It's symptomatic of much of what I dislike about American culture these days, and why I am dissatisfied with my peer group.
For those of you unwilling to read the Salon article, or sit through the 30 second advertisement required to read it for free, the two sites are votergasm.org and FtheVote.com. Votergasm promotes a plan where people sign a pledge to A) sleep with a voter on election day...night and B) Withhold sex from non-voters for either one week or four years. FtheVote instructs sexy liberals to screw conservatives in exchange for their agreement to vote against George W. Bush on election day.
Let's start with votergasm. Yes it's supposed to be funny, despite the founder's assertion that it's also supposed to have a serious element, but while humor is great this is humor based on shoddy logic and shallow thinking. Frankly I'm getting sick of claims that voting for voting's sake is some sort of great and patriotic act. It's not. It's 30 minutes to a couple hours in a line and 2 minutes in a booth. Each individual vote is mostly irrelevant. What counts is engaged citizenship. Studying the issues, paying attention to what's going on in the world, trying to unspin the media, and generally being a politically savvy person. Votes for politicians are like electric prods for trained animals. They are the last line of defense against their misbehavior. It is the fear of being voted out of office that traditionally tempers the behavior of politicians, along with the fear of censure or impeachment, which is one of the arguments against term limits. An informed and thinking populace is the best way to keep our leaders on the straight and narrow. They need to know that if they step out of line they will pay for it the next time their names are on the ballot.
Only they don't. Americans vote in incumbents again and again because of name recognition and the fear of the unknown, and this is one of the reasons our government is out of control. Even now there are people arguing that George Bush, despite his long record of disastrous decisions and lies to the public, should be re-elected because he has experience. Jack Kevorkian has experience in the field of elder-care but I wouldn't trust him with my grandmother if I wanted to see her again. Votergasm doesn't talk about becoming informed. It doesn't link to informative sites. It is a completely superficial approach to politics that renders it meaningless.
Then there's the sex part, which is just reprehensible. While I think that people should be allowed to have casual sex if they so choose I don't support the attitude that sex is something with no downsides. In his latest column TMQ mentions that a New Republic editor pointed out that we only get one go round in life and should have as much fun, and sex, as possible during that go-round. That view has some merit to it, but physical pleasures are not the only kind that count, and the costs of too much sex drugs and alcohol can be great. With sex there are physical and emotional risks, regardless of how much protection one uses, of any kind. Saying that young Americans aren't having enough sex, and that people should have sex on election night regardless of whether or not they have an appropriate partner, is bordering on irresponsible, especially if you claim to take yourself seriously.
Then there's the matter of partner selection. Whether or not someone voted is a rather arbitrary reason to have sex with them or not. It is an important act, despite the previously stated limitations of that importance, but it's certainly not all-encompassing. Voting is a demonstration of character, but when it comes to a partner it's that character that counts, not the outward manifestations of it. There are people who don't vote because they feel disenfranchised by all of the choices, and that's a legitimate position. There are people who don't vote because they're sick, or too busy, or because they are too young, or their registrations were destroyed, or for a thousand different reasons. In the end, in the full measure of a life, it doesn't REALLY matter. Then, of course, there's the fact that it encourages people to cheat on non-voting spouses or puts them in a bind if a voting spouse doesn't feel like having sex after George Bush wins his second term and dooms the world to more bloodshed and conflict.
FtheVote is even worse, of course. Not only does it encourage both vote-buying and prostitution, but it encourages them in a situation where payment can't really be assured. I guess you could make the person fill in an absentee ballot and mail it in while watching them, but what happens in the booth stays in the booth and nobody will know whether they voted for Bush or not. Personally I think that in addition to being a joke it's an excuse for liberal women to have sex with the conservative men they (not so) secretly crave. Women love assholes and confidence. Conservative guys tend to be fairly confident assholes. It's a match made in heaven. For their part many conservative men like liberal women, who tend to be more...interesting...in bed and will happily lie, or betray their principles and beliefs, to get laid. If taken at face value it's an irresponsible, if possibly well-intentioned, act of voting fraud. If looked into it may just be a way to excuse choosing a prick for a sexual partner with a clear conscience.
I'm sure people will say, or at least think, that I'm taking this whole thing way too seriously. I'm not. I recognize that both sites are supposed to be funny and that political humor and be a positive and engaging force. On the other hand this sort of thing DOES both reflect and influence the culture, and in this case it's a pernicious influence. I saw the woman who runs Votergasm on the Al Franken show sitting there trying to look very urbane and sophisticated as she said that she couldn't have sex with 30,000 people in one day because it was physically impossible. Al and his partner looked slightly uncomfortable, but still amused. Oh look, the young people are talking about sex. That sells advertising time and keeps listeners tuned in. I'm probably more distressed over the media attention this crap has received than the actual content of it. This is a CRITICAL election. There are issues out there being under-reported or not really talked about at all. Do we really need to spend time talking about sophomoric prank websites. You might argue that I am right now, but trust me, if I thought that this blog had any sort of influence on anyone's voting or political knowledge I would not. My lack of an audience relieves me of responsibility. Al Franken, Salon.com, what's your excuse?