the Peace Correspondent
strength-based stories to make peace possible • September 2017 • Vol. 1, No. 4
Journalism and Media Communications Student Edition 2
A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR
By Elissa J. Tivona
Throughout my lifetime, September has been synonymous with back-to-school, but this year, the month feels more closely associated with disruption. Whether displaced by extreme weather made worse by climate change or by extreme politics with the brutish elimination of DACA, the Dream Act, American kids are facing unprecedented challenges as they navigate their young lives in very uncertain times. But resilience and creativity have never been more apparent as I also begin a new semester of teaching at Colorado State University. In this spirit I am pleased to offer the Student Edition Part 2 for the Peace Correspondent, featuring articles that demonstrate the range of concerns and depth of coverage by students considering livelihoods in the changing landscape of Journalism and Media Communication. And I know of no one better to offer guidance to both novice and senior journalists alike than Djelloul Marbrook. Marbrook’s guest editorial reflects thoughtful and important insights drawn from his career as a reporter and editor of newspapers across the northeast and his contemporary experience as an award-winning author and poet. Learn more about Djelloul Marbrook at his website.
GUEST EDITORIAL OUTLOOK
By Djelloul Marbrook
I’ve long urged people who follow my news feed on Facebook and audiences where I read my work to form citizen-journalist groups and use the worldwide web to share news, information, imagery and opinion, and to, above all, challenge the official narrative of the corporatist press.
In communities this might mean young and old getting together, pooling their experience and delving into local affairs. All news is ultimately local. That’s the trouble with journalism schools teaching students how to cover Congress and the UN, whereas in fact good and bad government starts at your own town hall, where the records are public and should be examined and reported on.
We have witnessed the near total collapse of diligent local journalism in America, and this is a costly tragedy that encourages gerrymandering, voter suppression and confiscatory property taxation, not to mention pure damned corruption. Most of the politicians want us to scapegoat Washington for this situation because they have local bases they don’t want examined.
Take any retirement home or place where the elderly gather and you’ll find accountants, nurses, lawyers, auditors, business executives, people with valuable experience who could and should be getting together, having fun, and operating as citizen journalists. They don’t need to be seasoned writers. But they need to want to get at the truth and to share it. They need to want to ask questions and demand answers.
For example, what are our business schools teaching about ethics? Do we know? What are our high schools teaching about ethics? The more the local press is corporatized and consolidated the less Americans know and, consequently, the more likely they are to elect scoundrels and incompetents.
Almost all the major players in the famous Watergate scandal came from towns and cities with inferior newspapers, not places like Louisville, Providence and Baltimore, to name a few, that had great newspapers. They were used to getting away with wrongdoing, and so they came to Washington thinking they could get away with it.
We need people willing to challenge our assumptions about news. For example, the corporatist press would have us believe that conflict is about geopolitics, strategy, ideology, but war is about profit, which is exactly why the reviewers gave short shrift to movies like The International and Lord of War, because they showed how war is about profit. If the media reported routinely who profits from war, and by how much, there probably would be less conflict in the world. But the media are interlocked with the profiteers.
So these are the situations we ought to be challenging and looking into, and that is why net neutrality is so important. It’s why Donald Trump intends to kill it, giving the telecommunications giants, like Comcast, control over our access to the web. He wants to shut down the Fifth Estate that I try every day to nurture by aggregating news and opinion on Facebook and sharing it with others. That can also be done by emails, by blogs, websites, podcasts, etc. I hope these ideas and remarks shed a little light.
Heart to Heart
Engaging Conversations on Challenging Topics
Conversations on gender:
The Cost of Being Tran
By Colin Stevens (2016)
Colin Stevens is a senior at Colorado State University, double majoring in English with a focus on Creative Writing, and Journalism and Media Communication. He writes fiction and is currently finishing up his first novel, “Chien.” He one day hopes to write something his mom puts up on the fridge indefinitely.
Imagine you’re trapped–not in a room or a locked car, but trapped in your own body. Out in the open everything looks normal, but inside you haven’t felt comfortable a day in your life. Everyone sees you, knows you, treats you as a man, but that’s not who you really are. Now imagine that it’s possible to change, possible to show to the outside world the woman you’ve been on the inside all along. But then you find that the procedures and treatments cost upwards of $100,000. You learn that you need letters from doctors, approvals from judges, and signatures from county clerks to make who you are legal and official. You come to realize that, even after making all of these changes, most people still won’t accept who you truly are. Transgender people don’t have to imagine any of this; it is the hard, expensive reality they live.
Leo Katari: Fighting for Change
Once a trans person has gone through the surgical process, they’re required to get a court order to have their gender accepted on a legal level. “You have to go in front of a judge, and they get to determine, based on which surgeries you have or haven’t had, whether or not you can update your gender marker on your birth certificate. Judges aren’t experts on trans people or on medical care that transgender people receive,” Leo said.
Finally, a trans Coloradan must file the appropriate forms with the Colorado State Health Department. “Then, and only then, can you change your marker, but it will say ‘amended’ on your birth certificate. And after all of this trouble you still have to pay for that new certificate,” Leo said. He took the next few moments to ponder the issue. “As it stands, the process is highly prohibitive for transgender Americans.”
