Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Arthur Answers Roger, Part 1: Political Me

Today, I’m continuing to answer questions posted to my most recent “Ask Arthur” post. As it happens, all the rest of the questions are from Roger Green, and my plan was to group them more or less thematically, regardless of when he posted the question. However, as I found out with the first post in this series, it’s not necessarily easy to keep the answers brief. So, some posts, like this one, will address only one question. We’ll see how the rest go.

So, Roger’s question that I answer in this post is this:

I'm curious how you became such a political science geek when you were younger. I mean, it can't be just a pursuit of truth, justice and the American way. (Interestingly, when Chris asked me about why I knew all of the Presidents, I only then realized it had a LOT to do with JFKs assassination – answer forthcoming in a week or so.) [Edit: That post is now available]

Related: were you affected in issues of justice by books, TV shows, movies?

It’s an odd thing, but I can’t really remember a time I wasn’t interested in politics. I vaguely remember the Kennedy assassination (more his funeral, actually), and LBJ was the first president I was truly aware of, something that began with his election.

I’ve mentioned a few times now that one of my earliest memories is of a mock presidential election in our Kindergarten in 1964. I credit that experience with giving me my scepticism of the electoral process and commitment to fair elections. It also made me think of voting as something fun and exciting to do. I still feel that way.

Overall, my parents were my biggest influence. As I said a couple months ago, “My parents made me a left-of-centre voter. I don’t think they set out to do that, but then again, yes they did.” I think that post sums up their influence (and in it I also talk about the Kindergarten vote, too).

At the same time, I had a huge curiosity about things. I’d see stories on the TV news and want to know the why and how that the news report didn’t go into. So, like Roger, I read encyclopaedia articles, and also news magazines and Life Magazine. However, I don’t remember much teaching about current events in primary school.

That’s kind of strange, really, because this time had some pretty significant things happening in the background, starting with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, then Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. There was also the civil rights movement, protests against the Vietnam War and all the conflicts and related societal fracturing. Maybe that’s why there wasn’t more talk in school.

What I was able to learn in school and on my own became a sort of drug: I wanted more. It wasn’t just facts that I wanted to know, I also wanted to know things like why people voted the way they did. That led me to major in Political Science (and minor in History).

There’s a hard, cold fact that I was well aware of: A Bachelor’s degree in Political Science qualified me for a job in which my main duty would be to say, “Would you like fries with that?” But my intention up until the middle of my University years was to build a career in electoral politics, including eventually running for office myself. I’m currently working on a post specifically about that, but it obviously never happened. Instead, I turned that passion toward activism and then, years later, to blogging and podcasting. I learned a lot about how politics really works from those experiences, and my degree made that easier, even if it didn’t directly help me make money.

Throughout my life I’ve been influenced by books, TV shows and movies, though not usually directly—it was more inspiration or reinforcement. As a kid, I always liked lawyer shows where the lawyer fought for the innocent person. That same theme—fighting against injustice—appealed to me in TV, film and books alike. Aside from that, I was influenced, and even changed, by Maude. No other entertainment show on TV had a similar effect on me (though several others in the Norman Lear stable appealed to me, too, for largely political reasons). I was also a big fan of documentaries, like Frontline on PBS and anything by Bill Moyers. Books that influenced me included The Scarlet Letter, To Kill A Mockingbird, Black Elk Speaks, Johnny Got His Gun, Walden, Leaves of Grass and the poetry of Langston Hughes, all of which had elements of that theme I mentioned. I also read histories and biographies too numerous to mention.

I need to add that the vast majority of TV shows and films I watched and books and magazine articles I read had nothing whatsoever to do with politics. Sometimes, I was just curious about things or just wanted to be entertained.

So, mine was a slow evolution in which things built on what had gone before. However, while that initially included memorising a lot of facts, that’s no longer the case due to my memory being far less reliable than it was when I was younger. Instead, I now look everything up, even facts I’m “sure” about. It’s safe and sensible. As a bonus, though, I often learn new things along the way.

I began by saying that I can’t really remember a time I wasn’t interested in politics. I also can’t imagine a time that when won’t be interested in politics. To me, that’s the best part of all.

The previous posts in this series:
Ask Arthur
Arthur answers: Māori, Gays and Expat Longing

Related: Words and music


rogerogreen said...

I think the lawyer shows - especially The Defenders with E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed , had an effect on me as a social good, thus indirectly related to my political self.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

That's it exactly. I saw something intensely noble about standing up to injustice.