Necessary Dialogue

Cartoon showing how people perceive shooters of different backgrounds

(image copied from BBC news trending link)

Look at the image above. What emotions does it evoke? Is there truth in it? Are there false assumptions in it? What groups seem to be negatively targeted in the image? What groups are left out? Is it a fair comparison of the groups represented? What is unfair about it? With what purpose was it created?

If I am being completely honest, I love images like this. It isn’t because of exactly what they depict, or because I always agree with them, or even always disagree with them. I love images like this because they are a powerful tool to open up and evoke dialogue about real and important; issues about prejudices, stereotypes, societal ideals, current events, and more.

When I see an image like this, I immediately start asking myself questions about it. I analyze it. I tear it apart in my mind. I break it down until I feel that I can see it from every perspective possible. Then, I begin to form my own opinion about the image, its importance, its potential harm, its failings, its triumphs, and most importantly, how it can be used to effectively begin a dialogue about the issues it represents. I do the same with articles, events, facebook posts, tweets, and any other form of shared opinion. I do it because I think the world needs to be look at more critically. I think the world’s happenings need to be challenged, evaluated, discussed, and reviewed rather than just be accepted as they so often are.

Dialogues, whether they take place in person, on the internet through newspapers and journals or the various forms of social media, through political debates, or protests in the street, are an important step in working towards change. Discussion is where change begins.

So, let’s discuss.

This image was powerful to me from the first moment I saw it. As part of an article on the BBC news website, the image was used to discuss whether or not the #ChapelHillShooting hashtag was created and used by Muslim communities too soon after the event. The image was used as an example of the spiral effect that hashtags and images following events can have on skewing people’s opinions of an event. A discussion of the image’s role in such a case is absolutely valid and necessary; but seeing as how it has already begun to take place through the article to which it was attached, I would instead like to begin a discussion of the image itself.

 The image is full of thought provoking elements. First, there is the clear categorization of people. The image categorizes people based on race, religion, profession, purpose, and reactionary outcomes to the actions being displayed. I find this breakdown particularly interesting because, although society compares these categorizations just as the image depicts, the categories are very different.

Is it fair to compare a person’s religious motives to a person’s racial motives or their professional motives? I would argue that in most cases, it isn’t a fair comparison. Yet it is a comparison that is consistently used by the media and society in general.

Why is it that the actions of an individual, or a small group of Muslims is used to berate and demonize the entire religion? Why are similar actions taken by a Christian (for example) only met with criticism of that particular individual? Why are the violent actions of someone with black skin made to represent a failing of an entire race? Why are the violent actions of someone with white skin made to represent the failings of that single individual’s upbringing, rather than a whole race? Why is someone who is trained in violence a representative of good, when someone who picks up a weapon in defense of their surroundings is deemed to represent the bad side of society?

The comparisons don’t always make sense. They are rarely truly justified. They increase stereotypes and prejudices; and yet, they are almost always accepted as fact; as right; as truth.

If a peaceful global society is ever going to truly exist, society needs to start questioning the standards of comparison that have been set for them. More people need to be willing to talk openly about what they think is unfair. Images, social media posts, blogs, newspaper articles, radio broadcasts, movies, art, music; all of these elements and more offer a chance to evoke dialogues about the important issues facing a global society. Discussion is where change begins. Discussion can lead to action. Action will lead to change.

The Imitation of Bigotry

When I was about 10 years old, I loved collecting stickers. I picked up free stickers from every place I could. Ski swaps with my family, fairs at school, DJ booths outside of concert and event halls, pretty much any place that had stickers was a place to which I was drawn. Most of the stickers ended up on school notebooks and other paper materials that were long ago recycled and forgotten; but one sticker survived. Through junior high, high school, and college; through 3 new houses and few years in storage; through water damage and dust; there is one sticker that I have kept and cherished. It isn’t fancy or brightly colored and it doesn’t bear the logo of any of my favorite companies or hobbies. It is simple. Black words on a white background. Plain and straightforward. It shares a statement that fuels many of my dreams and passions. It states: “Nobody’s Born a Bigot.”

