Chunder [chuhn•der] - Australian Informal
verb/noun - (to) vomitus horrendous.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Sun Needs to Set on the USC Empire

Not too long after USC announced its enterprise to build a new University Village in the image of the Grove in Beverly Hills, rumor spread that they want to buy the coliseum for 50 million dollars.

I understand that USC’s number one fall back is its location, but why are we aiming for perfection? If building this new shopping mall as well as gaining ownership of the stadium is in pursuit of creating a better area and attracting brighter students, it’s sending the opposite message.

If USC wants to attract students of Ivy-league caliber, they have to do things of Ivy-league status. Constructing a high-end shopping center and luxury apartments isn’t going to attract the next generation of Ivy-league intellect, but those craving the status that accompanies such prestige. If we want to attract the minds of the future, then we shouldn’t resort to methods of the past by further commercializing an area that would benefit much more from a grassroots campaign.

If USC really wants to improve the area and attract the brightest applicants, why not use that money to improve the state of education in the surrounding area? The magnet schools around campus provide a great opportunity for the inner city Los Angeles Students that attend. But the influence of USC quickly dissipates the further you get from campus, even if we’re talking 1 or 2 miles. There are many students receiving a very sub-par education in zip codes reachable by foot, so why not use that money to benefit them? Institute community programs to replace the arts and music classes that have been lost due to budget cuts. Offer free college-prep courses to high school students in the area. Provide them with scholarships not only to USC, but any accredited institution. If USC has the power to take ownership of the acres of land the UV sits on and the coliseum, I’m sure they could finagle their way into the Los Angeles Unified School District and supplement the low budgets of nearby public schools as well.

Investing in education is the big picture solution. By improving the foundation on which the future sits, the students in the area will have more opportunities and inherently more success. They will include their families in their newfound glory, advancing their socioeconomic position, and improving the area around USC naturally.

It will be a slow process, but one that benefits both the university and the area in the long run. Creating a megaplex shopping center will only validate our reputation as the “University of Spoiled Children.” If we want to attract students that will one day change the world, we have to change the world now.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Big Bad Bully America

The United States’ position as top contender of the industrialized world is the very reason why it sucks. Because Americans no longer have to fight for their survival, they’ve begun to fight against it.

Although there are times when there is, like, “nothing to drink” despite the virtually endless flow of clean water from our sinks, and other times when you have like, “literally nothing to wear” despite the 50+ articles of clothing in your closest, most of us can agree that our basic survival needs are met on a daily basis.

But we’ve had it too good for too long, and the implications are becoming hard to ignore. Rather than fending off starvation, we suffer from an obesity epidemic.
While adolescents in developing nations band together for survival, we see our youth bullying each other to the point of suicide. Prolonged prosperity has invited a whole new realm of issues that are difficult to define and even harder to fix.

Like mentioned, one of these difficult-to-define and hard-to-fix problems is bullying. In a typical bully-victim relationship, the bully, usually someone higher on the social ladder (a position achieved by instilling fear, probably due to “advanced” physical size (ahem, obesity epidemic)) preys on victims because of a perceived physical, social, or financial ineptness (or because they have pudding snacks). Why the bully engages in such aggressive behavior is not quite understood, but it is certain that it lowers the self-esteem of the victim, making them more vulnerable.

But in all seriousness, bullying is becoming an increasing concern. On Sunday, a 16 year-old boy from Corpus Christi, Texas, committed suicide after years of torment and no effort from the school district to stop it. The school denied that bullying was a problem, despite community parents who spoke up and claimed to have withdrawn their students from the school because of unrelenting torment. This is just one of the dozens of cases that has made national spotlight this year, and just one of millions instances of bullying itself.

From an evolutionary perspective, bullying could be explained by Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” hypothesis. But we don’t have to fight for our survival anymore because it is practically guaranteed by our modern society—our psyche just needs to catch up with reality.

The autonomy allowed by our society creates a false sense of independence, people undermining the role other people play in our lives. They think independence is buying their own groceries, but where would they be without markets in the first place? Because mass collaboration is no longer needed to survive, there has been a mass disintegration in order to “thrive. ”

Psychologists argue that humans are social beings in the first place because we needed each other to stay alive. Men hunt and protect. Women gather and make babies. But with the autonomy allowed by our current industrialized society interdependence is less pronounced. Fueled by the idea that we no longer need to each other to get by, have we subconsciously began to divide, doing what we can to retain our allusion of power we hold over others?

