Before I begin, I think I would be amiss not to mention the recent developments in the Osama bin Laden news cycle. As we know, The Navy SEALs managed to kill him by all accounts, and I spent a good six hours watching the real news getting updates on the whole ordeal. I feel it necessary to share a small portion of my mindset on the issue, since it does play a pretty large role in the political communication realm. When talking to my hippy-dippy ex-girlfriend, she texted me, “I like how Osama is a reason to start a fucking worldwide frat party.” While I am glad that the world is rid of a terrorist threat, a man willing to kill civilians to advance his hateful intolerance, my response to her was thus: “I was glad that they managed to kill a guy who spread hate, but singing ‘Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)’ in the streets was worthy of a douchechill.”
Whether the death of Osama bin Laden was the outcome of a carefully planned mission that was carried out on May 1st, or whether bin Laden’s been dead for a few days and President Obama decided to make the announcement coinciding with the 8 year anniversary of George W. Bush’s “Mission accomplished” proclamation for the sake of political vote pandering will be interesting to discuss. But as of yesterday, I think it’s less appropriate to celebrate bin Laden’s death as it is to celebrate, soberly, the elimination of a hateful man who sought to spread hate. If nothing else, let’s celebrate how hard President Obama got laid when he found out he managed to eliminate the number one face of terror during his presidency, something that hadn’t been done over 10 years. If he isn’t getting some, none of us should be either.
Perhaps the most interesting discussion I took away from this class was that of how soft news, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert managed to affect the news media and the citizens in our fine democracy. That their satire, be it of the news media itself or of the blowhard pundits that pontificate like Pharisees from their pulpits, can have such a profound affect on the voting public, how news stations cover the news and what journalists cover is fascinating. From the cancellation of Crossfire to Stephen Colbert’s ability to be adopted by college liberals and staunch conservatives alike shows the power of their pulpit.
Further, I think it’s important that I mention that from this class, I was able to determine precisely what the difference between what Stewart/Colbert do in terms of their comedy (satire) and what other comedians, such at Leno and Letterman do (pseudosatire) is. More importantly, the importance of understanding the difference between these two are, i.e. satire calls for change through comedy whereas pseudosatire fans the flames of apathy by giving up on the the tenants of democracy became paramount to me. Since I tend to consume my politics with the sugar of comedy coating its bitter political pill, to know what each’s goal is allows me to understand the political atmosphere and what the goals of comedy and democracy are. Rather than giving up on politics, this class has actually instilled a hopefulness that democracy can work, primarily because most of the comedians I respect actually believe in the tenants of democracy (save for late Carlin, who was as cynical as the come toward the end).
The paper that I wrote, on how comedy affects democracy, did precisely the opposite of what I expected it to do. Rather than further removing me from a democracy that I already haven’t been participating in (I think I’m the only person in class who didn’t vote in ’08), it made me proud to be part of a democracy. While it may have its flaws, it isn’t entirely hopeless, and researching and writing this paper, coupled with the discussions we’ve had about political comedy and its affect on democracy re instilled a pride in this nation that I had lost in the past few years. So thanks for assigning it!
Democracy, if you think about it, is kind of a like a Pokemon. You start off with one creature in one shape with one set of powers. You nurture it, play with it, come to know it intimately. Somewhere down the line, you realize that you can’t cope with external pressures anymore. Your Pokemon evolves because you needed it to, because you’ve taken care of it long enough to see it change into a creature that’s more helpful.
Okay, so admittedly, I’ve never played Pokemon and even as a fifth grader, I was utterly disdainful of everyone who had the trading cards on the playground. The point is the same, though–Democracy, as an institution, as a bureaucracy, has evolved over time and with it, so has the role of the Democratic citizen.
The 20th century was a time of rapid change for our democracy. The Progressives limited the power of the political party, political parties realigned their values, women gained the right to vote, the voting age was lowered, television won Kennedy the presidency, and Vietnam rocked the political world. To be a democratic citizen in the 20th century depended entirely on when you were being a democratic citizen.
