This post was written by Mea Ayers. Mea is a high school senior from Houston, Texas who is serving as a guest blogger for the Institute this summer.
In today’s climate, entertainment opportunities seem endless. With bottomless content sources such as Youtube, Netflix, Yahoo, Hulu, and Google widely available to the public, one would think that global and political awareness would increase, right? While Americans are, no doubt, becoming more aware of some events, an online survey from Statista illustrates that only 37% of Americans utilize their internet access to “look for news and information about politics.”
In contrast, many of the nation’s younger citizens appear to occupy their screen time surfing the vast streaming sites that offer whole seasons of kitschy reality shows, the latest and greatest movies, and quarter-hour-long skits referred to as “vlogs.” While many of these videos offer nothing more than a good laugh, a new binge, or a calming antidote to a long day, some offer as many striking yet true insights as laughs. One comedic sketch periodically put on by the late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel is both humorous and alarming: it exposes the very nature of some of the voters that make up our democracy.
“Lie Witness News” sketches are comprised of two parts: one seemingly innocent yet absurdly false question and a group of American interviewees randomly selected off the streets of L.A. According to Time, Kimmel “repeatedly [gets an] unsuspecting passerby to reveal that they may not be as informed on a variety of topics as they think.” Topics range from Beauty Products to the Fourth of July all the way up through Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The objective of the game is simple: ask the general population about large (and untrue) current events, seeing how much they think they know.
With a title like “Lie Witness News,” one can only anticipate the embarrassing outcome of asking the public if they have heard about “the twitter war between Donald Trump and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” People offered input over the “controversy” of Dr. King failing to show up to President Trump’s Inauguration (an impossible feat) as well as Dr. King’s “Time on the ‘Celebrity Apprentice’” (simply untrue). Interviewed Americans were all too quick to comment on a modern social media fight that supposedly took place between the President of the United States and a revolutionary historical figure… who was assassinated during the 1960s.
Interview candidates also had interesting commentary on President Obama’s “planned 4th of July confederate flag burning with the last surviving Tuskegee Airman and the Wu Tang Clan.” One interviewee responded that he is “a little” excited and “will” be watching the supposed flag burning, while another reports that he has not only been discussing these 4th of July related “issues” with his friends, but “heard about [them] a month ago.”
While such responses from the public seem humorous on the surface, as one couldn’t possibly believe the California Governor decided to “reschedule the 4th of July to February,” the confidence of the public in their absurd answers proves slightly frightening in a nation that runs off of the rules of democracy and the expectation that every member of society adequately educate themselves on the local and federal political atmosphere.
Despite the obvious conflict of the growing unawareness of the American people presented by this seemingly harmless skit, another problem lies just beneath the surface. Interviewed candidates that chimed in on the debates of these supposed “incidents” were all too quick to take a side. When asked something slightly more important, such as “should Hillary Clinton be impeached,” each person fired back quickly with a definite side and slander on hand, despite that Hillary Clinton is not, in fact, the President.
One interviewee stated on Hillary Clinton’s Impeachment that “she should definitely be out.” When asked “on what crimes,” the same person responded with “I’m not a political person at all, so I really have no clue.” Such a response only highlights the tendency of Americans to polarize, whether they are informed or uninformed, simply for the sake of taking a side. Tendencies and aggression such as these are no doubt major factors that are contributing to the brutal political climate we live in today.
Perhaps the most striking information gathered from the last interviewee’s commentary is that they are “not a political person.” Arguably the main conflict confronting our American political culture today is that there are millions of people who feel they are “not political people” who still tightly grasp onto their partisan ideals. By adopting this belief about themselves, these people give themselves the false reassurance that they don’t need to actually carry out the procedures that every American should when it comes to politics.
While the future of our government is uncertain, one thing is for sure: we are all political people, whether we know it or not. By definition, a democracy is a political system involving a consensus by the whole population. Therefore, if it is a political institution involving everybody, then every person is a “political person.”
Proper participation in democracy calls us to not only actively participate (vote!), but to also use our newly abundant resources to do our research. It is all too easy to follow the ideals of our persuasive neighbors or go into a local election voting a straight ballot. Many would read these warning signs as early indications of an unsalvageable ship, something that is too far-gone and not worth our time. However, if “Lie Witness News” has shown us anything optimistic, it is that we do, indeed, have more access than ever to information with streaming websites and databases. Therefore we owe it to ourselves and our country to carve out a little time and do our research before making another comment on any current event. To us, it may only seem like a small task with a small return; however we will, with civility, be changing our political culture, one less lie at a time.