It’s not only the process of transitioning that’s prohibitive; living as a trans person, regardless whether they’ve made the transition or even intend to transition, is extremely difficult. According to a report by Danielle Paquette in The Washington Post, transgender Americans are four times more likely than cisgender Americans to earn a household income of less than $10,000 a year. Furthermore, upwards of 90 percent of transgender survey respondents claimed that they suffer from discrimination in the work place, and 41 percent of respondents said that they’ve attempted suicide compared to a 1.6 percent attempt rate in the general population. All of these numbers are, of course, not linked directly to being a transgender person, but to the systematic mistreatment of trans people across the country that causes the disparity. Laws across the country must change in order for the perception of trans people to progress and for their lives to become normalized in society.
Although laws involving transgender rights are currently enacted on the state level, the complex process of transitioning and being legally recognized as a chosen gender is common across the country. Leo and many others, however, are fighting to change the way trans people in Colorado can legally change their gender markers. They want the process to be more personal, less prohibitive, and removed entirely from court decision-making procedures.
“The Birth Certificate Modernization Act is in the state legislature right now. It modernizes the process for updating the gender marker on a birth certificate in Colorado. This bill would remove the surgery requirement. It would remove the court order. With the bill in place, in order to change your birth certificate, you’d get an official letter from a medical or mental health provider licensed in Colorado, and you’d bring that to your county or state department to update your birth certificate. It makes it more personal, and a judge doesn’t make the decision for you.”
Kricket Nimmons: Fighting for Identity
In an article for the New York Times, Deborah Sontag details exactly how much of a financial burden sex reassignment surgery can be. “A male-to-female vaginoplasty typically costs about $25,000, and female-to-male surgery, which is more complex, can cost four times that,” Sontag wrote. “Over a quarter of transgender people, meanwhile, report income of less than $20,000 a year.”
Kricket Nimmons, the subject of Sontag’s article, is a transgender woman of color who became one of the first people in New York to receive genital reconstruction surgery paid for by Medicaid— an achievement that signals positive change for trans people across America who hope to transition. Kricket has spent most of her life in extreme poverty, homelessness, and suffering from a largely unchecked HIV infection that nearly took her life on multiple occasions. She’s struggled with gender dysphoria since she was a child—a psychological condition that can make it nearly unbearable for a person to live as the gender they were assigned at birth.
Her struggle began as a young child. Kricket (then known as Jerome Nimmons) hid her identity as a transgender person from her family and friends growing up. At the age of 16, she contracted HIV from a man 17 years her senior. Not knowing about the HIV, Kricket’s mother kicked her out of the house for crossdressing and going out with men.
From that point on, Kricket made incremental changes toward transition, including surgery, hormone treatments, and more. She suffered from multiple flare-ups of her HIV infection, and though she survived, she struggled to gain the stability necessary to finish her transition. Once she discovered that New York was one of the few states that would begin offering gender reassignment surgeries through Medicaid, she made a series of calculated moves in order to be an eligible candidate for this procedure. Ultimately, the surgery was a success: she is currently living her new life to its fullest, no longer burdened by gender dysphoria.
Kricket represents a large portion of the trans community throughout the world that has suffered abuse and hardship, but unlike most, she was fortunate enough to receive the treatments that changed her life, heeding the call of medical experts who say transgender- related care must be viewed as ‘medically necessary,’ rather than elective.” Though these changes won’t directly affect every transgender person wanting to transition, it’s a huge step in the right direction in order to assist transgender Americans who need medical care.
Life isn’t easy for transgender Americans. They have to fight for their right to be legally recognized as their true gender. Many have to scrounge to afford necessary medical care. They have to deal with a public that fundamentally misunderstands their unique positions on a daily basis. But they keep fighting. With people like Leo Kattari pushing to change laws, figures like Kricket Nimmons sharing their stories to better educate the public, and celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner putting themselves in the public eye to destigmatize their community, transgender Americans will continue to make changes in the world moving forward. Before long, being transgender will be as widely accepted and normalized as other minority groups.
Although issues like transgender bathroom use, civil rights protection, and suicide rates are all of major importance, the transition itself remains paramount. Transitioning is not only a mental and physical process, often burdened by surgeries, hormone treatments, therapy sessions and more; it’s also a daunting, unnecessarily complicated legal feat. To get a better understanding of the current landscape of transgender rights, I spoke with Leo Kattari, a trans man who has fought for transgender rights for years and currently works at the Colorado State Health Department, pushing for pro- transgender initiatives wherever he can.
“There’s all this gatekeeping you have to go through. You have to get letters from two different doctors in order to get hormones. You have to get even more letters to get surgeries,” Leo said, speaking from his personal experience of transitioning and from watching others go through the experience. “Where is a trans person’s voice in this process? If you know you’re trans, why do you need to prove it through the medical process? Insurance companies won’t even cover [the surgeries], so what’s the point anyway when you’re paying out of pocket?”
In order for trans people in Colorado to have their gender changed on their birth certificates, they first have to go through sex reassignment surgery. This is typically a “bottom surgery,” meaning an individual must change their genitalia to that of their chosen gender in order for the change to be legally recognized. However, “For a lot of transgender people, receiving sex reassignment surgery isn’t part of their transition process,” Leo said. “Not all transgender people want, need, or can get it. Most people wouldn’t have the financial means to pay regardless.”
