If you grew up in the era that I did, give or take, you probably remember Rock The Vote as a powerhouse in delivering American politics to young voters. Yet, if you’ve been paying attention in this election year, Rock The Vote might seem conspicuously absent. It certainly has to me.
Rock The Vote was founded in 1990, and has registered more than 5 million young people—including an astounding 2.5 million in the 2008 election. In the Nineties, they were so firmly-entrenched with MTV, I always believed that Rock The Vote was a wholly-owned subsidiary of the network. It’s not. It’s actually an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization, which was simply using MTV to reach its target demographic—and quite effectively, I should add.
I intended to write this column about how MTV’s latest initiative, Power of 12, is no match for the incredibly effective Rock The Vote campaign. And I suppose that thesis still holds.
If you’re unfamiliar with MTV’s Power of 12—well, you probably aren’t alone. The lackluster effort comes across as unserious and juvenile, in ways that Rock The Vote never has. Recent headlines on the Power of 12 website include “Which Kardashian Would Make The Best President,” “Nick Jonas Will Vote Absentee,” and a story about Jersey Shore’s “The Situation” asking CNN’s Wolf Blitzer why he should vote. To make matters worse, the site features a “Fantasy Election” element—as though the only way to engage young voters is to make it like their fantasy football leagues.
No, really. If you were trying to design a spoof site to target young voters, you couldn’t do worse. Instead of providing a little insight into ideas that matter to young voters—like Pell Grants, jobs plans, the DREAM Act, or insurance policies that effect 18-24 year olds—they offer profound quotes from celebrities like Olivia Wilde, saying “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.”
If Power of 12 has gone largely unnoticed in this election cycle, it’s with good reason. Where Rock The Vote brought real issues, backed by the heft of real celebrities who believed in specific causes, MTV’s latest failure delivers reality stars hem-hawing their way around unimportant issues.
Rock The Vote, as it turns out, is still around. They’ve got a fairly active Facebook page, and the website RockTheVote.org is still in full swing. They have been traveling to college campuses to register young voters this year—as that is the primary mission of Rock The Vote. And they still do a decent job of bridging the worlds of politics and popular culture. In fact, last month they released a voter registration PSA featuring Miley Cyrus, Neil Patrick Harris, Josh Duhamel, Tony Hawk and others. I’m not real sure why Rock The Vote has all but disappeared from our collective consciousness, but it certainly seems that it has.
MTV, in all fairness, is not doing everything wrong. (Although, as someone who remembers watching music videos on MTV, and as someone who still hasn’t learned to appreciate Jersey Shore, I’d probably say that they’re doing most things wrong.) Their initiative to engage young people in social responsibility, “Act,” is actually pretty impressive. It tackles a whole host of important issues, from gender equality around the world to bullying. And it does it in a way that makes civic and social engagement seem pretty cool. You can check it out at act.mtv.com.
That’s what Rock The Vote used to do. It made it cool to get involved, to be engaged, and participate in the democratic process. We need more organizations like that. We need more young Americans to commit to making a difference.
Originally printed in “Pulse,” 10/25/2012.
© Damien Willis, 2012. All rights reserved.
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