NYT columnist speaks on US' political apathy

The event was sponsored by the Chancellor's Diversity Initiative and tied in with MLK Day.
New York Times visual Op-Ed columnist Charles Blow speaks in Stotler Lounge on Wednesday. Blow noted that America's obsession with pop culture has cost them knowledge of government and politics.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow thinks America has been “snookered by the Snookies,” a reference to America’s obsession with pop culture, yet has an aversion to government and politics.

In a presentation Wednesday, Blow shared his thoughts about political apathy and disengagement, and tied that information into the recently observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“We find speakers who are real life examples of and testaments to Dr. King’s vision and dream,” School of Journalism professor Cyndi Frisby said. “We were looking for someone who could go beyond the traditional ‘I Have A Dream,’ speech and instead talk about relevant experiences that influence Dr. King’s work.”

MU’s Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative put on the event.

Blow began his speech referencing his passion for the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Every time I’m asked to give a speech about Dr. Martin Luther King, I’m both excited and a bit frustrated,” Blow said. “Dr. King is hands down my most revered historical figure of all time, and that’s why it’s always a little bit difficult for me to figure out how to carve out just a slice of such a monumental life to tailor to a specific subject.”

Referencing the marches and protests during the Civil Rights era, Blow noted how citizens were actively involved in politics.

“I contrast that political activism to the political activism in the country today, where few spurts of interest don’t last more than a season, where we’ve allowed ourselves to drift off into intellectual comas, starved of even the most basic civic understandings,” Blow said.

Blow said he believes the level of political participation has dramatically decreased.

“As Dr. King once observed, nothing in all the world is more dangerous than ignorance or conscientious stupidity,” Blow said.

Blow referenced a statistic stating the average American watches 35 hours of television per week.

“But that doesn’t mean we’re watching more news,” Blow said. “We have broadened our viewership, but narrowed our intellectual battery to irascible daytime judges, surreal housewives and adult talent shows. We have been snookered by the Snookies. We are stretched wider and becoming more shallow than we have ever been.”

The event drew many students, many of whom attended for journalism class requirements.

“We have to attend events outside of class, and this seemed the most interesting,” freshman Ashleigh Jackson said. “But this is about Dr. Martin Luther King. Even though a lot of people stood for what he stood for, he sacrificed a lot, yet he went about it peacefully.”

Blow’s presentation offered little solution, but provided insight into the way many Americans view media. He noted how, although news organizations cover major events, including WikiLeaks, The State of the Union speech and the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, few Americans actually follow the events. Blow said they instead follow television personalities and pop culture.

“We want to hook our teeth into personality and fame,” he said. “While we’re playing with Snooki, we’re not looking into what’s actually happening in our government.”

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