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The overwhelmed and cynical public remains uninformed on politics

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Stephen Colbert at the Peabody Awards in 2012. ( Anders Krusberg/Flickr)

Stephen Colbert at the Peabody Awards in 2012. (Anders Krusberg/Flickr)

An unfortunate trend throughout human history is that staying current with political affairs means warding off cynicism. The information age is no different, and if anything, the sheer volume of data and groups presenting news makes the problem worse. When as much as 21 percent of people aged 18 to 29 received their presidential campaign news from “The Daily Show” and “Saturday Night Live,” there is major cause for concern.

Worse still, major news outlets pander to a political party more often than they present basic facts about current events. All the while, the internet is capable of providing an accurate picture of events only if a user is willing to visit an array of sites and piece together the common elements. The end result, I think, is that the only people who can afford to stay informed are those who do it for a living.

With Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (the character) going away for good, I will seriously miss seeing mostly flawless satire of the day’s headlines. Seeing the funny side of international negotiations (mostly in the form of awkward pictures of politicians) made the often dreadful content of those negotiations more bearable.

With that said, Stewart was never a news anchor, nor does he report the news. Despite his show’s tendency to stop mid-joke to deliver lectures on gun legislation or foreign policy, Stewart has always said that he is just a comedian. On his show, he can and does lie and exaggerate in order to secure a good punchline. Not that anyone can blame the people who do use him as a news source. Even outlets like CBS, which don’t have the reputation of Fox News or MSNBC, don’t exactly inspire trust in the media. The fact that young people are so distrustful of major news outlets, paired with a low voter turnout nation-wide, makes it seem like people would rather stay home than voice the legitimacy of two major parties and the people reporting on them.

Even though the internet provides a plethora of information which can inform anyone with access, deriving accurate news from that data is difficult. Because the United States would probably gain something from an informed electorate, this is quite problematic. Most people who are eligible to vote have families to raise and jobs to go to. Truly understanding a current event requires research into the context of that event, as well as all the players involved. The internet provides thousands of fact sheets and editorials, along with videos and primary sources. How can the average American possibly be expected to fulfill their responsibilities and sort through countless articles and videos explaining the wide range of issues we all vote on?

With the economy often topping the list of voter priorities, one is left to wonder why most people learn little or nothing about economics. Without an advanced placement class or two, nobody with a high school education would understand interest groups and their effect on government, even though this knowledge is highly relevant to an informed voter. In short, unless you are a politics enthusiast, or need to stay informed as part of your job, you probably can’t be expected to keep up with current events in a way that will make you a better voter.

The above factors make voting in the U.S. an act which can feel futile or mindless. It is easy to become cynical about politics, knowing that most people are too busy to fulfill the obligations which were said to belong to the electorate when this country was founded. However, with each passing year it seems Americans are becoming better at condensing information without losing nuance. It seems like Kony 2012 was rock bottom for condensed videos aimed at activists, and even the simplistic click-baiting garbage that often makes its way onto social media is improving. Outlets like Vice News are getting better at showing what is happening domestically and abroad without telling viewers what to think. I am not optimistic for the future of the American electorate because, with few options for staying current, most people choose not to read and not to vote.

Julian del Prado is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

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