Articles like Joel Stein's recent Time magazine cover story on "The Me Me Me Generation," as well as books like Mark Bauerlein’s "The Dumbest Generation," are hallmarks of what has become quite a trend: legitimized "Millennial bashing."
They say we're lazy, narcissistic, and overly dependent on our electronics. That we're freeloaders who live at home for far too long.
Yes, some criticisms of those born between 1980 and 2000 are merited. But we Millennials are certainly more informed and engaged in civic discourse than our detractors realize. Our engagement just looks different than that of our boomer parents.
We're not just using social media to take "selfies." We are commenting on news, issues, public figures. My Facebook feed is populated by my peers posting articles and discussing topics both light-hearted and serious.
Perhaps the greatest testament to our generation's Internet commentary skills is our essential invention and popularization of the digital "meme" (rhymes with "cream").
The term was conceived by British behavioral scientist Richard Dawkins in 1976, and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it in general terms as "an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture." On the Internet in the 21st century, there are many kinds of memes – catchphrases, animations known as GIFs – but the most common type is an image overlaid with text. They're found on meme-specific websites and often go viral on social media.
Many memes are solely comical. Take the Business Cat meme, with lines like: "We need to focus on the fourth quarter. I batted the first three under the couch."
But memes are also used to make social observations and critiques. A meme that was recently popular on the social news website Reddit is Old Economy Steven. Tacked onto a photo of a boomer male in his 20s are lines like "Bought a house in his 20s with a 9-to-5 job that didn't require a bachelor's degree … says kids have it easy these days."
Memes have become an important forum for airing views – and inspiring discussion – on current events. BuzzFeed has put together a list of some of the best memes reacting to President Obama's announcement that he plans to strike Syria in response to alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Assad regime.
In the wake of the National Security Agency surveillance scandal, several popular memes made the rounds on the Internet. One features the National Security Agency's logo with a scathing caption: "The NSA, the only part of the government that actually listens." Probably the most popular features a morphed photo of Mr. Obama and President George W. Bush, with the caption "George W. Obama." It first appeared on the homepage of the Huffington Post and quickly went viral.
Political memes – and all memes, actually – are becoming more culturally significant. Increasingly, they have the potential to sway public opinion, which in turn, can move policy.
Joel Penney, an assistant professor at Montclair State University's School of Communication and Media, studies social media activism and memes. He blogged recently about two meme-like phenomena on social media and their connection to offline action. Surrounding the Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage this spring, many changed their social media profile picture to a red equal sign – a symbol of support for marriage equality.
Following George Zimmerman's acquittal in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, many people changed their profile avatars to a silhouette of a figure in a hoodie or with the phrase "Justice for Trayvon." Mr. Penney suggests the viral nature of the meme helped to foment protests and public outcry – outcry that made its way into remarks from the president himself.
Penney wrote this on his blog recently: "As an observer of social media and politics, I'm struck by how these campaigns confirm the popularity of the profile picture as a primary space for political expression and engagement in the online world."
The question is whether our memes move beyond wit, from commentary to commitment. We Millennials have been derided as "slacktivists" content with liking a social cause on Facebook or signing a Change.org petition – all from the comfort of home, thinking we've done enough.
The fuller picture, though, is that we are making a difference. Our online activities have potential to bring about real change. It's not just that we're web-savvy or confident. Studies show Millennials are civic-minded, tolerant, altruistic, open to change, and optimistic about the future – all ingredients for helping society move forward.
Millennials' memes are the new protest sign. The new letter to the editor. The new political cartoon. But in keeping with our generation, memes are free, communal, user-generated, and meritocratic. They reflect an informed engagement that older generations shouldn't be so quick to dismiss.
Colby Bermel is a sophomore at Principia College in Elsah, Ill. He was an intern with the Monitor's commentary desk this summer.
Even though George Zimmerman was acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin more than a week ago, public reaction to this highly charged case remains strong. Race and other issues continue as a hot topic on social media.
Doug Spero, a mass communication professor at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., wrote in a recent op-ed for the Monitor that he "couldn't believe the lack of balance in [TV news] coverage" of the Zimmerman trial.