What is bullying if not a magnified version of the social stratification of America—an elitist group leveraging their power on a vulnerable lower class? The recent Occupy Movements come to mind. It’s driven by a group of people who feel victimized and immobilized by another group, whose dominance is vague yet unyielding. There have been countless acts of physical aggression against the lower class in reaction to their pleas for equality. Earlier this week, around 30 people were pepper sprayed outside of a Santa Monica College trustee board meeting protesting proposed higher course fees. Two of the victims were a mother and toddler in the crowd. Like bullying in school, this is one of countless examples.

Our prolonged prosperity has us fighting to ensure individual success, not collective. And when this is reversed, we will see an end to the complex issues our society faces. We will be able to reap of the benefits of being on top when people think it how they could help our whole population, not only themselves. If we were all working together, bills for universe healthcare would pass. We would petition to have education programs expanded, not cut. The wealthy would except their social responsibility as the breadwinners and happily pay more taxes to provide more for the millions of people who live below them.

In order to stop sucking, we have to start sharing. 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Los Angeles Publically Transit-ed Disease

Los Angeles public transit is quite the ride. Occasionally, I take it from downtown to my job in Venice on Fridays. I would complain more but it takes about the same amount of time as actually driving during rush hour and is much cheaper than paying $5 per gallon for gas. It also provides steady entertainment.  

Last week, I was standing near the rear exit of a bus on the Metro 733 route that runs along Venice Boulevard. A man dressed in a suit chundered on the floor for a good 30 seconds. With every stop and go, it slid closer and closer to my feet until we were all asked to evacuate the bus and get on the next one.

A week before that, a homeless man sitting across from me peed himself while drinking from a flask concealed in a brown paper bag and simultaneously attesting his sobriety. The aroma was splendid.

Needless to say, I’m more than excited for the highly anticipated Expo Line to debut on April 28th. The first phase, running from downtown LA to Culver City, has finally been approved to open to the public, after much more time and money than anticipated. It will be the first line to connect downtown and the Westside in over 50 years, and it’s about time.

Los Angeles and its lack of cohesiveness has always been a point of criticism. A point that, as an Angelino immigrant from the East Coast, I couldn’t agree with more. It’s the only major city I’ve been to that lacks any easy and tangible way to get from point A to point B. And I think this disconnect is the source of its fragmented feeling. After living here for 3 years, I still don’t understand its boundaries. Is Beverly Hills in Los Angeles? Is Hollywood in Los Angeles? I’ve asked people who are from those areas, and they don’t even know. It doesn’t matter how many attractions there are in the general area because if you can’t easily get from one to the other, you can’t appreciate their existence.

Maybe the new Expo Line will ignite a sense of unity among the numerous and diverse neighborhoods that fall under the larger umbrella of “Los Angeles,” mixing the ‘elite’ and the ‘street.’ I think the line will be very successful in attracting all kinds of riders, from the people who already frequent public transit, to business men and women looking for a shorter commute, to the many 20-somethings who want to avoid car payments and are advocates of green living.

I’m actually almost positive the line will be a success. It will surely be used by the lower class that already depends on busses. And I think it will attract the middle class and public transit virgins, because for some reason, public transportation attached to a rail of any sort is more appealing than when on an ordinary road. On the ranks of public transportation, speed lines and subways are usually top-tier, with busses on the bottom as least desirable. Taking the subway is like, totally cool and indie, and the bus is like, gross. Ask any girl from LA who has visited a friend In New York City for a weekend.

And for my last personal anecdote, my favorite transit experience: several weeks ago, a man sitting 2 seats away from kept humming Britney Spears songs and laughing uncontrollably. He dropped something under his seat and tried to pick up the object for a good 2 or 3 minutes. I realized it took him so long because he actually didn’t have either of his hands. I then realized the object he so fervently tried to pick up was a switchblade. Awesome.

Okay, so the Expo Line [thankfully] won’t prevent situations like that or those mentioned earlier. But it will provide a long overdue connection between the geographically close but culturally distant regions, allowing Los Angeles to function more like, well, a city. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Saturday, March 24, 2012

STOP KONY: A New High For Social Media, A New Low Gen Y

What does it take to get Gen Y invested in a global crisis involving the abduction of thousands of children and their subsequent conversion into soldiers and sex slaves? Branding and celebrity endorsements, of course.

This is not an attack on the STOP KONY movement or the unprecedented support the campaign has inspired. I doubt neither the authenticity of the cause nor its supporters. But, what presents a new high for social awareness exposes a new low for my generation: the most viral video in history owes its success to social media and celebrities.

Reaching over 100 million views in two weeks and dominating the virtual worlds of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, the STOP KONY Campaign speaks volumes about how we communicate, but it’s not saying anything good. Although it is groundbreaking that millions of people have been united by a common cause, they weren’t lead there by global awareness or empathy, but by the delivery service of social media and the presumptuous pull of celebrities.