Change is Coming
Financial and legal constraints upon the transgender community aren’t new, but there are positive signs of change on the horizon. Kricket Nimmons was one of the first Americans to receive gender reassignment surgery paid for by Medicaid, but the number of recipients of these procedures has risen since. For decades Medicare did not cover sex-reassignment surgeries because they were considered to be experimental. However, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, “That exclusion was eliminated in May 2014, and there is now no national exclusion for transition-related health care under Medicare.” Additionally, according to an article in The New York Times, “More states and insurance providers are following [Medicare’s] lead.”
Take Another Look
Exploring new perspectives on long-standing conflict
Another look at Politics:
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘16
And how we can lead the charge against incivility
By Connor Vise (2016)
As graduating senior Conor Vise looked forward to leaving behind the rote life of academia in favor of the wider world, his plans included joining the Peace Corps as the first step in his plan for world domination… I mean a successful and meaningful career in politics.
Aaaaand they’re off! Trump, the dark horse, is surprisingly leading the pack! Ted Cruz passes on the side to win Texas by nearly twenty points! Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are, quite literally, jockeying for position! Who will come out on top? Tune in to the next edition of horse race journalism, coming up after these messages from our corporate sponsors.
Advocates of press freedom are fond of quoting Thomas Jefferson when he said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” They are less fond of quoting Thomas Jefferson when he said, “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” Jefferson understood both the vital importance of a free press to a democratic society, and the propensity of journalists to squander that freedom on absolute bullsh*t.
Politics are important. The politicians we elect pass laws that meaningfully impact the lives of millions of people. That monumental choice is upon us once again, accompanied by the typical fervor and fanfare: the primary season.
This electoral choice carries with it a whole set of assumptions and beliefs that represent the ideological tendencies of individual voters—or, simply put, who you want to be president says a lot about what you think is important. But, what if, at a fundamental level, people were incapable of making that monumental decision in an informed manner? What if the very institution meant to educate them has abdicated that vital responsibility?
Which brings us to horse race journalism, antagonistic reporting, the game schema, war framing, the Clint Eastwood of political news; tell me, do ya feel lucky punk? Academics, such as Matthew C. Nisbet in his article “Horse Race Coverage and the Political Spectacle,” have defined horse race journalism as “an almost exclusive focus on “insider” coverage of campaign strategy and a fascination with who’s ahead and who’s behind in the polls.” Candidates are cast as gladiators competing in the political arena, with their clashes described in violent terms. Lost in the media spectacle is any careful coverage of issues and policy proposals, or serious discussion of a candidate’s background.
There are a plethora of candidates running for President, each with their unique set of skills, weaknesses, and priorities, and it is the job of the media to inform the public about these options in order to sustain a vibrant and functioning democracy. The corporate media, however, distill this diversity of political opinion into an ‘us vs. them’ mode of thinking about who is winning, while avoiding serious policy discussions. In turn, many Americans feel left out of the very system that is meant to represent them.
Chelsea McGowen is one such person. An ardent supporter of Bernie Sanders, she echoes the distrust of corporate media common to many millennials. Gesticulating wildly, coffee in hand, she argues “the media portrays only what they want and they report it the same way. It’s all in the interest of their views and what their money is being spent on.” Democratic candidate James Buchanan, as a buck deer, crosses the finish line of a racecourse ahead of competitors Millard Fillmore and John C. Fremont. Spectators cheer in the stands behind.
The lack of thorough, thought-provoking journalism has ultimately led to a crumbling of democratic discourse in the United States.
It is important to note that this is a seemingly perennial problem that has plagued our country since its inception some 240 years ago. However, multiple factors such as the rise of modern polling and technological innovations such as television and the internet have dramatically compounded the problem. Scholarly analysis finds that coverage focusing on the game schema that frames elections in terms of strategy and political success rose from 45% of stories sampled in 1960 to more than 80% of stories in 1992. In comparison, coverage focusing on “policy schema,” framing elections in terms of policy and leadership, dropped from 50% of coverage in 1960 to just 10% of coverage analyzed in 1992.
What do these trends mean for our current presidential election?
As reported in The Economist, between the beginning of 2015 and the end of February 2016, Donald Trump received over 400 minutes of airtime on the ABC, NBC, and CBS evening newscasts. Compare that to less than 100 minutes for both his main Republican opponents, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders combined received less than half the coverage Trump did.
This leads to a self-reinforcing bandwagon effect perpetrated by the corporate news media in the attempt to make political news more entertaining; prioritizing traditional news values (timeliness, elite status, competition) eventually manifests as homogeneous reporting that favors the winners. That is to say that by attempting to reach the widest audience possible, news outlets have arrived at a ‘cut-and-paste’ style of news writing, enabled by the practices of horse race journalism, in which journalists rely on the same tropes and archetypes to convey information.
As evidenced by the campaign of Donald Trump, continued media coverage, good and bad, can help sustain political momentum. When one candidate is constantly portrayed by the media as winning using poll data, it can create a false sense of already finalized victory in the minds of voters. Or to use a Trumpism, “we will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with winning.”
The American polity is not overly involved in the political process, and thus often operates in a low information environment reinforced by media practices. Steve Richards, a journalist at The Coloradoan, argues in defense of the horse race style of reporting. He contends that these image-dominated campaigns are low on substantive policy debates because “most voters are not motivated to find substantial information on political issues and instead seek shortcuts that do not require their careful attention to complex policy issues.”