Although I cannot– despite many hours spent digging through the recesses of my mind– remember where I got the sticker when I was 10 years old, I can remember frantically looking through a dictionary to find what the word “bigot” meant. Upon reading the definition, and subsequently searching for synonyms and example sentences, I decided that this sticker was important and it thus needed an important place to be stuck. Notebooks and folders were no place for a sticker with this much importance. It needed to be displayed loud and proud; so I stuck it above the mirror on my favorite antique armoire where I looked every morning as I got ready.

Over the years, as I came to realize a passion for social justice and a desire to make a difference in my global community, the simple statement on that sticker became the basis for my outlook on the world around me.  It gave me a sense of positive hope as I studied and read about the often disturbing histories of the ways prejudice and hate have formed the societies of our world. Despite the fact that humankind allows itself to be driven by fear and hate in almost every society in both the past and present, I find hope and truth in the idea that no one is bigoted by their very nature. Bigotry is something that is taught, learned, developed, and shared. It is not something that is innate; and as such, it can be undone just as it was made; through time.

Although my primary focus and area of study when it comes to prejudice and bigotry is race and ethnicity, I have recently had my attention drawn towards the prejudices shown to those who are considered “different” because of metal health diagnoses. Additionally, through personal study and political movements, I have also been drawn to focus on the prejudices shown to people of the LGBT community. Thrown together into groups that the general population or assumed “norm” societies determine as a means to separate and categorize anyone who falls outside of the rigid guidelines of “acceptible” society, people are far too often dehumanized, teased, rejected, and otherwise stripped of some of their most basic human rights. Although the unequal treatment and injustices differ according to the prejudice factor used to separate people, one fact remains the same; they are all human, and deserve to be treated as such, in every respect.

I do not wish to compare the hardships of race inequality to sexual identity inequality or mental health inequalities because they are not the same and cannot truly be measured one against the other. However, as they are all forms of societal bred prejudices, they must all be looked at as societal problems.

My way of addressing societies issues with bigotry, is to write about the things that matter to me; the things I recognize as being unjust; the things I believe need to change; the things I believe can change; and most especially, the things I believe I can help change. As of  yet, I am no great writer and my voice, my call for change, hasn’t been heard far or wide. But, there are many people out there with more to say than me, and many more with better ways of saying it, and making more people hear it.

Cinema, I think, is one of the most powerful means for planting the seed of change in our present society. Filmmakers, Screenwriters, Actors, Producers, and basically anyone in the film industry can make their opinions known to millions of people in a way that those people actively seek after. One of the most recent, and best example I can think of as showing the power of the film industry to share opinions, is the movie The Imitation Game. It was a fabulous movie in its acting, cinematography, directing, story, and writing; but what made it truly worthwhile for me, was the profoundly humanizing way it confronted issues of prejudice that were prominent in the time which the movie was set as well as continuing today; namely sexual identity, and mental health diagnoses.

While the film is largely meant to focus on the incredible contribution that Alan Turing and his associates made to ending WWII by cracking the infamous German Enigma, I was pleasantly surprised by the way the film boldly addressed the hardships faced by Turing– and many others of his time and continuing today– for being gay as well as being identified as having asperger syndrome or other mental health related social differences. The film plunged boldly into, what some may call, the “political sphere,” and pointedly denounced the unjust treatment of Turing and others with similar experiences due to their societal “defects.”

Both the marked display of the harsh treatments and punishments that Turing endured in his life as depicted by the film, and the printed statements about inequality at the end of the film, give credit to the social justice voices of all those involved in the making of the film. They took their medium of film and used it to broadly share and voice their opinions about an issue of bigotry that needs to be addressed by society. Through their work, a seed of change has been planted for many viewers of the film; and much like the wind, those people are likely to pick up and spread that seed, and change will be enacted.

It was the spreading seeds of fear and hate that caused bigotry to first spring up in society. It is the teaching and learning, the imitation, of that same fear and hate that has caused and continues to cause wars, divisions, violence, and the dehumanization of people all over the world. It is the spreading of the seed of change, the seed of equality, that can break the cycle of bigotry. It is those who share their voices, through whatever means they can, and call for justice and love that will truly make the change.

