Young people are an integral part of any country and in particular democratic and capitalistic countries like the United States. This significance is not only limited to their economic or social contributions, but also their political leanings. According to the Pew Research Center, "young people provided not only their votes but also many enthusiastic campaign volunteers. Some may have helped persuade parents and older relatives to consider Obama's candidacy. And far more young people than older voters reported attending a campaign event..."
Even though this younger generation is clearly powerful, in general, the older generation underestimates the youth of the United States and views them as passive consumers of politics.
Despite the prevailing social critique of teenagers as indifferent to the role they play in society, the 2008 election was a clear example of youth political engagement. The 20
century saw cycles of higher and lower levels of engagement for elections; concurrently society also saw the rise of an ideology that centered on consumerism. The civil rights movement afforded many examples of teenagers empowering themselves by acting as consumers. Prior to the 1960s, many critics were worried that the rise of popular media technologies such as television and radio -- would allow the racial integration of markets; the reverse actually happened. Black teenagers and citizens continued to be marginalized within society as workers and consumers.
The 1960s was a reversal as the black consumer became more cognizant of how to change his or her place in society. This happened as young African Americans began to apply their individual understanding of their power when their consumer dollars were at work. One example of this awakening was the lunch counter sit-ins of 1960 and after; college students spearheaded the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-in at Woolworth's. The success of this event, where young African Americans banded together, resulted in one group beginning to understand how to use their identity and their economic resources to peacefully, but forcefully create change. As these events were unfolding, black and white youth came to political consciousness as they began to recognize the impact they could have in loosening the grip that Jim Crow Laws had on the United States. In turn, they also became more in tune with their powers as consumers and their responsibilities to each other during this time.
Herein lies the challenge for teachers in a modern American classroom. Teachers must balance the still widely held social critique that students are ineffective in a world they do not understand with the historical facts that show they actually have a considerable amount of consumer power. It is far fetched to say that high school students cannot achieve an understanding of the role consumerism plays when they are themselves consumers, and when they can study historical events that anticipate their experiences as teens. Thus, a teacher of civics or political science should ask how the study of presidential elections could help impress the importance of citizenship, and by extension, the right and obligation of voting, on teens in a consumer culture.
Therefore, consumer culture, both its visible and invisible aspects, and American presidential elections were chosen as the content for students to analyze. My assumption is that by having students scrutinize key elections and the major visible and invisible consumer movements, they can acquire a critical knowledge about the changing political system throughout history. Likewise, it will add intricacy to the views about the federal voting system by asking students to analyze why we are currently stuck with a political model where elected officials use scientific polling and market research to manipulate voters into consuming elections. As this evolves in politics, we eventually see John F. Kennedy known as a family man because of the effectiveness of his campaigns polling and research despite the fact that he had extramarital affairs. One result of this type of consumption is that many feel that their individual vote is not that important.
The introduction of the topic of consumerism requires some clarification from a political standpoint. Consumerism is an ideology that is most visible through the lens of leisure activities, although it has also permeated American politics. Consumerism in politics is an ideological system where individual candidates are marketed in a manner similar to a material product. Candidates are packaged for voter consumption. Each voter has individual access to all information available about each candidate. All individuals have equal opportunity to vote and choose the candidate they feel will best represent themselves.
A political system is consumer driven when it highlights themes that appeal to the voter. Individuals that appear youthful and energized, fashionable and intellectual, clean-cut and technologically savvy for their time are the most likely to succeed in federal elections. In a political process less driven by market models, candidates can portray their strengths and weaknesses without regard to the inclinations and assumptions of the voter. Hence, political consumerism in America has manifested itself by building a consumer culture supporting voters, technology, and the images politicians create. For instance, John F. Kennedy resonated with the American people when he was elected in 1960 because he had the ideals Americans hoped any President would have. He embraced the role of television by participating in the debates with Richard Nixon. He was, and still is, the youngest elected president in United States history. He was fashionable and clean-shaven in public. He had advertisements for the 1960 presidential campaign that portrayed him as a family man and supporter of all Americans regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity.
Ultimately, he was an excellent example of how political packaging helps create a political model of consumerism, even if many would consider it a negative example.
By bringing this topic to a high school class, the intention is to challenge the consumer model of politics by creating a universe of obligation that is long-term. The voter today often feels limited in how influential he or she can be in federal elections, despite both politicians and political pundits citing the act of voting as an obligation. However, an ideological conflict exists between political consumption and obligation. This can only be resolved by creating a system where obligation joins with political consumerism working together to expand the role consumption plays in conjunction with politics.
While it is recognized that political consumerism allows voters to be manipulated by certain images, advertisements or marketing, this definition fails to identify two aspects of political consumption that would be vital towards the creation of a universe of obligation. One principle involves the government's support of the consumers and consumption, which is inspired by Franklin Roosevelt's Second Bill of Rights in 1944, suggesting that spreading the wealth will result in heightened consumption across the country. The second philosophy is to create a government that has a clear purpose to protect the consumers directly against fraud and exploitation in the marketplace e.g. the newly created Consumer Protection Agency for bank customers. Hence, this illustrates a major problem with a narrow consumer culture within politics. The narrow view of the voter fails to create a reciprocal relationship between politicians and voters because voters are being pushed to cast a vote on the federal level, without stressing the act of voting as a long-term and ongoing contract between both parties. It is rather a means for an end for politicians in the United States today.
Therefore, a central premise of this unit is to push students to understand that consumer rights are more complex than a simple phrase like "shop 'til you drop". They are ongoing rights that change and that also imply a keen sense of political obligation and social responsibility. This sense of duty is what maintains the ability for all eligible voters of the United States to control their own destiny. Adding an obligation to vote is vital, in presidential elections as well as state and local elections, because voting and consumer rights are ideas that have historically appeared to be most powerful when they are mutually dependent on each other.