In a piece for Slate Jack Shafer mirrored this position, writing “even if the press corps had abandoned substance, no voter is more than a mouse click away from detailed policy papers and unfiltered campaign speeches by the candidates.”
While this may be true, it ignores the larger issue at play. The media is vital to a functioning democracy precisely because it does (or ought to) go through those ‘detailed policy papers’ and ‘unfiltered campaign speeches’ in order to educate the vast amount of American citizens who don’t have the time, know-how, or willingness to undertake such a project.
Political scientists, such as Thomas E. Patterson, argue that by abdicating their responsibility for thorough and contextual political news, the mainstream media has caused untold harm to citizens’ abilities to learn from coverage and reach informed decisions about complex policy issues. Others have also studied how the strategy frame portrays candidates and elected officials as self-interested and poll-driven opportunists, an image that they show promotes cynicism and distrust among audiences. Horse race journalism is therefore not just a disservice to the American public, but negatively affects elected officials on both sides of the aisle as well.
The everyday voter, then, is subjected to a subliminal hurricane, the political perfect storm; we want easily digestible information, the media wants a quick and easy style of reporting, we don’t receive the necessary information to make informed decisions, and we somehow continually find ourselves re-electing a Congress with an 11% approval rating.
It’s the political equivalent of the ‘Titanic’—by now someone should obviously know something is wrong before we hit an iceberg and sink our infallible democracy. Except that this time, there is a lifeboat, Jack.
Dr. Katie Knobloch, Associate Director of the Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State University, researches how deliberative public practices (that is to say, talking to each other civilly) result in a more informed and engaged citizenry.
The deliberative model is, simply put, meant to heighten the quality of civic debate. Participants in deliberative discussion are encouraged to put aside their previously-held ideas and weigh the pros and cons of a wide variety of solutions to a particular problem. As Dr. Knobloch emphasized, the motto here is to “stay in learning mode.”
That’s all well and good, and it seems to work on a small scale, but deliberative practices can’t possibly work for large scale elections, right? Wrong. What do you think this is, a traditional news story?
Complementing her work with the Center for Public Deliberation, Dr. Knobloch is actively researching the manifestation of deliberative political action—the Citizens’ Initiative Review, or CIR. While it has been debated since the late ‘90s, the CIR was first officially utilized in the state of Oregon in 2010, and similar processes have sprung up in states such as California and Arizona.
A CIR is essentially a citizens’ jury that deliberates about specific ballot initiatives. A small panel of voters who are demographically representative of the population meet over several days to hear expert testimony and arguments for and against these ballot measures. At the end of the CIR the panelists produce written statements regarding how many support or oppose the measure as well as their reasons for doing so. This statement is included in the official voter guide, a small booklet that lets voters hear from their well-informed peers.
This is a key step in reversing the negative effects of horse race journalism, and on a more fundamental level, is an important educational tool that promotes civic engagement. Multiple surveys have shown that voters have very little knowledge about ballot initiatives and are often unable to articulate reasonable positions for or against these measures, which stems from the media’s unwillingness to provide well-rounded, contextual political analysis. The CIR counters these problematic trends and encourages a more vibrant and engaging form of democracy. But this begs the question: if the media is part of the problem, shouldn’t they be part of the solution as well? What would a deliberative media look like?
Dr. Knobloch acknowledges the symbiotic relationship between citizens and the fourth estate in her answer, as she discusses the role of mini-publics in filtering public opinion up towards elected officials in the most egalitarian form possible. These mini-publics are, essentially, town hall meetings that occur across local, state, and national levels. Popular opinion would be more clearly conveyed coming from local meetings, where everyone participates, filtering through wards of increasing size and power until you reach the top, or federal government.
Which brings us full circle back to Thomas Jefferson and his vision of a ‘ward republic.’ In this town hall-centered mode of democratic representation, decision making is undertaken by each and every citizen, thus enabling the kratos of the demos, or power of the people to act. Therefore, it is the mini-publics, town-hall meetings, and ward republics that create a space for individuals to deliberate as equals, to provide and absorb new information, and to ultimately make a meaningful impact on public policy.
In Oedipus at Colonus, Sophocles wrote these famous, frightening lines: “not to be born prevails over all meaning uttered in words; by far the second-best for life, once it has appeared, is to go as swiftly as possible whence it came.”
Through the mouthpiece of Theseus, legendary founder of Athens, we learn what it is that enabled ordinary people, young and old, to bear life’s burden: it was the polis, “the space of men’s free deeds and living words,” which could endow life with splendor.
Another look at comedy:
Comedy in the Politically Correct World
By Christian Knoll (2016-2017)
Christian Knoll is a CSU student studying journalism and zoology. He comes from a small town (Ignacio, CO) on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation near Durango, CO. Growing up he did anything and everything to keep himself preoccupied. His hobbies include writing, skiing, and guitar playing.
Mocking President Donald Trump’s obsession with TV ratings, late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert impersonated Trump while reading from an Associated Press transcript. “’I … seem to get very high ratings. I definitely. You know Chris Wallace had 9.2 million people, it’s the highest in the history of the show.’”
