C-SPAN, Glenn Beck and ‘Jersey Shore’
College students have short attention spans. You do not need to sit behind a guy on his laptop during a class to figure it out. We struggle to pay attention to things large and small, but some things need to be given attention. Better stay on top of calculus, or your class will be doing derivatives while you draw doodles. That glass you used for milk needs washing, or you will need to get another cup. Watch what you eat, or the freshman fifteen become fifty. While we need to pay attention to such things in our lives, college students need to watch the bigger picture too. We are more likely to know the members of “Jersey Shore” than our congressional representatives, but The Situation and JWoww do not affect the world as much as Washington, D.C., and Jefferson City, Mo., do. If we ignore the government, then when the final exam aka Election Day comes along, we will be unprepared.
We as college students may defer these responsibilities to others. Many of us prefer to follow the government through the lens of the media, thinking journalists can help us understand it better. But the media may not be any more qualified than you are. Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Matt Drudge have just as many college degrees combined as I do at this moment. Many stations do not even care about educating the viewer on issues; they show stories to give the viewers their slants on the world. Many would call Fox News extremely biased, but you don’t need to watch all three hours of Ed Shultz, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow to figure out that MSNBC leans left. The cable news networks may be good to reinforce what we already believe on issues, but how do we educate ourselves without all the media partisanship? Go straight to the sources.
News stations love mentioning shady backdoor deals that go on in Washington, but a lot of it goes on in public. C-SPAN broadcasts the House and Senate’s floor action on live television and has many hours of individual committee meetings on their Web site. This shows what the individuals we elected are doing to make our lives better or worse. Granted, not all C-SPAN programming is more useful than listening to Vinny call Snookie “Snickers.” For example, I watched U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, complain on the floor about the environmentally friendly changes made to the menu in the House cafeteria. A lot of ridiculous floor speeches go on, but often C-SPAN allows citizens to directly watch what the government of, by and for the people is up to.
Watching these proceedings may not be for everyone. C-SPAN has been described as “stupid,” “boring” and “really stupid and boring.” We may not get to see everything, like health care negotiations, but for the most part, we get to see the finished product. Bills can be seen online by anyone with Google and 30 seconds. The Congressional Budget Office and Congressional Research Service provide simple summaries that are useful and mostly free of legal jargon. We can actually find out what is happening with health care reform or environmental legislation, not just what the talking heads say. We can go to governmental Web sites to see where government grant money goes. We can actually know what is going on.
What good is this information? We have an improved understanding of what happens with our tax dollars. We better prepare ourselves for Election Day, because we know what our representative did and did not do. We can contact our representatives to communicate our preferences. We can make the democratic ideal a reality by involving ourselves in the process. And then we can go back to debating what kind of steroids Ronnie takes.