Initially, the responsibility was simple–vote. Listen to the President on the radio, register with your political party, turn in a ballot and vote for the candidate determined by your party. If you had political discussions at the dinner table, good for you.
Nixon, Vietnam, the war between the Democratic and Republic parties–the 1960s-1970s changed the very face of our democracy and, with it, the responsibilities citizens had toward it. The media became much more critical of our government, television afforded publicity and gave a face to Washington D.C., so when Nixon’s “betrayal” and the entry into Vietnam rocked the surface of our democratic trust, so it changed the nature of political participation as well. Suddenly, the importance of democratic participation did not rest solely in voting or just consuming what the President said. Suddenly, democratic participation meant analyzing the government’s actions–being a critical consumer, if you will–and protesting when you disagreed with it. Nixon and Vietnam ushered in a wave of democratic participation and activism fueled by a suspicion of government that hasn’t fully gone away.
The difference between the protests that stemmed from Vietnam and protests in 2010 is not a very subtle one. Signs, protests, and organized marches on Washington mall are still heavily favored, of course, but 2010 has something that the 70s did not have–the Internet. The fundamental difference between Democratic citizens today and our parents is that we have a multitude of forums through which to protest and participate. Participation is no longer simply a black-
and-white exertion of physical effort. Sure, you can march in downtown Los Angeles for immigration rights or through Washington for some misbegotten Tea Party movement, but you can also begin an awareness campaign on Facebook, you can have political discussions on online forums, you can Tweet live pictures, and organize Rock the Vote parties.
With this expansion of opportunities, of course, has also come an increased expectation of what entails a real Democratic citizen. It’s not enough to vote anymore, it’s not enough to simply watch televised debates anymore. To be a well-respected, well-involved, active citizen in democracy–American or otherwise–you have to participate tangibly, visibly. I suppose it’s just as well that Google, Twitter, forums, blogs, Facebook, YouTube, and Tumblr create pressure to be involved or at least well-versed in current events and politics, because with Google, Twitter, forums, blogs, Facebook, YouTube, and Tumblr eating up our extra time, we certainly need that easy-access forum to participate at all.
That’s not to say, true political participation can’t be completely avoided regardless. You might fail miserably at Jeopardy and be judged from here to the coasts and back, but it is, I assure you, entirely possible. I wouldn’t choose it as an alternative, though. Seriously, take five seconds to read Obama’s platform on a blogging site and go vote. Really, it’s not that hard. xoxo!
I guess being a democratic citizen now all depends on who you are and how you look at what it means to be a democratic citizen.
To me being a democratic citizen has a lot to do with how much I feel like I could change or have a say within our government and/or my community…and I absolutely feel like that if I wanted to get something out then I could stand a pretty good chance.
With the age that we’re in I really feel like if I wanted to get an issue out I would have many medias of which I could go about it. Let’s say that I wanted to get a movement started that would make it illegal to walk around with your shoes untied. I would first start out by asking around to see how much backing and what kind of interest my peers would have with my idea. My next step would probably be to put the idea out in the cyber world. I could easily go about this by starting a thread in twitter, on facebook and I could even start my own website strictly devoted to raising awareness on shoe tying. And you never know, the right person might become interested in what I’m doing or somehow stumble upon my website and it could blow up.
So in this sense being a democratic citizen is a positive but on the other hand you could only take in the info that you wanted and if the government really wanted to they could only put out information that would benefit what they cared about. Does this necessarily happen? I don’t think so…that’s why we have freedom of speech, to protect against this sort of thing happening, right??
So has being a democratic citizen changed over time? Of course it has. All the things that I touched on were never accessible to my parents or grandparents. Heck if my grandparents wanted to start a movement about their own beliefs they would probably have to start a chain letter. I can actually remember when I was a kid and I would be so excited to receive a chain letter, I felt so important. But those absolutely never got anywhere and never, ever gained any sort of traction. I’m sure that being a democratic citizen will once again have a different meaning in another 20 years but will still be based around the same premise.