Continuing in the President’s voice, “It’s the highest for ‘Face the Nation’ or as I call it, ‘Deface the Nation.’ It’s the highest for ‘Deface the Nation’ since the World Trade Center. Since the World Trade Center came down. It’s a tremendous advantage.”
Deviating from the transcript and reverting back to his normal voice, Colbert looked directly at the camera and said: “Mr. President, I know you’re proud of your ratings, but it is not generally a good thing to compare yourself to 9/11.” The audience cheered.
Then impersonating Trump once again, doing an exceptional job mimicking his syntax and diction, “My first 100 days have been huge… Titanic, ok,” Colbert said in character. This pun was met with hearty laughter from the audience.
“We are blowing up, ok. Bigger than anything since Nagasaki.” This play on words was met with an audible negative-sounding “ooooohhhhh” from the audience. The joke backfired. Colbert laughed and quickly explained to the audience. “Again, I am modeling the behavior of another person. This is not me speaking,” Colbert said. “But the Titanic joke was fine?” he asks the audience with irony.
Why did two jokes, aimed at the same target, go in such different directions?
Stances: Comedy and Political Correctness
Those who live in Western contemporary society belong to one of the largest, most socially progressive cultures in recorded history, resulting in significant social breakthroughs. Given these breakthroughs, a large portion of our society has become more tolerant. Granted, there are pockets of racism and social discrimination. However, representation of minority groups throughout most levels of Western society is growing. In relation to this, a new social phenomenon quickly established itself in our society: political correctness.
This phenomenon of political correctness has given rise to tension among those who consider themselves socially progressive and many comedians in the entertainment industry. On a surface-level, the agendas of these groups are different, and at times antagonistic toward one another, especially when comic routines veer toward extremes. However, viewed from a different perspective, both progressives and comedians may be reaching for a common social by-product: social justice.
Historically, this conflict should come as no surprise. Prominent artists often faced social ridicule for their work. Famous comedians such as George Carlin and Lenny Bruce frequently found themselves in hot water for what they joked about. In fact, both were arrested simultaneously and forcibly put into the same police vehicle, according to the Showtime documentary series “Penn & Teller: Bullshit.”
In short, their incarcerations were due to the extreme politically correct culture that surrounded them. The idea of political correctness has been present throughout our history, but the label has changed with time. Take a moment to think of a time in history when something was considered socially “edgy” or “against the grain.” Now, compare this historical instance to something of equal magnitude in the present. Chances are this topic, which was considered edgy at the time, is considered socially dull or mundane.
Extreme social progressives often believe that the material projected by comedians perpetuate or trivialize negative aspects of society. On the other hand, many comedians believe that the ‘PC’ (Politically Correct) culture is “killing comedy.” Quite frequently, comedians are publically slandered by those who consider themselves social progressives. Unfortunately, this has the potential to compromise a comedian’s livelihood and artistic endeavors.
More so, there is a concern of censorship amongst comedians. Apprehension about severe, negative social ridicule has frequently deterred comedians from performing at specific venues and college campuses. But social dismissal is rarely ever the case in comedy. In fact, it is the opposite. To understand this, the elements of comedy must be understood.
Elements, Cause & Effect and Beyond
For any comedian, the goal is to entertain and ‘get the laughs.’ However, an often underappreciated aspect of comedy is how the material is put together. As many entertainers would agree, all comedy comes from some degree of tragedy. Or, on a broader scale, a degree of opposition is necessary for comedy to exist, according to Carlin. It is a strange concept to grasp, but when applied, it does carry some validity. For example, puns are an ‘insult’ language. Odd faces in movies ‘mock’ strange looking people. Even knock-knock jokes challenge an individual’s intelligence. The list goes on. The beauty of it is that comedy highlights these odd and frequently harsh realities in a satirical way an audience can relate to and (hopefully) laugh about. Authors and critics such as Roger Cohen and Ryan Richards argue that comedians play the roles of social gatekeepers; comedians highlight odd social norms, injustices and societal incongruities within our culture and project them to an audience.
A prominent example of this social commentary involves the recent controversy over Bill Cosby’s rape allegations. According to the Washington Post, news of Cosby committing these atrocities, which occurred more than 13 years ago, would have never been amplified into the social mainstream without comedian Hannibal Buress. From a two-minute bit, which was recorded on a cell phone by an audience member, Buress unintentionally prompted a social call-to-action. For shortly after his segment hit the social mainstream, many silenced women spoke out and testified against Cosby.
Another case involved comedian and comedy writer Chris Rock and his presence in hosting the 2016 Oscars Award Ceremony. In 2016, the film ceremony faced criticism for the lack of racial/ethnic diversity within the art of cinematography, according to a post by Entertainment Weekly. Rock, with his racial, ethnic and professional background, took the stage and rebuked the actors’ guild. However, he took a twist. Rock criticized the ceremony not in a way that was harmful or berating, but in a way that was witty, peaceful and humorous.
“No black nominees. People are like, ‘Chris you should boycott, Chris you should quit.’” Rock said while hosting the Oscars. “How come it’s only unemployed people that tell you to quit something? … I thought about quitting. I thought about it really hard. But I realized they’re gonna have the Oscars anyway. They’re not gonna cancel the Oscars because I quit. And the last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart, okay?”
