When the jokes go too far

The upcoming election is more humor than politics

Maggie Curran, Opinion Editor

I have a serious problem with American politics. It isn’t only the corrupt nature of many of those in office. It isn’t just the corporations that pay millions of dollars toward funding politicians to protect their dirty work. It’s that American politics isn’t taken seriously by what could be its greatest influencers: millennials. Our upcoming presidential election has essentially become a joke. And it isn’t funny at all.

Before this begins to sound like a rant against the youth of America, I want to clarify that’s not the case. I have hope for our future; young adults today are more open-minded, accepting, and ambitious than ever before. However, they’re also quite the class clowns. The millennial generation doesn’t necessarily have the best sense of humor, but it does have the best platform for expressing it. Social media sites, especially those such as Reddit, Tumblr, Vine, and Twitter, are often used to create worldwide jokes. Within seconds of something being reported in the media, users post hundreds of thousands of gags and poke fun at almost everything in an attempt to get a laugh. It’s this ability to instantly make a joke that somehow turns everything laugh-worthy, including politics. And it’s all fun and games… until it’s taken too far.

So, what exactly is too far? Did we take it too far when masses of voters supported rapper Waka Flocka Flame when he announced he was running for president earlier this year? The artist, who stated that his running mate would be DJ Whoo Kid, said that his main concern for America was the immediate legalization of marijuana. The 29-year old and his fans-turned-supporters were seemingly unaware that one must be at least 35 years old to run for president.

Or maybe we took it too far when a 15-year old boy from Iowa registered to run for president under the alias Deez Nuts – and polled better than any other independent candidate in the past two decades. When North Carolina residents were asked whether they would rather vote for GOP candidate Donald Trump, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, or Nuts, the practical-joking teenager polled at 9%. When asked by The Guardian how he felt about the situation, Nuts, whose real name is Brady Olson, replied, “It’s been really fun.”

And fun it has been, but the laughs are dying out as the upcoming election appears to be more comedy than reality. Sure, this isn’t the first time someone has satirically run for president. In 2012 a candidate known as Vermin Supreme became an overnight sensation for wearing a boot on his head and claiming that upon being elected, he would give everyone a free pony. What’s different about this year is that the joking is constant. People, especially millennials, seem to be more interested in media coverage of joke candidates than serious ones, which will have major repercussions when it comes time to actually elect the new leader of the free world.

Even those who want to be taken seriously in this election are the butt of a thousand jokes. While some mockery is true of any presidential candidate, it is no more prevalent than with Trump. Sure, I’ve laughed at photos of his hideous haircut and the edited videos of his speeches set to music. Who hasn’t? Most of what comes out of Trump’s mouth is comical; the scary part is that while many people give him the spotlight simply to have a laugh, he is actually serious. Giving him support, even as a joke, is helping his campaign get the publicity he wants.

Another example of a candidate-turned-punch line is rapper Kanye West, who recently announced his candidacy at the MTV Video Music Awards. While West is presumed to be serious about running, no one can tell for sure anymore after all that’s happened in the race to the White House thus far. This confusion over what is and is not a joke encompasses exactly where the problem lies: when it comes down to it, voters won’t be able to make a serious decision.

Clearly, millennials aren’t the first or only generation to mock politics. Political cartoons have been around since our founding fathers first signed the Declaration of Independence, and certainly there are some Baby Boomers tweeting funny pictures of Hillary Clinton. There’s nothing wrong with finding humor in corrupt politicians, bad campaign slogans, or “binders full of women.” The problem is when the jokes get more attention than the actual purpose of the campaign. With so many millennials getting their first chance to vote this year, it’s more crucial than ever for them to be informed.

Casting a ballot in the presidential election is important, but if the only information we have on the candidates is gags and memes, no good will come of our vote. Keep laughing at Trump’s hair, but don’t forget to educate yourself on the real issues at hand to make a knowledgeable decision regarding our country’s future. There is a time and place for humor, and it isn’t in the voting booth.