Everyone is guilty of bigotry in some sense or another. Judging our fellow man has become the societal standard. But breaking that standard, and actively working against the imitation of hate that society has taught us, and forging a new path, and seeking to treat all humans as equals, no matter the differences between us; that is what will lead us back to our natural state. The state in which we were born; the state in which Nobody is Born a Bigot.

Freedom with a Pen

Freedom of speech is something that no one should be denied. Not every society has this same opinion, but I stand by the founding fathers of the United States on this matter. Opinions are personal, and no one should be punished for sharing theirs; or be denied the right to share it.

A few years ago, I wrote a profile piece for my university’s newspaper about the endangered right of free speech, freedom of the press, and the lives of the journalists in Sri Lanka. I was lucky enough to meet and interview Ruan Pethiyagoda; a former Sri Lankan journalist who was studying journalism at Seattle University; my alma mater.

His story captivated me.

His experiences as a journalist in Sri Lanka, gave me a small personalized view into a society where censorship was common, and a writer’s pen literally was a weapon against corruption. Through research and many interviews with Ruan and some of his acquaintances, I was exposed to a facet of the journalism world that I had never before imagined.

My article (found here), which was limited by available print space as well as my own amateur skills of the time, fell short of my own expectations, and in no way does justice to the experiences of Ruan and his fellow journalists in Sri Lanka; but I am forever grateful for the opportunity to write that piece, because it gave me my first real experience with the importance of free speech. Before I met Ruan, free speech was just an ideal that I thought I understood and appreciated. After talking to Ruan, freedom of speech meant something personal to me. It became something I wanted to protect and use.

As far as history is concerned, the idea of free speech and free press is considered new and somewhat revolutionary. There are many people in many societies that are denied their right to free speech; especially their right to free speech without persecution.

The recent events in France, with the bombing of the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices, demonstrates how the right of free speech is still under attack, even in societies that promote the right. Such acts of violence are an attempt to squander people’s ability to think and speak freely through fear. The only way to fight back, is to actively practice our right of free speech.

The artists and writers at Charlie Hebdo understood the importance of continuing to practice their right. They were aware of the threats made against them, and yet, they continued day after day to create and publish their opinions and ideas. For that, they should be remembered; they should be remembered as defenders of an inalienable human right.

Their opinions were there own, and many of them were unpopular; but whether or not they were right in their opinions is subjective, and it is also not the point. The point is that they had a right to express their opinions and perspectives, and no one should be able to take that away. Not through fear, violence, censorship, or any other means.

I may not be an official journalist yet, but I know the path I have chosen. My life may never be threatened for the things I write; but then again, maybe it will. Often times, people won’t like what I write, and at other times, they will. Some of what I write will be my opinion, or the opinion of others; sometimes it will be straight facts. Being a journalist and fighting for the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press won’t be easy, but I know the path I have chosen, and I know that it is worth it.

Je suis Charlie. Je suis liberté!


(Image: “Solidarité” by Ana Juan from the “New Yorker”)

Unbroken: Text vs. Film

Mastering the art of turning the real life experiences of another person into quality literature is not an easy feat to accomplish. Nor is it commonly something that can be done twice. However, in the case of “Unbroken,” I think it was magnificently captured in both text and film; although I admit that the merits of the movie cannot be attributed to its creator.

The story of Louis Zamperini is, by itself, a remarkable story. He lived a life that only the best of imaginations could have thought up independently. From his early childhood to his last days on earth, Louis was an extremely resilient, energetic, and positive person. However, I think the beauty of the book is not just in the story, but in the way it is told. I doubt that Louis himself could have made it more captivating than author Laura Hilenbrand. Laura’s friendship with Louis is no doubt a big contributor to what made the story feel so personal throughout the book, but her intensive research into the surrounding stories, including things Louis probably never knew, brings the story to the point of being epic. So many small details were sought after by Hilenbrand to make sure that each reader had every piece of information to fully understand not only Louis’ experiences, but those general experiences that all people of the time period had in relation to something as all-encompassing as a world war.

