Woog's World: Sad state of current affairs -- Snooki outpolls Biden
The morning of Election Day, I asked a Staples senior -- recently turned 18 -- if he planned to vote.
He looked like I'd said, "Would you like to be infected with the Ebola virus?"
"No way!" he replied. "I'm not interested in stuff like that."
And why should he be? It's not as if his future -- or the future of the world -- depends on decisions being made now about issues like the environment, health care and the economy, right?
But the Westport boy (old enough to be drafted, if such a thing still existed) is hardly the only young person with a less-than-passing interest in the state of our nation. A depressing video making its way around the interwebs shows a perky Texas Tech woman asking fellow students head-scratchers such as, "Who is the vice president of the United States?"
You'd think she'd asked, "Who was the vice president of the Weimar Republic?" The students -- good-looking, prosperous, the type of guys and girls you'd see a couple of years out of Staples, if Staples graduates attended Texas Tech -- seemed quite perplexed.
"I have no idea?" one woman said, turning the question into a question.
"I have his name in a space in my head," another offered.
"John ... ?" ventured a third.
The Texas Techies did not know much about history, either. Responses to "Who won the Civil War?" ranged from "We did? The South?" and "Like the one in 1965?" to "Just tell me who was in it," "America?" "The Confederates, right?" and "I'm drawing a blank. I feel like I'm on the Johnny Kimmel Show."
Yet they're not completely clueless. All of them aced the last two questions: "What show is Snooki on?" and "Who is Brad Pitt married to?" (They also got the bonus round: "Who was he married to before?")
This depressing turn of (current) events is related to a conversation I had a few days before Election Day (or, as it might be referred to by today's young people, "the Tuesday before last"). A woman and I lamented the plummeting number of newspaper readers and wondered what that meant for the future of print journalism.
I said that the Staples High School athletes I know once devoured their press clippings. They (and their parents) bought every newspaper in Fairfield County, dissecting every mention of their name.
Now, even those who are quoted directly after a big win seldom read their write-ups. They much prefer watching videos of their performances, which are available in a variety of platforms that they access with as little thought as you or I spend breathing.
This is partly the naturally changing, ever-evolving way of the world. In the early 20th century, folks stopped hitching up their horses and started cranking up their cars. In the 1950s, people no longer gathered around the radio; now it was the TV.
Partly it's our own fault. (By "own," I mean all of us who grew up on, and still love, print journalism. Or make money from it.) For years, newspaper publishers -- the New York Times as well as local papers -- delivered dozens of copies of each issue to schools like Staples. Newspapers were everywhere. Students picked them up and read them. (They also left them everywhere. Schools are far cleaner now, for sure.)
At the risk of sounding like someone from the Civil War era (whenever that was -- 1612?), I think back to my own days at Staples. "The news" was everywhere. Even if you wanted to, you could not avoid hearing about Vietnam, civil rights and many other issues that sprang from or were enmeshed in those two.
There were anti-war rallies and marches (and counter-demonstrations by the "America -- love it or leave it" crowd). When Martin Luther King was killed, the Staples courtyard was jammed for a vigil and speeches. The high school pulsed with political activity.
Fall was a particularly fraught time. It did not matter what election was coming up. We debated which presidential candidate would cause us to be drafted (or win the war). Which congressional candidate would speak out loudest for the baby-boom generation, and which would ignore us. Which local Board of Education candidate would give us the freedoms we demanded as high school students, and which would take them away.
We knew who was running, and what they stood for. And -- whether the voting age was 21 or (thanks in part to our loud voices) 18 -- we who were not yet eligible did what we could to make sure our candidates won.
I am a huge fan of today's young people. They are bright, involved in their communities, and hard-working -- despite enormous pressures from all sides.
But when they know more about Snooki than Joe Biden -- and shrug their shoulders that it doesn't matter -- then I fear for all of us.