We asked Monitor readers on Facebook how the media's coverage of the trial affected their perception of the case. One user summed up many of their sentiments well.
Jo-Dee Collins: "It didn't [affect my perception of the case]. It only affected my perception of the media."
Several readers spoke of what they saw as TV networks' push to increase ratings and profits.
Tim Irvin: "TV news media want ratings, because ratings mean profits. The best way they can do that is to sensationalize stories in a way that divides and conquers the masses, in a way that pits one half of ordinary people against the other. The elites – including media elites, corporate elites, political elites, and economic elites – can continue to stick it to the middle class as long as they can successfully get us to fight each other along the lines of race, gender, religion, and political party. They want us to hate each other – it keeps people fired up about current events, keeps them 'rooting on their side' and brings more money to those who already have lots of it."
Gerry Bulger: "It showed me that the media tried to create a race war to improve their ratings. Absolutely disgusting how all the 'news outlets' gave [Al] Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and [others] a pulpit to preach hate and intolerance."
Keith Vaglienti: "I can't say that [the media's coverage] affected my perception of the case or the media. Mainly because I don't have much faith in the media to begin with. … It is plain the media will lie to promote any agenda they support or simply to improve ratings so they can charge more for advertising."
Lee Woodward: "I would guess the American people were failed by the media because it was so overdone. Lots of other murder trials going on elsewhere – black on black [crime], crime waves in Chicago and other cities. These do not get national attention and this should not have either. Some, but not all, media intentionally fan the flames of racism to try to meet some agenda they may have."
Russell Allen Miller: "TV news has been showbiz since before Fox News came along, and I’m not sure if returning to an 'if it bleeds, it leads' philosophy would improve things. Fox News has made things worse by relentlessly distorting stories to fit into an ideological agenda. It is an equal shame that other networks are indulging in the same airheaded baloney with an opposite spin."
Other readers focused on what they see as the decline in the quality and unbiased integrity of the TV news media.
Symmi DeFrancesco: "The media is killing itself. No one trusts it anymore and the government either. It's a problem."
Gail Seaton Humbert: "I ignored it. It was their new O. J. Simpson trial. What I hated was how the world could be coming to an end and they still only would cover that trial. Grrrr!"
Gary Chavez: "Just proves a liberal bias!"
What do you think about this and other issues? Let us know on Facebook, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The deep civic divide over guns was the focus of an April 11, 2013 storytelling and civil dialogue hosted by The Christian Science Monitor in partnership with the Public Conversations Project and The Mantle Project.
Participants created questions of curiosity that would be tools for less polarized conversations. We include some of them here and we encourage you to add your own in the comments section:
What does a gun symbolize to you? What might it symbolize to others? What comes to mind when you think of all these symbols?
Could you imagine sitting down with someone who has a totally different perspective from yours on guns? And listening? Without interrupting?
Why do you care about the gun issue?
With the assumption that everyone wants to reduce gun deaths, why is the debate so polarized and why can't the multiple positions start from this area of common ground for policies and actions that are workable? Do you see any common ground between those for and against guns?
There seems to be a “gun rights” culture, a “gun control” culture, and maybe a “gun safety” culture. Are these cultures reconcilable? How might we develop a culture that has the benefits of all these without the risks of any of them?
If you were to become a gun owner, what would you do to ensure the safety of others around you? How would you care for the weapon? What steps would you take?
For gun owners: What are the top two or three positive emotions or feelings that guns bring to you and/or your family? What do you use your gun for?
For those against guns: What feelings do you associate with firearms? What are the factors that should be taken into account when regulating guns?
Are there ways to address the fears of gun advocates that would preserve their essential liberty while gaining their support for measures that would protect society better?
As a gun owner or supporter of firearms, what do you think would be the type of regulation or education that would be most useful in minimizing gun violence?
Is the instinct to defend life, liberty and loved ones innate biologically, spiritually, or a social construct?
How much has the popular media – movies, video, games, news – affected your view of guns?
How do we agree to disagree on the use of guns yet focus on preventing the misuse?
