The Politics of the MTV Movie Awards

Say what you will about MTV, but they have always promoted participatory democracy. In 1992, they launched the “Choose or Lose” campaign, urging their viewers to vote – presumably for the president challenger, Bill Clinton. Clinton courted the youth vote with an appearance on MTV and won.  MTV has continued its campaign, even though they changed its name last year to the more opaque, probably less effective “Power of 12.”

I haven’t watched the MTV Movie Awards since the year Jack Black hosted (2002), and I can’t remember there being anything political about that show. But a lot has changed since then. Maybe in part because of MTV, the young people of America are not only more politically engaged than they have been at any time since the Kennedy era, but they are also a key constituent for President Obama. America’s youth propelled him to victory in 2008, and he will need them again in 2012. The only problem is that in 2008, they supported the Candidate of Hope. Are they just as likely to turn out in huge numbers for the President of Incremental Change?

With the youth vote being a potential game-changer in this year’s election, I guess it is no surprise that politics were a much bigger part of last Sunday’s MTV Movie Awards than ever before. Or more than when I was 22, anyway. The way politics are portrayed on MTV offer a glimpse towards how the Millenial Generation is feeling about politics right now, or at least how a massive, multi-national corporation thinks they are feeling. Here are a few examples of what we learned:

1)      Host Russell Brand’s subversive attitude extends to politics, too.

In his opening monologue, he made a decidedly serious comment about politics:

“[D]emocracy is a pointless spectacle where we choose between two indistinguishable political parties, neither of whom represent the people but the interest of powerful business elites that run the world.”

This message is ostensibly non-partisan, but it flies in the face of Obama and his young supporters. They voted for change four years ago; now, here is Russell Brand telling millions of young people that neither a Democrat nor a Republican can provide that change. This kind of thinking seems to be more in line with the young Ron Paul supporters, of which there are many. Watching the 2012 Iowa Caucus on C-SPAN, I was amazed at the demographics. Almost every time, the caucus-goer who got up to speak on behalf of Ron Paul was a young, white male. This is the demographic that almost every television network, movie studio, and product designer is trying to reach. It is no wonder that there have been so many movies this year that portray a battle between the young and an oppressive parent figure or authority. Which brings us to….

2)      “The Hunger Games”

The blockbuster hit picked up 5 awards, the most for any film, including acting wins for both Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. “The Hunger Games” is similarly non-partisan, though both the left and right have tried to claim it as their own, but the continued acclaim for the film speaks to how deeply its themes of inter-generational resentment and distrust of government has resonated with Milennials. The support of young voters for Ron Paul and, in 2008 at least, Barack Obama speak to a deep distrust of government. Young people were willing to give Obama in a chance in 2008, but the success of “The Hunger Games” indicates that they might see him as a part of the problem this time around.

3)      Sarah Jessica Parker Stumps for Obama

As a counter to Brand’s unique strain of political nihilism, Sarah Jessica Parker made an impassioned  but brief plea for young people to support Obama’s re-election.

When listing Obama’s accomplishments, she wisely leads with ending the War in Iraq and supporting gay marriage. Job creation comes in a distant third. No surprise there – job prospects for Millenials is actually improving. Plus, more and more young people are moving back in with their parents after college, and very few of them have families of their own that they need to support. Obama still needs the unemployment number to drop to capture the middle-class vote, but that is not how he will re-engage the youth. They care far more about social issues, which is why he felt comfortable coming out in support of gay marriage in the first place.

For decades, a strong youth voter turnout has signaled good things for Democrats. With Ron Paul engaging the youth like no Republican since Goldwater, this could be changing. I’m doubtful that Paul’s supporters will turn out in droves to vote for Romney, and with Sen. Rand Paul, Ron Paul’s son and the libertarian movement’s logical successor reportedly running a 2016 presidential run, this could be the last election that young people win for Democrats in quite a while. Time will tell.

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