Chris Evans covers the current issue of Newsweek. It’s a little bit odd, but sure. He’s not on the cover because of his films or his general movie stardom. He’s promoting his political-explainer site, A Starting Point, which is being embiggened by Newsweek as some kind of genius thing to appeal to Generation Z (meaning teens and people in their early 20s). We’ve talked about A Starting Point before and I still think it’s not the best idea or execution. It’s basically just getting politicians to speak on camera for a few minutes about this issue or that issue. Videos for people with short political attention-spans, basically. At best, it’s a chance to see politicians explain complicated political issues without being shouted down, fact-checked or filibustered. At worst, it’s actively engaging in both-sidesism by pretending a–holes like Ted Cruz and Dan Crenshaw are not trying to destroy American democracy from within. Chris has been called out on his enormous privilege for this and other things. But I guess he’s rebranding, with Newsweek’s help. Some highlights:
For a year and a half, Chris Evans has been quietly working the halls of the Capitol, occasionally in person, in an effort to persuade senators and representatives to put aside their hyper-partisan hyperbole and explain, in under two minutes, their views on politics and policy to a new generation of young potential voters.
The two-minute interviews are posted to A Starting Point, an app and website that Evans co-founded with director and actor Mark Kassen and health care entrepreneur and philanthropist Joe Kiani. Politicos talking policy may seem like heavy fare for the TikTok cohort, but the venture has so far defied gravity. It has more than 140,000 Instagram followers and 72,000 followers on Twitter—big numbers for politics-only content, especially given the site’s non-partisan approach. (In spite of the focus on the TikTok generation, A Starting Point isn’t active there, conceding that territory to younger posters.) “I love the idea of getting concise information from the people who are most involved in the political process, in their own words, without any journalistic spin,” says Evans. “This is about understanding who these people in office are, and how they’re voting.”
“When I was a teenager, politics felt like something that was far away from what mattered to me,” says Evans. “Maybe if I had had a chance to listen to powerful voices from someone like a Katie Porter, I’d have been inspired and curious.”
Chris Evans wasn’t thinking about any of that back in 2017 when he used Google to search for an unfamiliar legislative acronym he had heard on the TV news. He doesn’t recall the acronym, but he clearly remembers his frustration in having to wade through search results that failed to deliver a quick, clear answer about the policy issue he was concerned about. “You can find a 30-second video on how to do almost anything,” Evans says. “But where do you go to get a quick breakdown on a political issue, and hear what both sides have to say about it? It felt like a big missing piece to me.”
To provide that piece, Evans recruited Kassen, a friend since working together on the 2011 film Puncture, and Kiani. The three co-founded A Starting Point to fill the gap in here-are-the-issues online information. Since they were aiming at Gen Z, they decided to stick with short videos. To keep the tenor informational—and to avoid vicious, snarky food-fights—the site has no comments or “likes.” “You have these curious young voters who throw in a political comment on a website, and suddenly they’re bombarded with vitriol,” says Evans. “We didn’t want to be part of that nasty landscape.”
Evans was also determined to let both sides have their say. That was a tough decision for him, he admits, given that he himself is an outspoken progressive. “We saw a lot of people in one party really show a shortage of integrity in recent years,” he says. “That makes it hard to put them on the same plane as the other party.”
The thing is, the root of this is genuinely trying to provide a solution to a legitimate problem, which is that people in Generation Z do tend to have major lapses in their education when it comes to how government functions, why public policies exist, what laws really mean, etc. There are profound generational gaps in education on just basic civics and government. But guess what the solution to that problem is? NOT both-sidesing fundamental issues and platforming fascists who are happy to misrepresent their actual political philosophies. Chris tells Newsweek that A Starting Point bans “falsehoods, baseless claims and conspiracy theories,” meaning they allow Republicans to do videos about why they’re against voting rights, but they can’t promote 2020 election conspiracies.
You know what I keep thinking about? The popularity, across the board, of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, where he does lengthy explainers on one issue every week. That show is massively popular with Gen Z as well, which shows that they don’t need to be spoonfed TikTok-like two-minute clips about politics. Kids understand nuance, even if there are gaps in their political education. My point is that A Starting Point should have teachers, experts, professors and comedians explaining this sh-t.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, social media. Cover courtesy of Newsweek.