What interventions/strategies have been proven to improve gun safety?
Could you appreciate a dialogue on guns that acknowledges the presence and use of guns in our world rather than fans the fire of one “side” or another?
The Senate gun legislation dealing with background checks may have met a resounding defeat a few weeks ago, but the political debate on both sides of the gun issue is far from over. And the debate over dinner tables continues. On Sunday, police say that 19 people – including two children – were shot at a Mother's Day parade in New Orleans.
Is there a way to move this conversation ahead? Is there a better way to talk about guns?
Those are questions this news organization, in partnership with The Public Conversations Project and The Mantle Project, set out to explore a couple of weeks ago. The April 11 event was set up as an evening of storytelling by three individuals with different experiences with guns, followed by small-group dialogue among roughly 60 participants who had signed up to attend.
As an event participant, by the end of a night spent talking with and listening to strangers, I had drawn a pretty clear conclusion: For most Americans, policy debates are personal. And logjams in dialogue often come from our inability to recognize the personal stories and experiences that inform our views.
What if Americans shelved the policy debate and began their individual – and national – conversations by telling those personal experiences, focusing not on who is right, but on where people are coming from? It may not necessarily change minds or translate to political compromise, but it’s a good place to start – a foundation of understanding.
Admittedly, I come to this proposition with some skepticism. I’m an editor in the Monitor’s commentary section; I follow, commission, and edit opinions on controversial issues like gun control. The divisions on most heated subjects are stark – even among seasoned, pragmatic pundits.
On this Thursday evening in Boston’s Back Bay, I found myself sitting next to strangers on all sides of the gun-control issue. The event started with three stories – one from a gun enthusiast, one from a suicide prevention activist, and one from a father whose son was shot and killed.
These ordinary citizens were coached to tell the stories of how they came to their stances on guns by Nabil Laoudji. Mr. Laoudji founded The Mantle Projectto to showcase such stories and was recently profiled in the Monitor’s “People Making A Difference” feature.
Mark Timney spoke first. He’s a gun owner and gun lover. But little else about him fits neatly into a category. He’s a white, middle-aged college professor and former journalist. He owned his first gun at the age of five and became an avid trap shooter (competitive target shooting at clay pigeons).
Adult life took him on a series of twists and turns – divorce, career changes, depression – that ultimately led him away from shooting. It wasn’t until he hit “rock bottom” that he took it up again with an almost religious “born again” zeal, stoked by the book “Zen in the Art of Archery.” Rolling up his sleeve, he showed the audience a mantra tattooed in black ink across his forearm: “One arrow, one life.”
Elaine Frank then took the stage, adding dry wit and maternal candor. Hers was the only Jewish family in their cookie-cutter suburb of New York in the late 1960s. There she developed a “severe and chronic case of Christmas envy.” Moving later to Brookline, Mass., she graduated from what she called an “85 percent Jewish” high school.
That grounding in diverse worlds bred a bridge-building temperament – uniquely useful for what was to come in her relationship to guns. She spoke of a former Washington, D.C., neighbor who was killed in a drive-by shooting, a cousin who killed herself with a gun, and in her current hometown in New Hampshire, the accidental gun deaths of teenagers. Now she works with gun stores and dealers to promote firearm safety, particularly around suicide prevention.
The final speaker, Larry “Brother Lo” Banks, is a black father and grandfather from a Boston neighborhood plagued with violence, high unemployment, and all the statistics that go along with urban poverty. His story began the Sunday morning he received the deafening news that a mugger shot and killed his son.
But perhaps more wrenching for the audience was the emotional wrestling he underwent “between wanting to get back at who killed my son… and finding some sympathy” for the young man who did it. He described a moment – pinned on the floor of the morgue by his brothers after he’d begun clawing at the walls – when he said he felt touched by God.
In the days after his son’s death, he couldn’t stop thinking of the perpetrator – and the environment that led him to mug and kill his son. He pleaded with his son’s friends not to retaliate. And his mission continues today: With other community leaders, he works with youth, steering them away from crime. “When we have victories in the streets, I say to my son, ‘That was for you, man.’”
