Pundits have been asking—since presumably the beginning of time—how to get young people to the polls. Noah Centineo, heartthrob extraordinaire Peter Kavinsky in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, might’ve found an answer: Don’t make fun of their entertainment. Use it.
In tandem with his business partner and friend Josh Heller, Centineo has launched an immersive pop-up experience in Los Angeles delightfully titled “Fuck This I’m Voting,” a sort of all-hands-on-deck call to influencers in the area who can use the experience to broadcast ~cool~ voting messages to their millions of followers. Centineo’s theory is simple: Young people don’t absorb information the same way their parents and grandparents did. Door-to-door solicitation and TV ads aren’t going to work. They feel disenfranchised, confused by the system, and overwhelmed with information. They want a simple slogan and a clear message (which helps explain the emphasis on voting merch this election season), and they want something that speaks to their soul. Art does that. So throw their favorite influencers—the people they pay the most attention to—into a voting-themed arthouse and give them free rein to share the messages with their audience? Boom: Young people engaged.
If “Fuck This I’m Voting” sounds simple, that’s because it is. And if you’re rolling your eyes, you’re probably over the age of 24. So-called Gen Z- and millennial-targeted “experiences” have earned a reputation for vapidity, but in Centineo’s case, he recognizes the value of putting good information with a strong social message behind a pretty Instagram filter. In a high-anxiety election year, it’s actually soothing. “The point of this is to help the cause,” he says. “But it’s also to be artistic and to de-stigmatize [voting] and make it something that can be fun and engaging and less stressful.”
Centineo knows something himself about voting stigma. He didn’t vote in 2016, in large part because he felt the Electoral College to be an unfair system—a belief he holds to this day. But in the four years since President Donald Trump was elected, he’s learned the importance of every name on the ballot, and realized how much it matters that citizens have a say in their elected officials. “I understand that we can vote on much more than just the presidency,” he says.
Two and a half years ago, he met several social justice activists, including When We Band Together co-founder Xander Schultz, who became a “brother and a mentor.” These meetings led him to co-found Favored Nations, a nonprofit that teams up with artists and influencers to spread social justice messages and raise money for initiatives like an emergency relief fund that supplies PPE during the coronavirus pandemic. “Fuck This I’m Voting” is the latest FN initiative.
Centineo and Heller partnered with NextGen America, Vote Save America, and HeadCount to inform and register voters through the installation, which is notably nonpartisan. Considering Centineo is a vocal supporter of Black Lives Matter, this was an interesting decision. “Me and Josh, we have our own personal identities and values and ideals when it comes to voting, but the gallery doesn’t,” Centineo says. “The gallery’s very straightforward and it doesn’t vilify anyone.”
Added Heller, “From the research we’ve had with the people [who] have come through our space and our community of Favored Nations members, [we’ve found] there is a fear of voting for the incorrect president. Therefore, they completely dismiss the idea of voting about anything else. Our goal is to encourage and inspire people to vote.”
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Tiktok media brand Flighthouse is supporting the pop-up alongside Castle, an upcoming creator club, so influencers with large followings—such as Kylie Jenner, who recently toured the pop-up—are the only ones brought into the invite-only space during the pandemic. But anyone can tour the glowing purple halls and view the “give a shit” neon sign virtually in VR, and they’re encouraged to use the online tools, where they can design their own ballot and record a video explaining why they’re voting this year.
Centineo doesn’t claim to have created “the standard of excellence when it comes to registering people to vote.” But he is proud of the energy behind the installation, a project that caters to young people’s interests rather than belittling them. His plan is for “Fuck This I’m Voting” to launch a network of pop-ups that last long past the election. And when the pandemic ends for good, he’s eager to open the doors to everyone.
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