Being a 23 year old democratic citizen today is definitely different than what it was when my parents were in their early 20s, and even more different for my grandparents when they were my age. Back then when my parents and grandparents were my age, political participation was shown in protest or sit ins. Now, we participate politics through Twitter, Facebook, and blogging. What it means to be democratic is not only we need to be open and aware of current issues but also have our voices heard. I absolutely believe our generation has more power and more outlets to use to build our democratic citizenship. Via these strong and powerful tools we are able to build our democratic citizenship stronger. I think it applies not only to citizens but also to politicians. I feel like politicians try to grab our attention more than they used to, and it is possible because of a development of medias and outlets. When my parents were in their early 20’s in the 70s, they used to go on protest. What looks just normal and liberal in nowadays was looked a lot at in a negative sense. Often their opinions and voices were ignored or undervalued.
As far as my grandparents were concerned, their voices were even less heard. They had even less rights than my parent’s generation had. Especially it was true for women. When my grandmother was in her 20s I believe that women had very little power in their voices. In current democratic society even young or old women get to speak for their rights. I believe the biggest change happened through the past two generations, from my grandparents to our’s, is accessibility to information, and it’s what brought a democracy to current society.
“The future of democracy is in the hands of these young citizens of the so-called digital age” from Changing Citizenship in the Digital Age
Democracy in the 1940s (around the time my grandparents were in their 20s) seems like an entirely different type of democracy than the democracy of my parents and myself. Back then, democracy entailed duty and service. Both of my grandfathers served in WWII, one with the army and the other with the Coast Guard, and were proud and willing to do so.
In speaking with my parents about it, both sets of grandparents contributed to their democracy as their paradigm demanded. They went to war when necessary and when the war ended, they retreated to the nostalgic notion of voting and contributing to the country’s cause in whatever way they could. One of my grandfathers worked at an American paper factory. Both of my grandmothers filled the stereotypical housewife role, caring for their children while their husbands dutifully worked toward the American Dream all while fighting the communist threat from abroad.
In the 1970s and 1980s, as my parents were growing up, democracy was more similar to that of my time. Because both of their parents had been in the war and bought very heavily into the idea of democracy, my parents had the notion that voting was very important instilled in them. When they turned 18, they voted and they’ve voted every year since then. However, as they grew up, there was a noticeable liberalization of their paradigms. My parents weren’t too conscious of what was happening in Vietnam (they were barely teenagers when it happened), and they weren’t incredibly politically active until they had kids. I’m pretty sure it was because they were too busy watching Van Halen open for Black Sabbath, but if I had been around back then, I wouldn’t be politically active either.
At the same time they were growing up in a democracy, there was a noticeable shift in what it meant to be democratic. Lenny Bruce had just shattered what obscenity meant and George Carlin was pushing the limits of free speech with his Seven Words bit. Musicians like Frank Zappa had voting booths set up outside of his concerts, urging young people to make their voices heard and prevent the government from stifling free speech. Because democracy to me means being able to contribute to the system with words and actions unabated, these were huge paradigm shifts from the stuffy, overtly patriotic, “serve your country to prove your worth” mindset my grandparents had. Zappa’s move also preceded a much lamer attempt at the Vote or Die campaign that Diddy (or Puffy, or whatever he’s calling himself these days) began in the 2000s.
That liberalization of what democracy means goes further with my generation. Whereas my parents still vote actively and urge me to do the same, I find myself in a similar mindset as those of my ilk, that being one of cynicism over the system working. Like many other people my age, I didn’t vote in the ’08 election but, interestingly, was chastised for it by a lot of people my age. I contribute this to the sensational candidate many of my peers voted for, Barack Obama. The potential for change and of the first black President to grace the White House ever was an anomaly that hadn’t been seen in at least eight years prior. But the key of this fact is sensationalism. With the advent of the Internet, social networking and cell phones, my generation is used to exciting, instant access to things, be they change, entertainment or otherwise. I think this plays a huge role in how democracy is defined today.
