be, people who are politically ignorant and free.” To Jefferson, ignorance and sound self-government could not exist together because one destroyed the other. He could never separate education from government, and it was his belief that universal suffrage made necessary the accompanying idea of a universal education.

When people don’t know what Martin Luther King Jr. did or who the current vice president is (23 percent and 29 percent respectively in the Newsweek survey), it should spark the desire to combat ignorance. The best way to do that, though somewhat ironic, is through political comedy. Let’s keep in mind Jefferson’s quote and remind young people politics can be interesting.

(This article represents the opinion of the writer.)