I have spent the last 4 days sequestered at my parents’ house in Massachusetts due to Hurricane Sandy. We were fortunate enough to emerge unscathed – we even kept our power throughout the storm. Unfortunately, this meant that we were inundated with campaign ads and phone calls.
I’m not used to this. Living in San Francisco, we get a whole lot of proposition ads, but not a lot of candidate ads. Pelosi’s got the city locked up; our senators Boxer and Feinstein rarely have serious contenders. But in Massachusetts, there are some important races at stake – Elizabeth Warren is challenging Scott Brown in his reelection bid for senate. New England is small, so we end up also picking up ads for candidates in New Hampshire and Rhode Island. I counted yesterday – 4 campaign ads to 1 non-campaign ad in one primetime commercial break.
It’s overwhelming – the amount of information, misinformation and false information that is being force-fed to voters across the country at this pre-election point in time. How do you sift through all the rhetoric, quotes and citations, claims and counterclaims? I find myself feeling so grateful for the critical thinking skills I learned as a kid. I know that when I see a political ad, even if it’s for someone with whom I might agree, I need to take the content of that ad with a grain of salt, and see it through the context of the current election. I also know to read the fine print about who is funding an ad; whose super-PAC is supporting whom.
Longitudinal studies have found that students who are engaged in the arts in their youth become adults who are more likely to vote, be civically active, and read the newspaper (Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art, James Catterall). In other words, they’re more likely to be engaged citizens. I know that my own experience with the arts helped me view messages and media with a critical eye, and understand the importance of context. These skills helped me develop as an actor and performer. They also help me read the fine print in a political ad; to see a politician’s robocall in context, not at face value.
Our founding fathers knew the importance of an engaged and educated citizenry in order for democracy to work. At Performing Arts Workshop, we are doing our best to achieve that same goal. We know that the arts are education. More importantly, they provide the kind of critical education that our civil society needs right now in its citizens. When I vote on November 6, I’ll be using my critical thinking skills to determine where to place my support. And I’ll be thanking my theater teacher, Mrs. Bergeron.