In a Q&A between the three storytellers and Laoudji, Brother Lo explained that he thinks guns are the vehicles for violence in his community, but that he doesn’t see them, alone, as the problem. The problem, he emphasized, is the lack of positive role models, the lack of opportunities for the young men he works with. The gun that belongs to the evening’s first speaker, Timney, isn’t doing anyone harm just sitting in his closet, Brother Lo says.
At this, Timney turns to him: “I would give up my guns in a second if I thought it could bring back your son.”
If this had been a policy debate, Brother Lo might have just conceded a vital point to the gun proponents: Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. But this wasn’t a policy debate. Instead, two people whose backgrounds and views diverged in almost every way possible shared a moment of honesty that struck at the heart of the matter.
And their truth set the tone for the conversations the audience was to have in small groups, guided by Bob Stains, director of The Public Conversations Project. PCP’S business is to train individuals and organizations to talk constructively on issues that involve differing values and views.
Mr. Stains explained the guidelines for the structured conversations we were to have: Share air time, seek to understand, refrain from attempts to persuade, ask genuine questions. Then we slid our chairs somewhat awkwardly to form groups of four or five strangers.
Each of us began by speaking for one, timed minute about our personal experience with guns.
One woman in my group was a graduate student, interested in public dialogue. Another was a mother deeply shaken by the Newtown shootings. A third was a man who had once signed up for a firearm instruction course to learn how to handle a gun so that he could commit suicide – a track he later abandoned. I offered my own varied experience with guns – family members who are gun owners and NRA members, my own work in an urban community grappling with gun violence, but no personal experience shooting a gun.
A young man named Cory was the only one in our group with extended, direct experience with guns. He prefaced his remarks by explaining that he felt out of his comfort zone. He had come prepared to debate an issue – not to share his personal story.
He wasn’t alone. The mother who was shaken by the Newtown shootings had a thick manila folder on her lap that was full of articles and “evidence” to support her stance against guns. For all her efforts “not to persuade,” her perspective was clear.
For Cory, being forced to think about his personal experience with guns stirred some disarming self-reflection. Growing up, guns were a big part of his life. As he grew up and moved to Boston, they fell away from his experience. Within a year, he says, he’d lost the emotional connection to them. But some of his friends had not. Their interest in guns increased – and he began distancing himself from them.
When asked, he couldn’t articulate why his shift of views and friendships had happened. But he did know he was being prompted on this evening to look at his feelings in a way he hadn’t before.
I began to wonder if that was the entire point of this event. The goal wasn’t to change minds or make policy points. Rather, each of us was sharing of ourselves, collectively questioning, learning, reviewing.
After the event concluded, the members of my group continued talking. Will this really do anything to move the public discussion forward? Are we just beating around the bush by avoiding policy and sticking to polite and personal stories?
Frankly, I’m not sure. But I do know that if we had launched into a policy discussion afterward, and I had disagreed with someone’s stance, that person would not have been the faceless, amorphous “other side.” And I might have understood better how that individual’s story had shaped their view.
Cory told us that in countries torn by conflict, researchers have found that when former enemies work and interact together, their attitudes about the other group change. This personal interaction is far more effective in changing perceptions than first trying to teach groups to change their attitudes so they can later work together.
But I wonder if there were any real “enemies” in the audience or on stage that night. Were we representative enough of the vast swath of American society – or those who hold the most extreme views on gun ownership?
Admittedly, we were a self-selecting group, but it seems the model itself – not necessarily the participants – is what gave legs to the conversation.
Not all of us are sharp debaters or moving orators. But each of us is the expert on our own personal experience. If we begin with that story, and listen to others’ accounts, we start from an even playing field of individual experience. It just might set the stage for something more.
About seven months into my time as a Boston transplant, I witnessed the 2012 Boston Marathon. The heat was unbelievable, rendering otherwise healthy athletes immobile after hours on the course. But somehow the race and the energy of the day drew me in.
