Monday, June 9, 2014

"The Medium is the Message"

There are people in your life who you cannot live without. Those are easy to understand. The far more difficult to place within the context of your own life are the ones who make such a subtle, yet profound impact. In many cases, you might not even realize they are there until they’re gone.

I was a senior in high school, looking for an English credit when I signed up for Media Analysis. I wasn’t particularly passionate about the class. It just sounded interesting.

It didn’t take long, though, for the teacher to prove his incredible passion and enthusiasm for the media. He would say, on an almost daily basis, “the medium is the message.” It wasn’t until years later that I found out that, no, in fact, my 12th grade media teacher had not coined that phrase. For all I knew, he was a visionary.

I was right. He was revolutionary in the way he was able to convey his teaching to young people. It was like he spoke our language. He took an interest. He asked the football players about their games. He checked in about our lives. He even helped one boy ask a girl to homecoming. In the middle of class. As a student journalist, I always knew which office I could go to if I needed a really brilliant quote or even to bounce an idea around. There were some teachers who had to “fit me in” to their busy schedules. I never felt that way with the man who so excitedly would share his ideas about the way media can impact our lives.

What had been, in August, an academic whim, turned into a pretty deep passion for the media by December. I didn’t know it yet, but I would, three years later, get a college degree in Telecommunications, with a focus in “Media and Society.” The enthusiasm and dedication to learning was so contagious in Doug Koski’s class, it changed my educational pursuits.

It was, then, with great shock, that I found out that Mr. Koski passed away last week. I hadn’t known he was ill. I hadn’t spoken to the man in three years. Yet, as my mother shared with me one of her usual, seemingly random tidbits of news, I could feel the impact that this man had on my life.

This was a man whose simple job had become extraordinary. We’ve all had teachers, many of them very good. This great one, though, epitomized what every educator hopes to become: an inspiration to his students.

Even more so, the piece that strikes me as particularly meaningful is that this wasn’t just any inspirational teacher: it was my media analysis teacher. His message was about how media impacts our lives, influences our decisions, changes the way we think. He taught us how to take the raw information that the media was giving us and look for the angles, look for the reasoning. How profound it is, then, that the man who taught me so much about media analysis is continuing to teach me about life in far more meaningful and, in some ways, mysterious ways.

“The medium is the message.” Doug Koski taught me that, repeating it at an almost daily rate. Now, as I sit here thinking about the man who shared his enthusiasm for media with me, I can’t help but think about how his teaching was the medium for one very important message.

May his memory be for a blessing.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What Can "Most Men" Do?

Social media has, since it’s very beginnings, been a vehicle for social change. This is, after all, the origins of this blog.

This concept reared its head when, after the shooting two weeks ago at UC-Santa Barbara, a group of men went to defend themselves on Twitter. They used the hashtag #NotAllMen, representing the sentiment that it isn’t a universal rule that men feel hate or rage toward women. The meaning was well-intentioned. It just didn’t go quite as these men had planned.

In response, the hashtag #YesAllWomen took off, and caught fire. The tweets center around calling into the spotlight the many ways that women feel oppressed or overlooked in society.

Two of the tweets I found online were particularly disturbing to me. The first was tweeted by an unknown account. It stated “#yesallwomen because “I have a boyfriend” is more likely to get a guy to back off than “no”, because they respect other men more than women.” Having never thought if this situation that way, this was a troubling observation. The behavior of these men demonstrates that they are only interested in the woman’s availability, rather than her decision-making. This devaluation is so subtle that most wouldn’t even consider it, but, when called out so bluntly, it is uncomfortably accurate.

The second tweet was one by actress and director Sophia Bush, who tweeted “I shouldn’t have to hold my car keys in hand like a weapon & check over my shoulder every few seconds when I walk at night #YesAllWomen”. This took me for a loop. The feeling of such fear that simple tasks, like walking home at night, can illicit is something that I, as a man, have never really experienced. I worked at a sporting goods store that sold pepper spray in a college town. I knew we sold almost two or three cans per day. I never really thought about why. Was that ignorant of me? Perhaps. Was it maliciously ignorant of me? Of course not. But that is exactly the point of the hashtag.

Here is the most frightening part: this sense of fear is a learned trait. Mothers teach their daughters that they need to be afraid. Young girls learn so early that the world is a scary place, and they need to be prepared to protect themselves. I’m not saying that this isn’t true or necessary, but there is a certain part of me that asks the question: at what point do we create fear, rather than actually experience it? It this sense of danger actually perpetuating danger, rather than supporting security? We don’t really have an answer, and we aren’t at a point in society where we can really test the theory. All we know is that the number of women living in fear is too high, and we need to do something about it.