But anything can be taken to an extreme. Comedy, while it may have the intention to make someone laugh, can sometimes backfire. As anyone who falls into a social/racial minority knows, the use of racial slurs and negative stereotypes in comedy can potently reinforce negative social aspects that were unjustly given to the groups. Whether these jokes are considered intentional or just in poor taste is another story however.
In 2011, when an earthquake caused a tsunami to hit the coast of Japan, comedian Gilbert Gottfried tweeted jokes pertaining to the disaster. His joke backfired, costing him his voice acting job as the Aflac duck mascot. Being the professional he is, Gottfried promptly apologized for his jokes, as he did not intend to cause any emotional harm. Ultimately his joke, which may now be considered funny, was poorly timed.
More than Just the Intent
As any professional comedian would say, “comedy is tragedy plus time.” Without the element of time to allow society to reflect upon the tragedy in the world, comedy would not exist. Many of us have heard the phrase “too soon.” All of us, including comedians, need to appreciate context. Like Colbert’s reference to Nagasaki, Gottfried’s joke backfired; but if more time were given for society to digest the tragedy, the joke may have then been considered funny. Today we are able to make jokes about some of the most morbid things that happened in relatively recent history. For instance, take the Boston Marathon Bombings, or even further back in time, jokes about the 1980s AIDS epidemic or even something as tragic as 9/11. Most citizens of Western society are able to make jokes like these with little to no social repercussions. Compared to others countries, like in Egypt for instance, where comedians are still censored on many subjects regardless of how much time has passed, according to a CNN article.
Likewise, it is important to be offended as an audience. Being offended prompts call-to-actions for social change.
When comedians like Sam Morril use material in regards to subjects, in his case sexual assault, is he perpetuating rape or is he in fact doing the opposite, bringing a dark and often taboo reality into a light-hearted, safe, environment to be talked about? It is up to audience members, journalists and critics alike to give proper analysis of a comedian’s work. Beyond that, it is paramount to have a social dialogue about the subjects that comedians project to us.
Comedy and Social Positivity
Through their satirical, thought-provoking material, comedians have managed to change the world, and mostly for the better. The new host of “the Daily Show,” Trevor Noah, born and raised in apartheid South Africa, spear headed a social revolution for many South African comedians. According to an article by the Huffington Post, Noah’s presence on the satirical socio-political talk show inspired and prompted many young South African comedians to step up to the microphone and tussle with controversial topics of interest in present-day South Africa. This occurrence has been appropriately labeled as the “Trevor Noah Phenomenon.”
The social critique also goes beyond the stage and late-night talk shows. “South Park,” the popular animated show on Comedy Central, has been infamously known for their comedic and often controversial works. Their 19th season, which corresponds with today’s culture, tackles a large number of on-going social topics. Aside from their overarching theme of today’s version of political correctness, the show also manages to hit on themes such as how sponsored content influences our media and how gentrification is becoming evermore present in our society.
Colorado State University student and a self-proclaimed social progressive Rosemary Pineau gave her opinions on “South Park’s” 19th season. “I think they’re making a lot of political, bold claims that I’d like to think about more,” Pineau said. “They talked a lot about media, PC… gentrification and class systems in general.”
Will comedy always do the right thing? Unfortunately no. There have been prominent and trusted figures who have let us down in the present. There are also great comedians who we love that have crossed the line, because comedy, especially in regards to our society and culture, is a difficult line to walk. However, it is a line that needs to be walked.
How do we determine when it is appropriate become offended and make our voiced heard? As with most things in life there is no clear-cut formula, we simply have to use our sensibilities. When comedians use obscene and often offensive material, it may not be out of ill will. There might always be truly mean-spirited people in the world, but good comedy does not need to suffer from those who fall into those extremes.
Beyond that, comedians rely on their audience to succeed, so when appropriate have a civil dialogue with your entertainers. Sam Morril, despite being slandered on a major online news publication, urges his audience to talk to him.
“I’m not a monster,” Morril said. “If you come at me reasonably I’m interested in listening.”
Through clear communication, understanding, and reframing between those involved, society can take one step closer toward the path to peace.
Spotlight on Solutions
Finding promising ways forward
Spotlight on schools:
Bring Back the Arts
by Shannon Henderson (2016)
Shannon Henderson graduated from Colorado State University with a Liberal Arts degree in both Dance and Journalism. In the summer she will be interning at Contemporary Dance Academy in Fort Collins, Colorado, as a dance teacher. She will also take that time to audition and further her dance career.
Have you ever wanted to get up in the middle of a long lecture and walk around, doodle, or move just to find a different way to think and process things? Well, you’re not alone. As we enter the 21st century, our schools face a crucial dilemma. We can drop the arts altogether from public school curricula, or we can reposition arts and design practices as an engine for innovation. In a visual age in which knowledge is conveyed digitally and our access to images is immediate, the study and practice of arts and design education offer necessary tools for any nation that aspires to retain leadership in the global exchange of information.
Students are often exposed to standard forms of art that highlight experiences in creative thought and conceptual processes. However, this has not been offered in a regular school curriculum as much as it has outside of the classroom during personal attempts to study the arts. Art education has become less integrated with core academics. School systems today emphasize the importance of STEM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) but habitually forget additional components of a well-rounded education. If funding for the arts remains sufficient, school systems will adequately move towards the goal of maintaining quality education, enabling students to become familiar with various methods of learning.
