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The Alphabet Series 2000: Y is for Youth

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
November 22, 2000


"As we get older we begin to accept the unacceptable. We accept that bad things happen. We rationalize." — Adam Werbach

I write with the television on, it's my muse. Sitting down to write this column I figured MTV would provide the perfect stimuli. Talk about insight. The programming on at the time was an updated version of American Bandstand. Replacing dancers with screaming teenagers, and a Philadelphia studio with New York's Times Square, Total Request Live features a crowd of teenagers on the street screaming to get into the television studio. When the VJ ask shock rocker Marilyn Mason his thoughts on the politics swirling around the Florida vote, Manson told all the teenagers  "Forget voting. Don't rock the vote. Block the vote." MTV is currently airing a video for the Marilyn Manson single "Disposable teens."

Before anyone gets the idea that I endorse not voting as a vehicle for prompting social change, nothing could be further from the truth. What I am advocating is that we give young people a reason to vote. In his book "Act Now, Apologize later" Adam Werbach, former president of the Sierra Club, noted that "while the American educational system lags behind the rest of the world in math, American kids know more about ecology than their counterparts in Europe and Asia."

Perhaps young people would show more interest in politics, if politicians started paying more attention to what is important to them. Namely the future that they will inherit from the New Democrats and the compassionate conservatives.

During the past election cycle we heard dueling diatribes about social security for seniors. What struck me as odd was neither of the major party candidates were concerned about social security for young people. Forget about fifty years from now, young people are wondering if any security is possible in a world struggling under the effects of global warming.

As distraught as I was when Ronald Reagan became President, as a senior in High School I still had hope that all was not lost. Twenty Years later I'm not so sure that the class of 2001 have much evidence to draw hope from. Is it any wonder why young people rarely bother to vote. During the last election who spoke for the disenfranchised youth who marched in the streets of Seattle and Los Angeles.

Young adults voting in their first presidential election have never known a world without MTV. The MTV generation has watched the global village slowly unravel. I realize the youth is resilient  but how does was process a constant barrage of news that all is not right in the world? There is no Hallmark moment that can erase the Exxon Valdez spill, the bombing in Oklahoma City, holes in the Ozone, the Columbine massacre, or the fatality of unprotected sex.

Ours is no longer the world of Ozzie and Harriet being there for the boys, and June Cleaver vacuuming in pearls. Like the world around them, television is no longer a safe place for kids. Television is a violent play station where disenfranchised youth prepare for the war that is modern America. These are the same children who heard Bill Clinton talking about peacekeeping efforts while dropping bombs in the Balkans. Wag the Dog, wag the Monica, it's all the same to the MTV Generation.

A question often asked by environmentalists. "What kind of world are we leaving our children?" is a tough one to answer. With the rate of population growth and ecological decline it is hard to imagine anything other than an unstable future dominated by a diminishing quality of life. And that's an optimistic outlook.

Before we can ponder the world we are leaving for next seven generations, me must first understand what we are taking from the world today. Kids know. They see it in their parents eyes, hear it in their teachers voices, and watch it on television as talking heads casually discuss famine, disease, and other unnatural disasters.

Children today understand they will live to see the Giant Panda pass into extinction. Kids know extinct. Just this year, classrooms across America received news that a primate vanished from the forests of the Ivory Coast and Ghana. It doesn't matter to young people that they have never seen a Waldron's Red Colobus. What matters is the fact they never will. Theirs will be a smaller world.

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