It would perhaps be a platitude to say that children are much too influenced by their parents’ political views. I feel the statement to be true on a personal level, in that nearly all my peers throughout high school tended to have political leanings similar to their parents, or specific beliefs directly related to how they were raised. And those who expressed opinions on the side of the political spectrum opposite their parents were equally influenced, generally doing so out of what seemed like a stubborn teenage rebellion of their upbringing. Such ideas are not new to this past election. However, over my fall break, I came into direct contact with something that affects—and in the future I think will intensify—the political influence parents can have upon their children.
Over the break, I found myself in the idyllic, Stepford-like suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut. What was originally meant to be a two or three-day visit to my cousins’ house ended up being extended to a week because of Hurricane Sandy. While the storm forced many on the East Coast to deal with a lack of power, rationed gas, and general destruction, the prevalence of generators in Greenwich meant that we, along with most in the town, were merely forced to live an entirely interior life for a few days. This meant for my cousins—three girls; ages 9, 11, and 13—missing school and watching episode after episode of TV they bought on their individual iPads. However, the extended in-home living running in conjunction with the anticipation of the upcoming election caused a sort of interiorizing of political discussion, to an extent such that I was able to observe a high concentration of instances of parental political influence upon children that are typically rarely seen. And even beyond this, I experienced an attempted engendering of political views in me by parents who were not my own.
This political element was most apparent when at one point during the storm, out of desire for some family time, and with perhaps a bit of regret for fueling their kid’s addiction to solitary technology use by giving them all iPads, my aunt and uncle forced us all sit together and watch a movie together. (I find it interesting how distaste for our widespread addiction to TV, and to the various types of computers that are vaguely referred to as “technology,” in this household has become distaste for specifically the antisocial use of this technology. TV, computers, iPads are now good, as long as you’re with others.) This movie was shown also out of the parents’ desire to “educate” their children about the upcoming election, about their future, and what they might do to change their future.
The movie was 2016: Obama’s America, a documentary produced, written, and narrated by conservative Indian-American Christian Dinesh D’Souza. When I read the title from the Apple TV selection screen as my uncle was buying it, I vocally expressed recognition of the film as “that Republican propaganda movie.” My uncle quickly corrected me, loudly telling his kids that it was a documentary, “the truth,” and anything but propaganda. While D’Souza spoke on screen about President Obama’s supposed “identity struggle” and how the father who abandoned him is in effect the force behind all his decisions, my uncle told us how D’Souza was the president of King’s College Cambridge (he is in fact the president of the King’s College, a Christian liberal arts school in New York City), my aunt yelled at me for texting when I was in fact researching this fact on my iPhone, and I was certain I was in a liberal’s purgatory. I became more and more frustrated with what I was being forced to watch, what the pliable minds of my kid cousins were being forced to absorb. Then about half an hour in I decided to make the experience a more positive one and allowed myself some interior laughter and began to pay attention to the technical elements of the film.
The movie seemed to me that it would be rather ineffective in achieving its goal of convincing any relatively educated voter why they shouldn’t vote for Obama. (And as of last Tuesday, it is apparent that it truly didn’t have enough of an effect.) All of the facts about Obama’s past and his father’s life are certainly interesting, and many of them I had never heard before. However, D’Souza ultimately did not make them feel as relevant to Obama’s presidency as I am sure he intended, as relevant as he personally feels they are. So in terms of the 2012 election, the movie didn’t worry me too much. I was less struck and enlightened by the movie than I was by my uncle’s forcing of my cousins to watch it and playing it off as the “truth.” I am sure that my cousins, being as young as they are, have ended up or will end up having a negative view of Obama because my aunt and uncle tell them that he is crazy and evil. Saying such things to children inevitably gives them a bias. Yet what truly worries me is that with the popularity and accessibility of a movie like 2016, my cousins, other Republican parents’ children, and any uneducated voter will have a consolidated argument for their opinions upon which they can rely. Using such a pre-packaged argument that is over-simplified and illusively well-supported by evidence, before learning about the biases inherent to political documentaries as well as independently acquiring a good amount of more objective facts, is dangerous.
2016, as a documentary, would be even more influential to children than that which their parents tell them. The latter, a child could be able to discern as an individual’s unique opinion, while the former more aptly deceives a viewer into its presentation as fact. I am especially worried because 2016 is unprecedentedly successful for a documentary. The film is fourth highest-grossing documentary of all time and a general blockbuster hit—it is an element of pop culture. My aunt and uncle, as anyone with any DirecTV-like system could, accessed and presented the movie to their family in mere seconds via their AppleTV. This widespread accessibility of movies in general, as well this particular movie’s popularity, endangers the American voter by tempting them with an opinion and biased reasoning that is tied with a bow. Films of the 2016 sort—a documentary released before an election in order to support a campaign and convince wavering voters—will surely now be a factor in presidential elections to come. But I think that 2016 is, and future films in its vein could be, unexpectedly most effective and dangerously so in its swaying of the political beliefs of uneducated voters as well as children, and giving such usually obviously unfounded beliefs a faulty, biased support. The beliefs of the uneducated surely make up a large part of the general vote, and children’s beliefs inevitably become the beliefs of future voters.