That being said, we know the origins of this situation come from men trying to say that not all males are looking to take advantage of women. Not all men are violent, not all men are hateful, not all men are chauvinistic. Yet all women feel the effects of these terrible experiences.

The really big, scary, tough part of all of this is what do we do. How can we fix this? How am I, as a man, supposed to help, if my behavior is already demonstrating the kind of values society is striving for? Of course, nobody has it perfect, and any man can learn how to be even more caring and respectful, but what are the men who are overall good people supposed to do to help?

The biggest danger of social media campaigns like this one is the precarious line between calling out a problem and shaming an entire group of people. The even tougher part is that, in this particular case, there is a lot of preaching to the choir. Those who are most likely to see, understand, and internalize these comments are actually the ones who are already behaving in respectful, thoughtful ways. We, as both men and women, need to begin to consider what can be done by the allies, the caring fathers, the loving boyfriends, the good guys, to help make the need for that deeply ingrained fear go away.

Monday, May 26, 2014

May 26th: Running the Race Race

Well, if anyone was going to say something to rekindle the Donald Sterling fire, it was Mark Cuban. The Dallas Mavericks owner shared his thoughts on the Clippers’ tarnished owner in an interview with Inc. Magazine, which launched into a full-blown news piece by Thursday.

In the interview, Cuban attempted to share his concerns in regards to taking a team away from a man because of his personal opinions. In an attempt to get his point across, Cuban acknowledged that everyone harbors some level of “prejudices and bigotries,” and that, while Sterling’s comments are unacceptable, it is a challenging proposition to take the team away from the man.

"I mean, we're all prejudiced in one way or another. If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it's late at night, I'm walking to the other side of the street. And if on that side of the street, there's a guy that has tattoos all over his face -- white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere -- I'm walking back to the other side of the street. And the list goes on of stereotypes that we all live up to and are fearful of. So in my businesses, I try not to be hypocritical. I know that I'm not perfect. I know that I live in a glass house, and it's not appropriate for me to throw stones."

The aftermath was swift and bold. Bomani Jones, a sports writer for ESPN, started a twitter battle with Cuban. The “hoodie” comment was torn apart for its uncomfortable similarity to the Trayvon Martin incident (for which Cuban apologized while standing by his intended point). The sports world erupted with reactions, each trying to decide whether Cuban was, himself, a bigoted racist, or a visionary in the social world.

Regardless of anyone’s personal opinions on Cuban, he has always been blunt in his portrayal of what is best for basketball, for sports, and for society as a whole. He has never been afraid to say what he thinks is right, regardless of the political correctness of his statement. This situation is no different. While an unpopular idea, the notion of acknowledging our own bigotries is necessary in understanding how to come to terms with Donald Sterling’s comments.

What Sterling said was heinous. It was unacceptable, it has no place in sports, let alone 21st century society, and it represents the need to take away his power in American culture. That being said, though, Cuban’s cautions about taking a person’s assets away because of a personal belief is definitely one that speaks to the rationality of the situation, rather than simply an emotional reaction.

It is impossible to know how someone feels about a given topic, until he opens his mouth. While Sterling is guilty of being a bigot, a racist, and an overall terrible person, it is important to accept a few things. First, he did not begin to be a jerk a month ago. He has had a history of accusations and lawsuits accusing him of disgusting behavior. The reality is, this is the first time he got caught outright.

But how do we know there aren’t other owners in the league harboring the same kind of feelings, with the benefit of not getting caught? This is the root of Cuban’s point: the NBA has 30 owners. We only know the personal feelings of one of them. Are we to take the man’s team away when it is quite possible that others exist with the same feelings, but have done a better job of keeping those hostilities quiet?

There is, of course, one area in which Cuban vastly under-sold our society: he didn’t make any attempt to make things better. Cuban is somewhat famous for this. In his assessment of the NBA, NFL, and race, he always makes very bold statements about the way things are, while rarely venturing to do anything to make things better. Maybe he is trying to inspire others to make a positive change. Maybe he is attempting to shed light on a situation and see where society takes us. In any case, the answer “sometimes we’re all racist” isn’t doing nearly enough to fix the problem.

Throughout the Sterling saga, Mark Cuban has been something of a voice of caution, trying to be the seemingly only rational person involved in the situation. His rationality, though, started to tip-toe past thoughtful and into a scary place that people don’t want to hear. Instead of reacting to the “what” he is saying, it’s time that the NBA and its fans begin to consider how those comments  fit within the context of the racial issues facing the league today.

