Do you know about Uncle Rob? I didn't until this week, when a friend sent me a link to one of his YouTube "instructional" videos. It was called "How to Listen to a Luke Bryan CD."
It begins with Uncle Rob lighting his barbecue grill, then he demonstrates how to put beer in a cooler, then he shows you how to put a Luke Bryan CD in a portable player ... then it gets weird.
"Then," Uncle Rob says, "pour gasoline in a bucket. Then, drop your CD player in the bucket." (At this point, I should point out that the CD player is plugged in to a power cord.) "Then," Rob continues, standing 20 feet away, "plug it in."
Then, (Rob says "then" a lot.) there is an immensely satisfying, fiery explosion, which is replayed in slo-mo a couple of times.
"Then," Rob says, plopping down in a lawn chair, "crack open a beer and listen to Skynyrd, like a real man."
Then, of course, I went down the Uncle Rob wormhole on YouTube, watching a dozen of his helpful videos — "How to Clean a Litter Box," "How to Use a Weedeater," "Hot to Cook Hotdogs," "How to Tailgate," "How to Fix a Jammed Printer," etc.
It may come as no surprise to you at this point, that all of Uncle Rob's videos involve fiery explosions with gasoline. I particularly liked "How to Clean a Litter Box."
Then, I realized I'd never heard a Luke Bryan song (hey, it was a slow night), so I tubed my way over to his latest video, "Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset." It's about as trite and awful as any piece of music I've ever heard. It involves young Luke getting hired to paint a lake house and the daughter of his employer showing up in "tank top and cut-off jeans." After that, well, as the lyrics say, it's just "sunrise, sunburn, sunset, repeat," accompanied by visuals of pretty young white people cruising around in a boat and jumping in a lake. The melody is modern-Nashburg boilerplate; the lyrics are a bro-core Playboy fantasy.
But Uncle Rob and Luke Bryan both have millions of YouTube views, so they've figured out something about connecting with young people.
If only we had a way to connect with young people to convince them to vote. Yeah, that was a really clumsy segue, but I just saw the early voting numbers for Shelby County and they were really depressing. Not so much the totals, because Shelby County led the state in early voting, with 86,000 people participating in our democratic process. No, what was depressing was the fact that only around 10,000 people under 40 voted. More than 63,000 of Shelby's early voters were over 50.
I get that many young folks are clueless about how to vote and where to vote — and why it matters. Our education and poverty levels have a lot to do with that. But there are tens of thousands of educated, non-poor people under 40 who just aren't voting. And they don't care because they don't think voting makes any difference. They don't care because they don't think their lives have been directly affected by politicians and policy decisions. No one has taken away their health care — or they think they don't need it. No one has taken their right to choose or their right to marry or their right to vote. No one has shot up their high school with an AR-15.
People get active in a democracy when they think issues directly affect them. Folks who were affected by Jim Crow and restrictive voting laws marched in the streets, voted, and changed our segregation laws. Young people affected by the draft in the Vietnam era marched in the streets, voted, and changed our draft laws — and got the country out of a pointless war.
What will it take to break this younger generation's apathy toward the political process? I don't know. Maybe Uncle Rob putting out a "How to Vote" video and blowing up a Diebold machine?