Throughout the early 21st century school year, 20 percent of schools offered dance and theater classes compared to only three percent in 2009-10. The number of establishments that offer music has not significantly changed over the last decade with 94 percent of schools still incorporating classes into their curricula. Visual arts programs dropped from 87 percent in 1999-2000 to 83 percent in 2009-10. In addition to a general decrease in education funds, various government policies including the No Child Left Behind Act and the Common Core State Standards have placed greater importance on core subjects, further devaluing art education. Due to these policies, school districts have redirected funds toward subjects that require standardized testing in pursuit of higher overall exam scores. Consequently, art education in some schools has been completely eliminated.
So why should we care about a strong art education curriculum? Tommy Dodge, music director at Fort Morgan Middle School, believes strongly that arts education benefits other academic pursuits.
“It is shown that the arts prove to proficiently improve academic performance,” said Mr. Dodge. “Young people who participate regularly in the arts…are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, to participate in a math and science fair, or to win an award for writing an essay or poem than children who do not participate.”
By accepting a combination of art and core classes, no one model of knowledge acquisition is more prominent than another and opportunities for improvement are increased. Viewing the arts as a system of creation promotes collaboration with other disciplines that teach learners to think differently. Perceiving the arts as a means of communication provides association with other subjects that teach learners to think expressively in a language. Critical reflection used when viewing and learning about the arts trains individuals to question their contexts, confront injustice, and seek to understand given knowledge and everyday situations.
A study published in 2008 used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine musical improvisation in university-level music majors. Cognitive neuroscience research has informed our understanding of the role of arts education in cultivating creativity. Seven participants played both rehearsed and improvised melodies on a fiber-optic keyboard. The study found that during improvisation, the highly trained music majors used their brains in a way the non-musicians could not: they deactivated their right-temporoparietal junction. Music majors were able to block all distractions, allowing them to concentrate to a greater degree and create music spontaneously. The study demonstrated a positive relationship between music training and improvisational ability, suggesting that creativity can be taught.
Early childhood education can grow tremendously with the reintroduction of a solid arts education system. Youth and adolescents who have had an arts education background or an introduction to the arts have shown positive improvements in social, academic, and cognitive development. A study from the National Endowment for the Arts researched four different K-12 school systems in the upper New York area and compiled data pertaining to four different elementary school kindergarten classes. Two of the schools had mandatory art education classes and two did not. The study followed the four classes up until graduation, for a total of 12 years of research. They found students from low-income backgrounds who attended an arts-enriched school improved in real world readiness skills. Children attending a school that used an arts integration model made greater developmental strides in multiple domains including creativity, language, literacy, social relations, and mathematics. Student behavior also improved for the students exposed to the arts. The schools’ number of suspensions and discipline referrals decreased as student attendance increased. Individuals in arts-based schools significantly outperformed other students on state standardized tests in reading and math.
Exposure to an arts background can have a lasting effect on lifespan as well. A Vital Visionary survey conducted by Gonzaga University showed that college students who are engaged in the arts become more positive in their attitudes toward older adults and felt they had more in common with them. According to the research team, socializing young adult groups through art can enhance commonality with older adults. The arts provide a sense of community through sharing an activity, looking past stereotypes, using the mind, and engaging the senses. Students and older adults with strong networks are more likely to stay out of nursing homes and to display quality-of-life benefits, compared to adults with less diverse arts backgrounds.
Familiarity with art education has also greatly increased the imagination, social, and cognitive processes of individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. A study done by Timeslips, an organization based on Alzheimer’s research, showed that the reintroduction of the arts into a patient’s everyday life heightened communication skills and helped the person become more engaged and alert. Findings revealed statistically significant and substantively visible mood changes with improved self-esteem and outlook on life.
So how can we incorporate the arts back into our educational systems? STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) brings a cross-disciplinary, integrated focus on learning that engages and inspires students, brings students with diverse interests together in a team environment, and encourages imaginative, innovative, and critical thinking towards solving problems, going beyond the rote memorization of facts and figures. Led by prestigious institutions such as the Rhode Island School of Design, STEAM is in the promising stages of adoption. Several school systems are creating STEAM schools or STEAM magnet programs while some have been in operation for just a few years.
Most begin by incorporating arts into traditional STEM coursework. Using this approach, STEAM has already shown promising strides. STEAM programs could be a key to creativity and an essential component of innovation. It could be necessary to create a generation that can originate new industries in the future, with jobs that promote future economic well-being. If school systems do not connect these dots, arts education will continue to be virtually extinct in our schools.
“As a child I always had a hard time finding an outlet that showed my strengths and where I could fully show who I was as an individual,” Mr. Dodge said. “I realized that Music was that source of expression for me. I could get lost in a song on days when I needed, and could show people how to when I played. I remember listening to classical music, my favorite, and forgetting difficult situations that may have been occurring at the time, and just fully enjoying the melody instead. I always wanted that for my students. The arts are expression, it is as simple as that, and a school that can integrate them into a standard academic setting is statistically shown to have higher testing scores and lower amounts of students struggling with depression and self- confidence issues. It will always be important to educate the youth with math, writing, history, science, and the typical core classes, but it is just as important to educate them in creativity, passion, and personal love.”