Monday, May 19, 2014

May 19th: An "Epic" Post

It has been a little over a week since I graduated college. Even saying that sentence still seems strange to me. The process wasn’t that different than it is any year I leave school: I packed up my stuff, I drove home, I spent a week trying to figure out where I was going to put all of my stuff. The difference, I suppose, is what comes next.

But before I can move on, I always like to take the time to reflect on what has just happened. I graduated from Indiana University in three years. I graduated with degrees in Jewish Studies and Telecommunications. I graduated with a solid GPA, a beefed up resume, and a job.

College for me, though, was always more of a learning experience outside of the classroom than it ever was inside. In fact, one of the hardest things I learned was how to balance the work of college with the application of it in the real world. There were students who spent all of their time on their schoolwork. There were others who didn’t do any schoolwork. Finding a balance between these two poles was something that was a daily challenge.

Balance is, really, the basis of the entire college experience. Each student needs to find a balance for their time, a balance for their extra-curricular experiences, a balance for their consumption of food (and alcohol). The students that are most successful in school are not the ones with the highest GPAs, but are the ones who find the greatest balance for their day-to-day life.

Now, though, I consider my own pursuit of balance, and the role that it played in my desire to graduate a year early. One of my favorite quotes that I’ve ever heard comes from Mark Twain, who said “I never let my schooling get in the way of my education.” It was halfway through my sophomore year that I realized that my education was being stunted by the need to be in the classroom. I was learning a lot in my classes, but not as much as I was learning elsewhere. When I realized I was in a position to do something new, something different, I decided to take it.

As my college time was coming to an end, my roommate and I made an effort to do something different, something fun, something meaningful, every day. We didn’t want a single day to go by that we didn’t take advantage of all of the incredible things school had to offer. Some of the things we did were as simple as watching a sporting event with good friends. Others were going out and seeing parts of campus that we would miss the most.

In each and every case, though, I came away with the feeling that I was attempting to say goodbye to something that wasn’t really ending, but simply changing. Since October, when the idea that I was graduating first started setting in, I’ve been rolling around what I wanted to say. I’ve been planning the most epic blog post of all time. Yet, now that I’m sitting down to write it, I realize that this isn’t a singular experience. College has been, in a way, who I’ve been for the past three years. I’ve grown up so much in the way I act, the way I think, and the way I write. It isn’t a single, giant blog post that is going to summarize where I’ve come from over the past three years. It is three years worth of blogging. Three years of pieces maturing before the eyes of my readers. Anyone can see where I have come from by watching my weekly (well, ideally) writing.

This coming year will be an adventure. I have a job I’m excited about, future plans, and a great living situation. I’m going to go out and look for exciting and different things to fill my time. A one-day job shadowing here, a trip to someplace I’ve never been there. I’m going to make the most of this year that I’m taking for myself.  Yet, as I learned in the last three years, every day has an incredible experience to share. You just have to be paying attention to it when it happens.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

April 15th: Freedom from Fear

Last night, the story of Passover was told around thousands of American tables. We talked about the enslavement of the Jews, the plagues that tormented the Egyptians, and the eventual Exodus into freedom.

The central theme of the Passover celebration is the intense focus on freedom. We, as Jews, were slaves, and we remember what it was like to live under the control of another. We also consider the meaning of slavery in a modern setting. While we have realized our freedom to practice our religion freely, there are others who are unable to taste the sweetness and the joy of freedom.

Even the Jewish community’s freedom is not complete. Many of our Passover meals had already begun to cook when a man walked into a Jewish Community Center in the Kansas City area and began what would become a deadly attack. His antisemitism was at the center of his hunt.

The Jewish community, both in Kansas City and across the country, banded together, attempting to console and help those who were immediately impacted by this man’s hatred. At the back of everyone’s mind, there was one emotion: fear.

Jews know the fear of antisemitism. We are raised to hide our Jewish star necklaces at the airport or in public places. We are taught to be suspicious of anyone who too bluntly asks us about our religious beliefs. Even those of us who have never actually had to stand up to hate targeted at our faith, we do know the fear that comes with being a chronically ostracized other.

This man’s violent outburst isn’t the only example of antisemitism that we find in today’s society. Every few weeks, another example makes the headlines, whether it be an act of vandalism or public shaming of Jewish community members.