I barely considered myself a Bostonian and definitely never before thought about running a marathon. My body wasn’t made for it; journalists don’t have time for that kind of training, and boy do marathoners look beat up by 26.2!
Boston comes alive on Marathon Monday, and it's impossible to ignore the sense of community, pride, and joy that surround the race. My desire to be a part of that trumped all of my excuses.
Nine months later I was signed on as a fundraiser for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and was running to and from work, and blocking out long hours on freezing cold Boston weekends to make sure I could cross the finish line come April. The days leading up to the race were filled with notes and phone calls from people across the city – they’d be out there cheering me on to the finish line.
But I didn’t complete my first marathon. At mile 25.7, after already mentally penning my celebratory email (“I finished, I didn’t walk once, and I NEVER HAVE TO DO IT AGAIN!”) I hit a wall of dazed, shuffling athletes. “They won’t let you finish,” one man told me as I slowed to a stop. “There was an explosion.”
I didn’t hear or see the bombs at the finish line yesterday, and I didn’t fully understand what occurred until hours later, safe at home with ice packs perched on my knees, reading the coverage and the scores of texts, emails, and voicemails of concerned friends and family.
But I’m confident that the incomplete race and the terror that ensued for the many people near the bombings yesterday afternoon will not be what I remember most vividly about April 15, 2013.
I’ll remember the fast and fleeting friendships I made on the course, like the Venezuelan couple grappling with the results of a close presidential election in their country the night before, or the gentleman who asked me to hold his chicken hat while he adjusted his bright yellow wig. It was an honor to share a few strides with the blind and visually impaired guided runners on the course who were a part of my marathon team, and it reminded me of the incredible work my fundraising would enable across the state.
The spectators were what got me from mile to mile – calling out my name (which was written on my jersey) as if they had come out just for me, and handing out orange slices, licorice, ice pops, and ample high-fives. The cheering crowd of Wellesley College students before the half-marathon mark had me laughing out loud with their witty signs listing all the reasons runners should pause and give them kisses. The old woman calling from the sideline on "heartbreak hill" that I was welcome to join her for a lemonade and sprawl out on a lawn chair made me smile so big I think I gleaned an extra mile of energy. By the time I reached what I’m calling my "mile of tears” between 23.5 and 24.5, my boyfriend had joined me and was working the crowd getting them to scream my name and propel me toward the finish.
I regret not finishing yesterday’s race, but it doesn’t change the power of the tradition of racing on Patriot's Day and all that it does to bring together the greater Boston community. The bombings were tragic and terrifying, but they didn’t define my first marathon and they won’t mar this tradition.
Already there are simple signs of community and togetherness. There were the customers treated to free coffee at a downtown Starbucks this morning thanks, one customer was told, to a woman who called in from Connecticut to make the donation. Apparently a generous stranger had done the same for her community after the Sandy Hook shootings. Two Facebook users created an event called "The last mile," to take place this weekend: an informal mile run to the finish line for those who were unable to complete yesterday's race. And friends of friends have put out calls for more donations to my fundraiser.
Who knows, maybe I’ll modify that draft email: “I [almost] finished, I didn’t walk once, and I [MIGHT JUST] HAVE TO DO IT AGAIN!”
Whitney Eulich is the Latin America editor at The Christian Science Monitor.
It is gut-wrenching that 1.2 million students in US public schools fail to earn their high school diploma each year. But many of these students do have another option. They can pursue the equivalent – a General Education Development diploma, or GED.
I teach students preparing for the GED exam at a program called GED Plus in Boston. This state-sponsored adult education service deals with the most difficult cases – “at-risk” young adults aged 16 to 24.
While teens in mainstream high schools are choosing a dress or tux for prom this month, my students are studying for their exam as parents, ex-offenders transitioning back to society, non-English speakers, and patients combating disease. They are trying to find affordable and safe housing, fighting for custody of their children, and looking for work.
I’m learning that success means helping students with the hurdles they face out-of-class and giving them a safe, nonjudgmental place to learn in class. That’s the only way they can get over this most basic educational finish line.
But even achieving that is much harder than it sounds.
