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KCET's 'Young Voters' Gets Into a Heated Debate


When it comes to connecting young viewers with politics, TV can create a strange dissonance. On one side, there's the reality that young people who are eligible to vote generally do not. On the other, there's the TV campaign to get the 18-to-34 demographic group to the polls.

MTV and Rock the Vote lead the way, and it's no accident that KCET's "Life & Times" special "Young Voters" dons some MTV-like graphics and hip-hop music to dress things up. Even a non-regular "Life & Times" host, young and hip Dominique DiPrima, is in charge here--of what, though, isn't really clear.

For DiPrima is in that weird TV paradox: moderating a group of obviously bright, talented and motivated young people talking about why their peers aren't very motivated, or don't seem to be. The nine panelists are so astonishingly well informed and quick on their debating skills that they absurdly contradict the claim that the coming generation is poorly educated. Either that, or we're looking at the next wave of Sunday morning pundits.

The problem is that as these strong, opinionated voices do battle on issues ranging from the "motor voter" bill to education funding to affirmative action, they are just as absurdly not representative of their peers. Many of them decry political and economic elites, yet they are unmistakably an elite group--made so by the TV camera and TV forum.

The sure sign of this is how discussion quickly veers off track from practical and personal issues that could motivate young would-be voters (opposition to the upcoming California civil rights initiative, fights against music censorship) to academically tinged feuding over economic philosophies.

A grass-roots campaigner like Freedom Summer '96 coordinator Justine Andronici is drowned out by the ideological rantings of right-wing Young Americans for Freedom vice chair Mike Houston and left-wing community and student activist Daniel Ruiz.

Go to any campus plaza where there's a soap box, and you'll hear these extremes, while the vast middle of students quietly passes them by.

But like many a bad political meeting, the aggressive male voices dominate on this show, no matter the tiny groups they represent. (Such women panelists as Staci Turner, N. Nohelia Canales and Annetta Wells sound out, but it's a struggle to be heard.)

It is hard to know, for example, what young viewers can take away from hearing HIV Education Program coordinator Christian Troix CQ blame his HIV positive status on the policies of the Reagan and Bush administrations or hearing Houston dismiss "Motor Voter" and ignore that it has created 1 million new (mostly young) California voters.

Instead, young viewers may come away more confused than ever, bobbing their heads back and forth between these politicized Samprases and Agassis rallying across the ideological net. Like a blending of an old "G.E. College Bowl" with "Crossfire," "Young Voters" shows off some of the newest best and brightest whizzing past the rest of their peers. None of which is the sign of a youth movement in the making.

As an odd intrusion on the panel discussion, the hourlong program begins with Martha Wheelock's and Kay Weaver's simplified mini-history film, "Votes for Women," about U.S. women suffragists. Not one panelist, though, discusses this early voting rights movement or the bland film. Like so many of TV's get-out-the-vote efforts, go figure.

* "Life & Times Special: Young Voters" airs at 7 tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28.

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