When it comes to telling the truth, making it interesting, and putting a reader right in the middle of the story line, Hilenbrand should be considered a master; the epitome of a truly talented non-fiction writer.

Although the movie is captivating as well, the same praise for being a true creator cannot be given to director Angelina Jolie. Praise for the film must be attributed solely to the actors that brought the situations to visible life. Without the stunning performances of lead actor Jack O’Connell and his many supporting actors, the film could be summed up as a two hour reel of Jolie running in circles with a camera trying to decide what angle might make the empty scenery most dramatic.

Despite the vivid descriptions of the filth, smells, pain, blood, beauty, and hope that Hillenbrand provides within the book, Jolie falls short of capturing anything but a mildly uncomfortable and dreary, yet continually safe rendering of the setting and experiences of Zamperini’s story. Filthy, bug infested barracks and back breaking work in the bitter cold become simply overcrowded and under-cleaned “getaway camp” facilities when captured through Jolie’s camera. The cinematography is predictable at best, and many of the most inspiring elements of the story are either left completely out of the film, or glazed over through disconnected scenes. However, the most disappointing element comes through Jolie’s safe rendering of the devilish Sargent Watanabe.

Despite his efforts as an actor to come off as despicable, cruel, and someone worthy of inducing a lifetime of nightmares for thousands of men, Ishihari’s portrayal of Watanabe comes off as nothing more vicious than what has come to be expected of rough prison guards in modern America. Although Ishihari’s devilish looks of hatred and confusion are enough to connect realistically connect him to the real life war criminal, any opportunity to show his true character through the inhumane actions described by Hilenbrand and casually cut from the camera’s view.

When given the opportunity to let loose and really show the terrible realities of war, Jolie stepped back and opted instead to portray the family friendly version that allows an audience to leave a theater feeling that the world could never be as bad as is claimed by those who have experienced the unyielding scars of war.

Despite the softened version of Zamperini’s life on film, “Unbroken” is sure to remain a hot topic of inspiration for years to come. Hollywood’s shadow can hardly diminish such a resilient light; but if you want to experience something beyond the surface; something that truly touches on the truths of humanity: read the book.

New Beginnings

I always get excited at the prospect of starting a new project. The possibilities always seem endless at the beginning and the concept of failure can be quietly ignored because the project isn’t in full swing yet.

My current excitement is this. This blog. You are looking directly into the cause of my excitement. My project. My new beginning.

I have been blogging sporadically for about five years now. I started off with a blog that was solely to keep my family updated about all that was happening while I was away at college. From there I started and killed a blog that was supposed to include samples of my writings from school and my free time. That all happened in about a week. Then I began blogging about my experiences as a missionary for the LDS church. When I returned home, I tried to turn my old family blog into something a little more exciting. To say the least, my blogging experiences in the past have been sporadic, less than successful, and way too focused on yours truly; and although I think blogging is in essence meant to be personal in some ways, I have decided that it is best to steer away from just talking about me.

As an aspiring journalist, I love watching people, learning about their individual experiences and stories. I love hearing about the things that people are facing in their daily lives; the things they hate and the things they love. I love to listen to people’s concerns about the world and the beauty they find through simple means. I don’t however particularly like being the subject of such things. I would much rather tell the stories of others than share my own stories. I don’t like being a biased story teller, and I feel compromised at times in the telling of my own personal histories and such. I am thus constantly working toward a future as a journalist who can find and tell every story that catches my eye or ear from every person I encounter.

I still have a lot to learn about being a writer and a journalist, and I still need a lot more experience. In addition to working towards graduate school and finding paying jobs that will aid me in my long term endeavors, I still need to find what type of story best suits me and my abilities. This blog is a representation of my journey. It is my hope that what I write here will aid me with what I need to learn and the skills I need to practice. It is my hope that as I improve my knowledge and ability as a writer, this blog with increase in quality and popularity.

Here’s to new beginnings. To endless possibilities. To knowledge and growth. And hopefully, to success!