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The Milton Measure

[Editorial] Live from New York: It’s Your Vote!

by on Friday, February 12th, 2016

The political buzz generated by the presidential race has made its way into Milton’s halls. Many Milton students are active in forming political perspectives, and in turn often vocal in expressing their views. Yet how exactly do the Milton students shape their so-called political identity?

Studies conducted by multiple universities and organizations suggest that the political perceptions of much of America’s youth are either directly or subconsciously affected by late-night TV—shows such as Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, or Last Week Tonight with John Oliver to name of few. Even those who are not regular viewers consistently come across the content of these shows in the extensive network of online pop-culture.

Since its debut in 1976, SNL has caricatured almost every presidential candidate in its sketches. Within its first year on air, the show began to incorporate appearances of the candidates themselves, and has since hosted seventeen presidential hopefuls.

Jon Stewart took over The Daily Show in 1999, transforming the comedy show into a political satire behemoth. He held the role for 16 years, only recently relinquishing the post. Stephen Colbert, a protegé of Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, received his own Comedy Central show in 2005; his character was a conservative pundit modeled after frequent Stewart target Bill O’Reilly.

A study conducted by East Carolina University in 2012 looked into a phenomenon since dubbed “The Fey Effect,” after comedian Tina Fey. The study investigated the effects of political humor on young adult perceptions of Alaskan Governor and 2008 Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Over 1000 students were polled both before and after the airing of Fey’s portrayal of Palin, coining the phrase “I can see Russia from my house!”, a phrase often miscredited to Palin herself. Only 36% of these students actually watched the sketch when it aired. In the weeks following the impersonation, the survey found that support of McCain’s choice of Palin as his vice president among these students decreased from 40% to 31%, and disapproval increased from 39% to 55%.

In the Oxford Journal in 1994, political analyst David Weaver explored the “evolution” of the “agenda-setting theory.” In his article, Weaver concludes that the media’s uncanny yet inevitable ability to “set the political agenda” stems from its ability to “construct a perceived reality that voters rely upon to in making decisions.”

Although three-quarters of Milton students are not gearing up to vote in the current primaries or in the 2016 general election, we urge the Milton community to become aware of the ways in which they shape their ideas, opinions, and thus words surrounding candidate and policy preferences.

In a poll conducted by the Measure this past October (published in our January 22nd issue), 31% of 286 individuals in the Milton community said they occasionally flipped to a news channel, 28% admitted they did not actively follow the news, but were interested, 27% said they kept up with the news in some form every day, and 4% conceded that they pay attention to the news only when it is delivered by Stephen Colbert.

Earlier this year the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a new poll that found 21% of people aged 18 to 29 cite SNL and the Daily
Show as “a place where they regularly learned presidential campaign news.”
Shows like SNL and voices like Stephen Colbert often exaggerate the flaws or specific habits of a candidate in order to make them memorable, just as a political cartoonist may draw Obama with large ears and Donald Trump with Elvis like hair. SNL writers, in particular, satirize quirks of belief, policy, or personality. This correlation is often overlooked, as acting feels less calculated, less illusion and more of a tangible reality and true representation.

In addition, students who have watched these shows often relate jokes and describe sketches to others, in the process skewing their views of the candidates. The pervasive influence of late night on pop culture and politics has undeniably affected the public perception of politics.

Late night shows are integral to making news accessible for and diffusing political issues to the American electorate. However, when it comes to shaping one’s political opinions within the often pack-like driven mentality of a high-school life, we believe it is important to find the facts in their true form, to view candidates not through a lens of satire, but through their direct speeches and self-proclaimed views. So, Milton, know your candidates in the truest form you can before endorsing their beliefs. Continue to procrastinate with SNL skits, enjoy the storm of late night satire, but encourage your peers to flip on the debates and hear the candidates speak up for themselves.

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Posted by on Feb 12 2016. Filed under Editorial, More Opinion, Opinion, Recent Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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