“Look Ma, No Scruples!”- YouTube Generation, Meet Corruption

By Frances Martel

A record number of youth voters will come of age by the time the 2008 elections arrive and, having learned from the mistakes their parents made in the 1960s, these Americans actually plan to make use of their first legal vote. With this in mind, everyone and anyone financially invested in these elections- from the candidates to the corporations advertising on cable news channels- is bending over backwards trying to figure out how to grasp and maintain the attention of the nation’s most notoriously apathetic demographic. While, unlike their parents, many youths want their voice to count next year, most find it difficult to find a candidate that fails to nauseate them, whether it’s Mitt Romney’s hair, Hillary Clinton’s name, or anything that comes out of Dennis Kucinich’s mouth.

With this dilemma on our hands, CNN executives have employed a fair amount of sensible thinking to come up with a solution, and have concluded that the only medium capable of keeping the political attention of young voters long enough for them to pick a candidate is the only medium that has proven to keep their attention long enough to not allow them to finish that English paper. Before everyone in this country under 20 pulls a Sean Penn and gives up on Dennis Kucinich, packs their bags to Venezuela, and baselessly declares themselves a “Bolivarian Journalist” or whatever, CNN has begun to present a series of programs known as the “CNN/YouTube Debates”- the Democratic debate on July 23 and the Republican one on November 28 (tentatively)- where Americans and English-speaking illegal aliens alike can send the candidates questions through the true home of neighborhood journalism.

What exactly do these “YouTube” debates mean to Americans, young and old alike? In simple terms, no longer do the American people need to suffer before their television sets, yelling obscenities at Wolf Blitzer (or the mummy of choice let out of its sarcophagus for the night) for asking silly questions about healthcare reform, Social Security, and War on Terror. Thanks to YouTube, Sam from San Francisco has no need to depart from his commune should he want to ask Barack Obama what type of marijuana he prefers to smoke now that he’s a Senator- and where he can get some. Kurt from southern Texas can wonder aloud to millions what Bill Richardson will do about permits to hunt illegals at the border. And Pam from the Maryland suburbs can demand an answer to the heaviest question weighing on American soccer moms’ minds about their preferred candidate, John Edwards: “boxers or brief?” all while she makes the kids breakfast before she sends them out on the field.

This attitude of frivolity is to be expected, however, when one of the major contributors to the debates is the company that became famous for such videos as “Shoes”, “Mini-Mall”, and “Dramatic Squirrel”. Yet beyond YouTube, CNN has allowed this vibe to transcend the website itself and permeate the atmosphere of the entire operation. Perhaps one of the most defining shifts in the debate from those of the past is the revoking of Wolf Blitzer’s out-of-coffin hours during the debate. Blitzer remains calmly as host of Ambien’s worst enemy, “The Situation Room”, and has been replaced by aging hipster Anderson Cooper. Cooper, who can be seen doing “edgy” and “totally extreme” things on his program, “Anderson Cooper 360º”, weekdays at 10 PM, is essentially CNN’s version of Steve Irwin. Cooper tries to be intrepid to the point of desperation, and makes life-or-death situations out of anything from the release of a new Kenny G album to an interview with Angelina Jolie (to Cooper’s credit, the latter could quite possibly be a life-or-death situation).

He suppresses his inner Indiana Jones in the YouTube debates, trading in Harrison Ford’s trademark fedora for a new hat- that of trendsetter perfectly in tune with youth culture, a hat he needs to wear if he wants to cover his distinguished hair and convince anyone. Anderson is all smiles as he plays ringleader to the herd of asses (and, on November 28, elephants) before him. Like a good ringleader, he rewards his pets when they behave accordingly (by encouraging the audience to applaud when the camera looks away) and scolds them when they begin to act like Al Sharpton or start to squabble over Hillary Clinton’s pink suit. He knows to give the prima donnas time to flaunt their peacock feathers, but makes the neglected little runt of the litter (Dennis Kucinich) feel special, too. As for the YouTube aspect of the debate, Cooper manipulates this as a rewards and punishments system, as well. Those that behave get questions like “how are you so hot?” and “when is Bush going to stop killing people?” Those that don’t get questions like “explain in detail your plans to fight the genocide in Darfur” or “in your opinion, where does homosexuality come from?”

While the YouTube debate system is in its infancy, and the American public has only been given one chance to experience the madness that could quite possibly ensure, these debates are catching the attention of the people they are specifically designed to attract. Many of the people asking questions at the Democratic debate were under 25. Many in that same demographic are so sick of running into the debates every time they log in to watch the “Juggernaut” video that they decide they might as well participate. Since we have little idea what to expect at the Republican debates, let’s hope for an epic hair battle between Mitt Romney and John Edwards this September and a cameo appearance by Ann Coulter, where she almost kills Sam Huckabee before Anderson Cooper puts his life on the line (again) and slays the conservative dragon with her own poison pen. Hey, if it doesn’t happen, it could always be made into a YouTube video.


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