First, many of my students lack basic knowledge of reading and math, though they are resilient and brave – and creative. I’ve seen some startlingly off-base approaches to long division, essay writing, and adding and subtracting fractions. We focus on relearning the fundamentals.
Studying for the GED exam is simply not comparable to the SAT experience. My students often feel like everything and everyone is against them.
“The government don’t care about us!” one blurted out during class after I explained the GED requirements. He is 23 years old and dropped out of high school after getting arrested and charged with possession of a firearm. He served three years in prison.
I empathize with these learners, and understand the stigmas they face in the outside world. Yes, the government will be against you, I say, if you break the law and don’t take full advantage of programs like this one. I do not believe in using obstacles as excuses.
That said, these students do need help clearing the hurdles in their lives, and our program works hard to do that. It offers counseling, links students with organizations that employ inner-city youth, and assists them in transitioning to college.
We also offer small classes that give educators the flexibility to work one-on-one with students (I’m teaching 10 students this semester). After about a week that includes a lot of individual attention, I find most of my students comprehend the material. Many teachers are also social workers. We emphasize positive reinforcement and confidence building.
“The relationships that we develop and nurture with students are of utmost importance because they will not care about what we know until they know that we care,” says Jason Marshall, the director of GED Plus.
Kathiel Matos-Curry attended GED Plus more than six years ago after dropping out of high school in her freshman year. Just hearing from her GED teacher that she would pass the exam in two months inspired her. She passed, and today she is our office manager. She motivates students to focus on their education. “If I can do it, so can they,” she says.
And yet, I can also see how much further a program like ours still needs to go. We graduate 50 percent of our students – the same as the national average for GED programs, which serve 700,000 students each year.
You could argue our graduation rate is a decent showing, considering the challenges our students face. We’re often pointed to as a “success story” in Boston education. But I would argue for even more safety-net assistance – mental health and social services, especially for students who experience trauma, homelessness, and gang-related problems.
A young man in my class is trying to get over the death of his older brother and best friend who were shot and killed a year apart from each other. Yes, he’s pursuing his education, but he also drinks to numb the hurt. He needs help from an on-site counselor, but we have only one full-time counselor to assist 64 students.
Since September, when I started teaching, three women have entered my class at least eight months pregnant. They gave birth before they finished their GED preparation. They are welcome to come back to the program – which is free – but they can’t afford child care.
The majority of our graduates go on to job training programs or community college. I take pride in that. But sometimes their futures aren’t so bright. Last week, one of my students was forced to drop out of our program because street rivals threatened him every day on his way to school. He still wanted to earn his GED so he could become a chef to obtain a better life for his daughter. But he was afraid.
I have learned that I cannot play superman and save everyone. But at least I can prepare students who stay with the program for their GED, and assure them that if anyone has their best interest at heart, I do.
Nakia Hill is a journalism graduate student at Emerson College in Boston and an intern on the Commentary desk at The Christian Science Monitor.
What a day to live in Washington, a city disparaged by so many Americans.
At 9:30 this morning, I laced up my office set of tennis shoes, pushed back from my desk, and walked down to the Washington Monument to witness the final flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery. After three decades of space travel, this aeronautic workhorse was flying piggy-back on a modified Boeing 747 to its resting place at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum annex in northern Virginia.
People streamed in modest rivulets toward the National Mall: tourists and bureaucrats, people of all races, Republicans and Democrats, foreigners and school kids. Just before 10 a.m., from the direction of the State Department, the jet and its distinct roof-top baggage rumbled low and slow across the mall, bisecting the space between the Washington and Lincoln memorials and swooping toward the Jefferson Memorial. The crowd, not as big as I expected, let out a quiet cheer.
They pointed toward the sky as if they were looking at Superman. And in a way, they were. Discovery represents a super achievement in the American space program, flying the most missions of any of the shuttles.
And she cut a noble profile, coming from behind the freshly leafing trees, breaking out into the open amid a blue and partly-cloudy sky. People clapped quietly, called out "cool" and "awesome," and lamented the demise of the 30-year space shuttle program. And of course, everyone got it on video on their phones.