We would like to believe that these are examples of ignorance by a tiny minority. We would like to think that no real people, none of our neighbors or friends still believe these terrible things about Jews. Yet, there is the fear that, if gone unchecked, your Jewish identity could eventually lead to conflict and, in terrible cases, violence.

Our freedom is, though, incomplete. We can see what it means to be free, we can tell ourselves our freedom is fulfilling and true, but our fear is what keeps us from our true liberation. We have been set free from Egypt, but the slavery to fear is still very much real.

We must not only look out for our own community. There is a limit to what can be done within the context of a homogeneous vacuum. The Jews in each community need to be willing to do education, to stand up against small levels of antisemitism, calling it what it is, and defend our right to exist free of fear.

At the conclusion of most services, we hear the invocation to look around and search out modern versions of slavery. We are meant to find them and do all that we can to help liberate those who still are bent over by bondage, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional. Sadly, it isn’t very difficult to find examples of slavery, especially those who are slaves to fear. There is plenty of work to be done to allow all humanity to feel the sweetness of freedom.

My thoughts and prayers go to all who lost their lives in the shooting at the Kansas City JCC. My thoughts also turn to those living in fear, slaves to the terror inflicted upon them by others. May we find freedom from each of our captors in the coming year, and, when we gather together a year from now, may the world be a place filled with the joy of freedom.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

April 6th: Flooding the Box Office

“Noah was in his generations a man righteous and wholehearted.”

This is how the Bible introduces us to Noah, the biblical character who has made his debut on the silver screen.

Dan Aronofsky’s spin on the original zookeeper has exploded at the box office, making $44 million in the first weekend. The film has also received criticism from many in the religious right for its seeming departure from the biblical text, in favor of a more theatrical, dramatic telling.

The beauty of the film, though, is that it in no way changed any component of the text. Another reading of the biblical account backs up the idea that, while many pieces were added, and interpreted, there was nothing that was truly changed or desecrated.

A true telling of the biblical account would lack the drama necessary for a full-length feature film. Aronofsky knew that, so rather than dragging out the pieces that already exists, he worked to add pieces that would add to the moral and ethical principles that are paramount to the story, while maintaining the themes that make the biblical tale as significant as it is.

The central theme of Aronofsky’s version of Noah is the conflict associated with being asked to be the representative of mankind. How does a single individual hold the power, knowing that all other humans will die? How does that person fail to do anything to save the lives of those doomed to drown in the floods of God’s wrath?

The Noah of the movie was forced, in his interpretation of his task, to make some decisions that were fundamentally oppositional to his own ideals, but were what he believed was expected of him. Throughout the film, the embodiment of this challenge is a focal point, and the character is depicted as a flawed and tormented man. His dedication to the task at hand gets in the way of his relationships with members of his family, as well as his ability to find meaning in his own existence.

This is where the Biblical telling holds a subtlety that is so beautiful, and so paramount to our understanding of Noah as the complex individual that Russell Crowe portrays him to be. Noah was, in the first line of his introduction, described as a righteous man “in his generations.” There is an additional context. This surfaces in the telling of Abraham’s story, when Abraham, rather than allowing Sodom and Gomorrah to be annihilated, argues with God, begging for mercy for the two towns. How could Noah be righteous when he also did nothing to save the lives of those around him, as his counterpart several years down the road was able to do?

The greatest struggle with any Biblical story is the attempt for translation into everyday life. How can we, as 21st century people, take these ancient words and apply them to the difficulties we face in our world?

The concept of righteousness is one that we all strive for every day. We look for ways to make a difference in the world, to end the suffering and pain that is all-too close at hand. Yet, we also feel powerless, as if we cannot truly make the world any better. Things feel so screwed up in such fundamental ways, that it can feel too immense, too daunting to ever make a real difference.

This is where our interpretation of Noah has something to teach us. Noah was by no means perfect. He is a good man with a caveat. That caveat, though, doesn’t take away from his goodness. It puts his goodness in a context; Noah did the best he could in the environment which he was assigned. Noah was asked to do a nearly impossible task, and was able to do what he could to accomplish it.

We, too, must strive to be “righteous in our generations.” We will be judged by history not for our ability to make revolutionary changes to our social structure, but by the incremental advancements we can make, and our attempts to do what we can.

One of the most popularly-cited Jewish ethical texts is Pirkei Avot’s comment “It is not upon you to finish the work, nor are you free to desist from it.” The task of making the world better is too immense to fall on the shoulders of any one of us. Yet, it is through our ability to be good people within the context of our abilities that we are able to be the Noah of our generation: the righteous man, who did what he could with what he was given.

