Politics, MTV-Style

WHEN MTV, the cable music network, conducted a recent poll of young adults, it found this: Only 19 percent said they are politically involved; 64 percent said they don't have a political hero; 56 percent think policies proposed by President Clinton and other world leaders have ''no effect'' on them; 42 percent said the same of Republicans in Congress.

If we don't think it's relevant to our lives, we won't pay attention, these interviewees seemed to suggest. Fortunately, MTV - well known for its music videos, and infamous for such perennially stupid shows as Beavis and Butt-Head - refuses to leave it at that.

In 1992, the network devoted hours of programming to its ''Choose or Lose'' election campaign coverage, winning a Peabody Award in the process. Its goal was to get young people to pay attention to the presidential race and to vote. It certainly didn't hurt: The number of 18- to 24-year-olds who voted in 1992 went up by 20 percent compared with 1988. ''Choose or Lose'' is set to go again in '96, despite what appears to be greater indifference this time around.

What we need more of is what MTV already has proved itself good at: connecting turned-off and apathetic young Americans to the issues, and domestic and global political figures and their ideas to nonvoters. Newt Gingrich, for example, sat down with a group of six twentysomethings this summer for an MTV roundtable discussion on issues of concern to them.

The latest addition to the MTV roster is a series of specials called ''The Interview,'' the first of which aired last week. Sandwiched between talks with rap star Tupac Shakur and actor Sean Penn was an interview with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. With Mr. Arafat, news anchor Tabitha Soren was not as polished as veterans such as Ted Koppel, Barbara Walters, or Larry King might have been, but she held her own. She covered the standard queries about terrorism and missteps in the peace process, for example.

But she also asked questions Mr. Koppel and Mr. King might not think of: what Arafat was like as a 16-year-old, his love for cars, why he delayed marriage. She wondered what her generation could learn from the peace process and about Arafat's impressions of young Americans - making the connection between their experiences and the sometimes confusing Israeli/Palestinian situation.

''I like their style of life,'' Arafat replied, adding some advice. Young Americans should become more interested in the ''international vision,'' he said. In other words, they should see the relevance of politics - global and domestic - to their own lives.

MTV asks world leaders questions that Ted Koppel and Larry King might not think of.

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