It would have been near impossible to miss the STOP KONY video if you were anywhere near the internet during the month of March, and even harder to ignore its message.

How did this video become viral so quickly? The Invisible Children selected 20 “Culture Makers” to endorse and promote the cause. The list ranges from Gates to Gaga, Bono to Bieber. A range of celebrities who combined audience covers nearly every media niche. The culture makers updated their social media sites with links to the video and pleas to repost. It worked as planned, and the video had millions of views with hours, and 100 million in a few weeks. People listened.

From the get-go, the video captures its audience with slick production and a heartfelt story. The plot involves an innocent toddler slowly learning about Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a group of Ugandan children telling their stories, and a bunch of young adults, like you and I, taking a stand. Emotion-provoking songs by upcoming artists fill the background noise and it ends with a strong call-to-action.

But, the call-to-action is asking the viewer to contribute by buying an “Action Kit,” which contains posters, a t-shirt, stickers, and a bracelet. Everything is nicely designed, trendy, and loudly promotes the cause. Buying this kit and sporting its contents is pretty much the extent of your support. All you have to do is buy and wear, the money going to Invisible Children to find Kony and rebuild the lives of the Ugandans affected. This message speaks loud and clear to Generation Y, who gets to feel the satisfaction of making a difference without exerting any tangential effort.

With the rate at which the video spread, it’s unlikely many people did much research before reposting, meaning they validated its truthfulness by the celebrity supporters and sheer number of hits. The new connectivity permitted by social media allows a message to spread quickly, but without any valor. The difference of being in the know or not is a matter of clicks, not a pursuit. But more awareness, in terms of numbers, is not necessarily an advantage. With large numbers comes a diffusion of responsibility. The more people that know about a particular misfortune, the less each individual feels the need to take action. Thinking “someone else will do it,” they justify their passive attitude and simply share the video.  The “awareness” reached by social media may in fact be a detrimental paradox.

External factors grabbed the audience, with empathy coming second. In a globally aware and humanitarian society, people would have already been concerned with this ongoing tragedy and been inspired to help by the empathy born from sharing the human experience. Instead, the millions of supporters were initially attracted by celebrities, and drawn in further by a video difficult for anyone with a conscious to disregard. What about the misfortunes without an eye-catching brand identity and celebrity endorsers? Should they take the backseat due to lack of appeal?

The people behind the campaign really know how to make us tick. They seem to have a better idea of how to influence the masses than the government. Using tools proved effective by social psychology such as good design, groupthink, a loud call to action, and clear instructions to reach the goal, the STOP KONY movement was ingeniously devised. It might even be one of the most influential campaigns since Nazi Propaganda. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

You can do whatever you set your mind to. Impossible is nothing. Never say never.  Sound familiar? Of course it does—such clich├ęs are the white noise of our childhood. 

Think about the Disney movies, TV shows, and children’s books, where failure was never the outcome and everyone wins. Has this bred an overly optimistic yet under-qualified generation?

And then we grew up a little.  How do we express ourselves nowadays? Facebook and Twitter. Status updates, profile pictures, mobile uploads, and 140-character witticisms. Each nurturing the idea that our thoughts/actions/experiences are worthy of being published to the interweb, to our own personal website, creating a false sense that everyone actually cares about what’s going on with each of us at any given moment.

Hungry? Pop something in the microwave. Viola—dinner in minutes. What’s everyone up to tonight? Text a few people and be in the know within seconds. Last minute question before exam? Email the TA late the night before. No response? Complain to the teacher the next day.

What does this all add up to? Anything, everything, me, now: the mantra of Generation Y, aka Generation Me. What’s the worst part? We’re all victims. I’m a victim, writing this on my blog like anybody cares. But does anyone care? Is just thinking people care enough? These are my peers and I face, problems we don’t know the answers to quite yet.

Psychologists say we’re going through a Narcissism Epidemic, everyone over-confident about their abilities and importance. Some even say it led to the economic crisis. “Sure I can afford that house.” “I can pay back that loan no problem.”

Anything, everything, me, now. What I fear the most about this mindset is my upcoming graduation. I expect to get a fulfilling, enjoyable job, aligned with my ideals, that pays enough that I can live comfortably while paying back the student loans that were so graciously handed to me by the government and private lenders.  Has the environment that birthed me fostered unrealistic hopes for the future, or gotten me so high on myself and instant satisfaction that perhaps I will be able to fulfill my own expectations? Time will tell.