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.

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