Teenage Wasteland More Informed Than Elderly Whine

On July 1, 2007, Austria reduced its voting age to 16. I was 40 years old at the time and found the move both fascinating and unsettling.

On the one hand, even though anyone under the age of 18 in this country is considered a juvenile and usually can only be prosecuted in a juvenile court, every state lists exceptions for trying teenagers as adults. And if you’re old enough to be prosecuted as an adult, wouldn’t it be appropriate for you to have a say in who determines what laws affect you? Many American 16-year-olds are already driving, carrying auto insurance, getting tickets and working part-time jobs. They pay income taxes, social security, medicare, etc. — is it outrageous to suggest they might deserve a role in our political process?

On the other hand, I was sixteen 30-years ago — and when I wasn’t fantasizing about Jennifer Beals in Flashdance or Rebecca DeMornay in Risky Business — I was courting premature hearing loss under the incessant audio influence of Rush, Triumph, Van Halen, Motley Crue, the Scorpions, etc. The closest I came to being interested in politics was slam-dancing to tunes off The Clash’s Combat Rock.

That being said, I wasn’t racist or homophobic, I understood evolution and I never questioned the notion that women deserved absolute sovereignty over their own bodies and reproductive processes. I was arguably as qualified as most of the adults voting back then (Case in point: In 1980 they elected a B-movie hack — who had matter-of-factly rolled over on his own friends and colleagues during the McCarthy hearings — to the highest office in the land!) and I arguably would have been more qualified than at least half of the voting-age populace today.

I bring all this up because last week I was sitting in a Fort Worth eatery, enjoying lunch, when two white-haired, male 60- or 70-somethings slid into the booth directly in front of me and began parroting conservative radio talking points. Then, the one with his back to me chalked up Obama’s re-election and the current campaigns designed to reduce gun violence to matriarchal hysterics.

“Women,” he said. “They’re responsible for this whole mess.”

I paused in mid-mastication.

“People on hormones should not be allowed to vote,” he continued.

The old chauvinist said it too loud and with too much certainty, and my proximity to him suddenly filled me with dread. I suspected that any minute a member of the fairer sex within earshot might vociferously re-acquaint him with reality, but the gods of misogyny protected him for that moment. His hormonal “inferiors” were spread elsewhere around the restaurant.

In a bank lobby a few days later, another 70-something turned away from live coverage of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s funeral at Cowboy Stadium and informed me and the rest of the bank customers waiting for their turn at the teller counter that Kyle was assassinated because he knew something about the mistakes made at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi. He implied that Eddie Ray Routh was an Obama operative and said that “Kyle was killed to keep the truth from coming out.”

I shook my head.

The average age for the Fox News’ viewership is 65. The average age of Rush Limbaugh’s daily audience is 67. This can’t be a coincidence.

I have long railed against teen television and cable programming (MTV, MTV2, MTV Jams, etc.) that serves up mind-flushing gems like Jersey Shore, MTV Cribs, Punk ‘d, Buck Wild, etc., etc. It panders to the lowest teenage denominator. But as much as I detest it, it’s practically Baby Einstein compared to the programming on Fox News the last couple of years and Rush Limbaugh throughout his entire Republican reign. And these conservative media outlets in particular (and in general) create, confirm and comfort a strain of American imbecility that’s 20 million times more dangerous than Snookie-Bieber programming. Because the millions who consume it go out and vote.

Even in a pubescent, 80s blur of Jennifer Beals, Michelle Pfieffer, David Lee Roth, and Joe Strummer, I absorbed, acknowledged and — for the most part — observed the prerequisite adage instructing us to respect our elders. There were less of them around then and longevity was a rare feat. Today, longevity is not a rare accomplishment. Advances in medical technology make it commonplace and achieving the rank of elder no longer requires special wit or wisdom or exceptional health.

I believe my elders should be treated with dignity and respect, but some of their collective attempts to vote us back to the 1950s are a little disconcerting and I’m alarmed by their general intolerance, bigotry, and xenophobia.

Their vulnerability to misinformation channels makes them no more informed than their grandchildren and their intractability doesn’t protect the future of our youth — it restricts it.

I think young American men and women aged 16-18 deserve the option to address their elderly counterparts at the ballot box.

Fort Worth native E. R. Bills is the author of Texas Obscurities: Stories of the Peculiar, Exceptional & Nefarious and Tell-Tale Texas: Investigations in Infamous History. Read other articles by E.R..