Monday, March 17, 2014

March 17th: Forced to Change

There is a section of my school’s newspaper reserved for reports of rape and sexual assault. It is right there on the front page, in the upper left corner. There is almost never a lack of content. Every day, there are new reports of abuse from Bloomington, both from the student body and the community as a whole.

The question arises, then: are there more occurrences of rape happening now than in the past, or is reporting of rape becoming more popular? The answer, as I believe, is both. While rape has been growing more “popular.” so too does it’s reporting.

An important distinction to be made is a definition of rape. You wouldn’t think you would have to identify what is and isn’t rape, but it is a pivotal part of getting to the root of the issue.

As a child, or pre-teen, when I learned about rape, I primarily was told about creepy men, psychopaths, who hid in alleys and forced themselves upon young, innocent women. To the young me, a rapist a mugger, thief, or murderer would all look alike. While this is sometimes the case, the more prevalent and harder to solve issue is the rapist who is a good student, or a caring son, or a devoted boyfriend. Rape is found in far more places than alleyways.

What is becoming more prevalent is the reporting of rape between people who know each other, even between individuals in a relationship. This is why definition is so important to understanding rape’s place in society and getting to the essence of how to eradicate it.

Rape is, at it’s most basic level, any sexual interaction that a person does not fully consent to. This opens the door for a wide range of examples, and, very significantly, different kinds of rapists.

As we gain a better grasp of what rape looks like, we have to understand that rape can result from a consensual interaction going a step too far. A perfect example of this is a situation where (For the purpose of this example) a man and a woman meet at a party. They hit it off and agree to go back to his place. Upon arrival, they begin to make out and things are going fine. When he attempts to go a step further, she seems unsure, and he tries to urge her on, we’ve already crossed a threshold. That’s all it takes. If he takes even one step she doesn’t want to take, he becomes a rapist. A very different rapist from the masked man in the alley, but a rapist none the less.

As if it wasn’t complicated enough, sexuality is adding an additional layer to the difficulty of the issue. Morso than ever before, women are taking ownership of their sexuality. Women are dressing in ways we’ve never seen before, they’re interacting with others in revolutionary ways, and they’re taking control of their sexual environments more than society has ever experienced. These are, of course, generalizations, but ones that seem to be based in real social progress.

In no way does a woman taking control of her sexuality justify or defend rape. There is nothing that justifies or defends rape. It is, though, important to acknowledge that all of these pieces have a connection to the situation, and can play a role in moving us forward toward a more healthy and meaningful interaction between people. There is a taboo about talking about rape, especially for a young man. To find a solution to the issue, though, we have to be willing to discuss it in a meaningful way, not just a “comfortable” way.

Disclaimer included, we return to the point. Women’s increased ownership of their sexuality is, rightfully, forcing men’s understanding of their own to change. This has proven, unfortunately, to be a slow process. Society still calls  woman who knows her sexual desires a “slut.” A girl who dresses provocatively is still looked at as begging for sexual attention. From this (wrong) perspective, these women are looking for it, and shouldn’t be upset when they get it.

We have, then, isolated two components of the issue: first, we are overly pigeonholing rape, and second, we are failing to move forward as a society. By “overly pigeonholing,” I mean that a young person who thinks of rape as a masked psychopath doesn’t include himself in the rape conversation. “I’m not a monster, I don’t hide and physically assault women, therefore I don’t have to be thoughtful about rape.” This mindset is what young men are learning and we’re suffering for it. As a response, we need to be teaching young men, sooner rather than later, about how to appropriately and thoughtfully get consent in a way that values the interaction with a partner, rather than being a buzzkill.

The second point, moving our society forward, comes with two additional pieces of education. We have to do a better job of communicating to young men the importance of appreciating a woman’s sexuality, rather than seeing it as an opportunity for personal pleasure. On the other side of the coin, young women need to be instructed how to remain safe in any and all situations. Many feminists love to say “we shouldn’t tell our daughters not to get raped, we should tell our sons not to rape.” That’s true. But it is an ignorant gamble to say we aren’t going to do some education for each.

Rape is a scary and uncomfortable topic for discussion. As it has become more and more popular to report, though, we are faced with the burden of finding ways to keep women (and men) safe. In recent months, we’ve seen no shortage of columns, commentaries, and blogs attempting to tackle an element of the complex issue. The roadblock, however, for any real understanding is our unwillingness to have the full conversation. We need to be having conversations with young men AND young women. We need to be more understanding of what rape really looks like, where it comes from, and how we can eradicate it.