Whereas the democracy of my grandparents took a steady approach to fighting its enemies (Communism) and stressed loyalty to the country, the democracy of my parents took a more radical, “rebellion is the truest form of democracy” bent. The current trend of immediate change works on an ebb and flow, with intense rebellion and desire for change that quickly gives way to apathy and cynicism as time goes by. If wants and needs aren’t fulfilled just as quickly as my online order for P90X equipment can be delivered, impatience settles in and a general discontent with the system begins. Then, rather than sticking with the system in hope that it might change over time, we abandon the cause, and look for something else to like on Facebook to cloak our general apathy as constant struggle to fix everything at once.
Being a citizen in the 21st century is a significantly different experience than it was for my parents and grandparents. We’ve talked about a lot of the reasons for this in class, and from our discussions I think that we as young people understand how our roles in democracy have evolved over the years (whether we fulfill those roles or not). Today, we have access to more information than ever before and we can use this information to be better informed about issues and to better participate in democracy. We have the responsibility to do so by using this wealth of information, but as we’ve talked about, what happens is that most people use technology as a filter. They serve themselves content that they want and ignore content that they don’t, actively hindering their role as citizens of this country.
When my parents were my age (in the mid 1980’s), they didn’t have the same access we have now. I can’t speak for how involved in democracy young people were, but it serves to reason that they were exposed to limited amounts of information. They did not live online the way that people now do, so any information they received had to have been sought out in some form, whether that be through the newspaper, TV, or radio. Though, when they did get their news, they got the content that the news networks or papers wanted them to. There was a limited number of channels and options, so they received the same information as everyone else. Even if this didn’t facilitate participation, I’d like to think it would at least create an active discourse, as everyone’s news was focused on certain stories.
When my grandparents were my age (in the 1950’s), it would have been a relatively tumultuous time, WWII would have recently ended and the tension of the cold war would be in full swing. Their access to information would also be much more limited than even my parents’ time. Without the use of TV, they’d be served information through the newspaper, and as young people I don’t imagine that their participation would be very high, as their options for participation wouldn’t be very abundant.
Despite these differences, I think that the definition of being a good citizen has remained largely the same throughout the generations. People should stay informed through the methods available to them, they should participate in an open discourse, and they should exercise their ability to participate in democracy-even if that’s just by voting. Clearly, options and attitudes have changed significantly over the past several decades, but being a good citizen has always meant being a good citizen.
I find it interesting that despite the abundance of social media technology that can connect people, being a visibly active democratic citizen nowadays is much more rare than sixty years ago, or it at least appears that way. During the Civil Rights movement, student activists risked their lives at sit-ins and other protests in the United States, and their actions received an abundance of media attention. While we still have a number of protests today, they seem much more subdued than in the past. Even the most vivacious ones rarely make the news, possibly because they are often quite small. Interestingly, the last “protest” I remember being prominently featured in the news was Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity. While this event did draw attention to some problems with today’s politics, when one thinks of the Vietnam protests and the massive impact they had, Stewart’s rally seems to pale in comparison. Many people draw comparisons between the Iraq War and Vietnam, and rightly so. But difference in youth reaction to the wars is incredibly interesting. Of course young people did protest the Iraq War, but the numbers were hardly comparable to those of Vietnam protesters. I think this stems from a combination of the self-centered ethos promoted in the current age, along with the overabundance of digital information. If a young person does not want to pay attention to serious news stories, they can easily ignore them and thus never be moved to protest.
It is now more easy to be an informed democratic citizen, but it is even easier than before to ignore such information. And even if today’s youth are democratically active online, it is not being reflected in physical social activism within the democratic system.