The Benefit of Youthful Cynicism

I try really hard to be educated about the world around me. Not just aware, but an understanding member of society. It’s tough. Regardless of my well-organized Twitter lists, Feedly account and Economist iPhone app, there is too much history, too many conflicting perspectives and just simply not enough time to build a deep understanding of our international world, from politics and government to economy and environment, all while working full-time, maintaining meaningful relationships and satisfying creative outlets.

So, I have to rely on the “experts” to analyze and explain. As a member of the millennial generation, I am disenfranchised with authority and I don’t know who to trust.

One platform I watch regularly is the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Not because I think he’s always right, but because he is an intelligent, analytical and understanding member of our society. The other night I watched Jon Stewart deliver a pointed perspective of the Eric Garner Grand Jury decision. He was direct in his analysis of the racism, he was honest in his disgust with the system and he called for a change.

It got me thinking: Viewers of the Daily Show use Stewart’s stories as a foundation for understanding the larger story. According to an older article by Larry Rosen Phd. On Psychology today:

“[The Daily Show] uses brief (often just a few seconds) video or audio clips, in engaging formats, with snippets of information leading the viewer to an obvious conclusion. Whether Jon Stewart is dishing out “fake news” or not, the impact is the important feature. That young viewers clamor to watch his show … and they pay attention to the information he dispenses. They do not look at him as some sort of icon. Rather, they see him as a leader in bringing them news in a manageable, hip, understandable, and humorous format which they can digest, return to at a later date, forward to their friends, and post on Facebook. As one 19-year-old told me recently, ‘Yeah, I know Stewart says he is giving us fake news but he’s really just getting me interested in following up a story myself to see what else we are not being told…It’s not the news. It is a portal to more news. That’s The Daily Show Effect. It has turned my friends and I into wanting to know more and we know how to find more but it helps that he gives us a starting point.’”

This is good. The Daily Show Effect means “viewers exhibit more cynicism toward the electoral system and the news media at large. Despite these negative reactions, viewers of The Daily Show reported increased confidence in their ability to understand the complicated world of politics.” (Source)

Bertrand Russell

Here’s what that means to me, a Daily Show viewer:

  1. I distrust news stations. (And not just Fox News, but also my local television stations.)
  2. I believe our government is partisan to a point of uselessness.
  3. I am astounded at the “Them versus us” that is pervasive in our country on both extremes.
  4. Despite this, I believe I have a balanced understanding of the world and I believe if more people were capable of being honest with themselves and others (like I am learning to do) we would have a better system.

In short: As I was watching the Daily Show, I realized that I believe I can make informed decisions that will be of long-lasting benefit to our country. I also believe that those who lean toward cynicism will be more honest with themselves and others. The Daily Show produces people who can break us out of our country’s stifling partisan wars. But are these balanced individuals so doubting and cynical that they view their participation as ineffective?


The 2008 election had the second-largest youth voter turnout (52%) in American history [Psychology of Today]. The 2012 election had a lower turnout – though not far behind. My hope is we can continue strong. That we can not only show up en mass to speak our voices, but to continue honing our voices and opening our minds to be receptive to change.

Photographs of the Syria struggle

I have had the opportunity to travel. In most places I avoided touristy destinations in an effort to find and experience worlds unique from my American ones. Very few pleasure vacations are more raw than winding down Turkish back roads guided only by a piece of paper that you hope was translated into Turkish correctly.

Time published a series of photographs from photojournalists covering the conflict in Syria between the Assad regime and the rebels. They are powerful: a collection of the journalists favorite images.

Perhaps more than anything I have shocked at the resilience of these people. The above image is of a man returning home to his family with his groceries. He has to run across the street to avoid the sniper haunting the street.

I’m not sure if it is because I have seen the beauty of these foreign place that I ache for those thrown into the wars. Maybe it’s because I have no way of really comprehending the world the Syrian rebels are currently living and these journalists images have succeeded in moving their audience that I find myself wishing I could be there photographing the situation. It feels more concrete, like these people and their cameras are doing more to help resolve this situation than anything I can do from my padded chair in America.

September 11, 2012

It doesn’t feel like 11 years have gone by, but I think about everything that has happened since I watched the second plane hit the Twin Tower: my dad had turned the television on before school started just as the second tower hit and I stood there transfixed. I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew this was big.

I ask myself if I feel safer. I don’t like having our troops in the Middle East, but I don’t begrudge President Bush for the choice he made. I may have made a different one, but there’s no way to know exactly why he did what he did. Do I fear the Taliban? No. I never really did because they weren’t real to my everyday life. When I listened to President Obama tell the world Osama bin Laden was dead killed the power of the militant group even more in my eyes.

And how has America changed? We are closer as Americans and more divided than ever. In 11 years I hope we can learn to address our fears, see which are real and which are simply ghosts we allow to survive. I know I have learned to balance my perspectives, my beliefs and I hope I can help others do the same.

Love to you all.

More of James Nachtwey’s photography from the day.