Spectators hung about hoping for an encore. They were not disappointed. Within a few minutes, there she was again, circling back, accompanied by a small escort jet, this time flying directly over the south lawn of the White House. I saw her make two more leisurely passes over the area before I headed back to work. A generous show for all. Indeed, a reflection of the generous and hopeful American spirit that unites us.
As a journalist in the nation's capital, it's easy to get cynical about the state of the country and the state of our politics. But then something like this comes along as a reminder of the country's past accomplishments and the possibilities ahead.
Today is a great day to be an American. And, dare I say it? To be a Washingtonian.
“Caine’s Arcade” first popped up on my Facebook newsfeed on Monday, with endorsements like: “one of the most beautiful, incredible things I have seen in a long time. I cried my eyes out.”
I clicked and watched the 11-minute film, tears swamping my guarded cynicism as a 9-year-old boy created an arcade made from cardboard boxes in the front section of his father’s autoparts store in East LA – his very own small business.
Then I let out mental fist-pumps when hipster filmmaker Nirvan Mullick organized a flash mob to bring little Caine Monroy some customers. I tagged my own subsequent post of the film “Best. Thing. Ever.” Nuanced, right?
By the time something makes it to my Facebook newsfeed, I know I’m already a bit behind the 8-ball on a trend. I wondered how long it would take mainstream media – so driven by Internet trends – to pick up the story: Days? Hours? Is this the next Kony 2012?
By Thursday afternoon, most of my immediate family members had seen the video and exchanged gushing emails, texts, and Facebook mentions with comments like “restores my faith in humanity” and “evidence that God exists” (literally) and “reminds me of something we/you would have done as kids.”
On Thursday, too, the isolated corners of the Monitor’s newsroom were abuzz discussing “Caine’s Arcade.” Not the Fox mole writing for Gawker. Or Ann Romney the stay-at-home mom vs. Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen. Or charges against George Zimmerman. Or North Korea’s impending rocket launch. Or talks with Iran. By the afternoon, the Monitor’s National News editors were discussing the next “Caine’s Arcade” story angle.
We “serious news organizations” sometimes complain about the ways in which crowd-controlled web currents and Google traffic trends dictate our coverage. Veteran journalists have been known to grumble that they’re at the whim of the lowest common denominator – Internet fads driven by fleeting public curiosity.
But the Caine’s Arcade phenomenon – and the mainstream media coverage that has followed – makes me happy to be at the whim of the web this time. America chose right with this trend.
That’s because the “trivial” trend we’re covering this week doesn’t look like a TMZ-derivative. Nor has it inspired ire a la the Kony 2012 backlash. And I’ve seen no self-righteous finger wagging at us for covering such “fluff.”
Studies indicate that news consumers want the positive stories – spotlighting hope, highlighting progress. While “Caine’s Arcade” flirts with “fluff,” its evolution from web trend to news topic bears noting. Its emergence speaks to the symbiotic relationship that “we the people” have with “the new media landscape.” Public interest fuels the news cycle, which, in turn, feeds public interest.
For all our crusty journalist complaints about the new era of news coverage, Caine Monroy made the virtual front page for all the right reasons. The film recalls universal threads of a great American story: ingenuity, hard work, goodwill, community.
The Caine’s Arcade phenomenon is more than an opiate to distract from “bad news.” It provides another example of how the crowd-sourced web-based world can inform media coverage. And better yet – how the social, viral nature of Web 2.0 inspires action.
Interconnected youths fomented Arab Spring uprisings via Facebook and Twitter. A Change.org petition helped bring the Trayvon Martin case into the light. Online rage encouraged Bank of America to recall its plan to charge $5 monthly debit card fees.
And Caine Monroy now has more than $100,000 in a college scholarship fund.
Tensions with Iran are high – and keep getting higher.
Iran has met the sanctions with threats: to close the vital Strait of Hormuz – and worse. In fact, Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently ordered the regime’s armed forces to prepare for war. In his State of the Union address, President Obama, who has long urged diplomacy with Iran, asserted that “America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.” Congress cheered.
The views on “what to do with Iran” are heated. We recently published an op-ed from two former US hostages in Iran, L. Bruce Laingen and John Limbert, who give “Five reasons to avoid war with Iran.” Earlier this week we ran a contrasting view from Council on Foreign Relations fellow Matthew Kroenig. He offers “Five reasons to attack Iran.”
Our readers on Facebook had strong and plentiful reactions to the two pieces. We’ve selected and excerpted some of the most compelling comments below.
We asked: Do you agree with the opinion of this commentator? “5 Reasons to attack Iran”
"Absolutely not. The only justifiable reason to go to war with Iran is if Iran attacks an ally. If Pakistan (the country that was borderline harboring Osama bin Laden under our noses) is allowed to have nuclear weapons, then why can’t Iran? That’s like telling the US that they can’t have nuclear weapons, but Mexico can. Also, when was the last time Iran invaded the Western hemisphere? Oh wait, that’s right, THEY HAVEN’T. But we have invaded Iraq and Afghanistan – two countries, which by the way, neighbor Iran – so wouldn’t it make sense for Iran to try to deter the US?"
"A nuclear-armed Iran will learn what every other nuclear-armed state already knows: The weapons themselves are the bluntest of instruments. An Iran with one or even 10 or 20 nuclear missiles cannot credibly threaten nuclear war because it would be, essentially, nuclear suicide; the US, Russia, and China still have overwhelming nuclear superiority over it and will for the forseeable future. As for whether it will increase the rate of proliferation; certainly, but Iran isn’t the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the region. That would be Israel, followed by Pakistan and Syria."
"NO! Pre-emptive strikes are usually a bad idea. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it until enough people listen: It’s time for the US to stop going around being the world’s policeman. The US government should continue doing what it’s already doing, namely, working hand-in-hand with her allies to be a single, focused entity in this matter, as well as all other matters of international import."
"...[B]oth Russia and China have warned us about attacking Iran. China is economically dependent on the United States, but oil dependent on Iran, and unless Saudi Arabia steps in to fill the vacuum, I doubt they will endorse an attack on Iran from the United States. In fact, I think the United States is overreacting as usual, and I’d say the problem here is American “exceptionalism” going head to head with what the author called Iran’s “grossly inflated view of their place in the world”."
“The problem is Iran’s leaders not their civilians or children.”
“No, I do not agree completely with the writer. But, the way things appear, I would say that warring on Iran is inevitable.”
A day later we posted this:
Opinion: Five reasons US must avoid war with Iran. Any that you would remove/add to the list?
“Iran is the only country with/without nukes that has openly and repeatedly hinted and threatened that they want to erase the Jews from the map. And people think it’s a good idea for them to have nukes? Then why did the UN put sanctions on them? Gee, a clerical regime of an Islamic republic...engaged in multiple terrorist acts, knowingly supplying, arming, training, funding, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Madi army in Iraq...and now supporting the Assad regime [in Syria]? Maybe that’s the big difference between Iran and other countries with nukes? Oh, and what other muslim countries were [reportedly] directly affiliated with Hitler and the Nazis in WWII? Hmm. Ya you’re right, we should just let them have nukes and mind our own business. Ya.”
“The US will be poorer since it costs money to...wage wars with other nations and will cause more civil unrest due to the current economic standing in the US.”
Kevin J. O’Conner
“Because it’s a huge waste of human life, money, and a number of other resources.
I would also add that:
Whether the US government likes it or not, Iran is a sovereign nation, and should be able to determine its own policies and courses of action.
The US stance that it can have nuclear weapons but other nations cannot is hypocritical.
The former Soviet block must have hundreds, if not thousands of nuclear weapons; China probably does, too. Not to mention however many Pakistan has. And North Korea. Where is the rush to act militarily against any of these countries? I’m guessing it’s primarily hiding behind the realization that Russia and China probably have enough nukes to take out the US and/or Europe.
Iran with *a* nuclear weapon is a threat to the US? IRAN? Does the US government really think that the Iranian government is *that* competent?”
Add to the dialogue back on our Facebook page.