Spotlight on Climate:
Emission Standards versus the Economy
By Miles Spencer (2017)
“The U.S. coal industry has been struggling in recent years. Mining companies are getting crushed by rising costs, new pollution rules and competition from cheap natural gas,” according to Brad Plumer of The Washington Post.
Over the years the emission standards have been raised across the globe and in the United States. There have been some industries that have been affected drastically by these standards. Some industries, however, learned to adapt to these emission standards and have even learned to profit still from higher emission standards. Thus, leading to the overarching question: Do higher emission standards cause economies to stagnate?
Turkey completed a 30-year study from 1975 to 2005 on the relationship between the economy and the amount of emission standards produced. When looking at this question, most would believe that there would be a negative correlation between the two. When higher emission standards were issued, large producers would be more impacted. The research found that there was a positive correlation between the two and even with higher emission standards the economy was still improving. Even with a positive correlation between stricter emissions and positively growing economy, there still was the question of how it would effect smaller/growing economies. Reuteman said, “Less advanced don’t have as many options. They need fuel to stay warm and they need fuel to cook. They’re going to use whatever the heck they can come up with whether it has emissions or low emissions…less developed countries don’t have the luxury to pick and choose what fuel sources they might use some of which may have lower emission standards.”
So as of right now with stricter emissions helping larger countries, there does not seem to be a positive effect on smaller economies/less developed economies.
When looking at industries that have been significantly affected by emission standards, it is the industries that are producing raw materials (like coal).
Reuteman thinks that technology has not advanced far enough to help those industries. “It hasn’t really advanced much further than these high tech scrubbers or filters.” Reuteman has done some coverage on the clean coal technology. “I’ve never seen one that works. Never seen one that is profitable.” Reuteman also said, “the price tag on it was triple the price tag for natural gas.”
Tom Dean a Colorado State University teacher has an undergraduate degree in environmental science and then specialized in environmental economics. He received his Ph.D. in entrepreneurship. He began to see how the environment related to the economy. He really enjoyed how entrepreneurship can “transform the world in way that’s better for the environment.” He taught his first class on Environmental Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado Boulder.
When talking about the coal industry Dean mentions that the coal industry’s number one problem is natural gas. “It’s cheaper to burn natural gas at current gas prices than it is to burn coal. The technology is easier and it’s easier to modulate.” Fracking has also had a big impact on coal as well, because it makes natural gas cheap. “Coal has taken a double whack/whammy with some of the emission regulations.” Dean agrees with Reuteman with the idea that carbon capture won’t be cheap for any company anytime in the near future.
In an article from The Motley Fool, Donald Trump mentioned he’s going to try to create jobs again for the coal industry. However, it’s easier said than done. What has really hurt the coal industry is that natural gas is cheaper and much more efficient. Also if we were to try and save the coal industry it would then create problems for the natural gas industry, which is more efficient and better for the environment. There really is no hope for the coal industry in the US. Which then raises the question about what is happening to the workers in the coal industry?
Pacific Standard magazine released an article discussing the coal mining industry. In 2013 there were still 80,396 people still working in coalmines. A majority of those workers are primarily located in only three states. In 1974, the Trade Act created a Trade Adjustment Assistance Program to assist coal miners that had lost their jobs due to a shrinking industry. The program offers services like re-employment, job re-training, and financial benefits to workers who have lost their job from competition. Although there is a plan to try and help coal workers/other workers who have been displaced by competition. The training program hasn’t been very successful either “only a third of those training recipients ended up working in the field they had received training in,” said Dwyer Gunn of the Pacific Standard Magazine. Another big issue is what retired coal workers are doing about their pension plans and health benefits.
An article published by The Washington Post talks about hundreds of thousands workers who are at risk of losing their health benefits and pension plans. As the industry becomes slower, the risk for these retirees losing their hard earned benefits increases. There was already an issue that concerned coal miners having their benefits jeopardized. Two major coal industries put their workers in a new company called Patriot Coal. As coal became less and less desirable the company was forced to declare bankruptcy. Around 12,000 miners now face the loss of the benefits. As of right now there is no clear solution to address the possible loss of retired coal miners pension plan and health benefits.
Reuteman mentioned that certain industries have been able to profit from these stricter emission standards. “Companies have adapted to technology and they are profiting from it,” said Reuteman. Reuteman brought up the point of car manufactures in the U.S. He mentioned that every car company has some type of hybrid car that they offer. He also mentioned that the largest car company and one of the most successful car producers does not even produce emissions. “What suddenly is the largest most valuable car company in the U.S.? Tesla. They make electric cars.” According to Chris Ciaccia of The Street, Peter Thiel, cofounder of PayPal, thinks that Tesla has been successful because it has developed products in areas that no other car company has been. The article also mentions that Tesla has such impressive technology that other car companies like Mercedes-Benz and Toyota use their technology for their cars. In an article from Bloomberg it goes on to describe why Tesla has the number one selling luxury car in America. “The Tesla Model S is quicker than similarly priced gasoline cars, has a long driving range, extensive fast-charging network, and is packed with unrivaled tech advances like Autopilot and wireless software updates” according to Tom Randall of Bloomberg Magazine. According to an article from Global Manufacturing, it also agrees that a big part of Tesla’s success is that Tesla put a majority of its focus on technology.
Dean also mentioned a successful company called Renewable Choice Energy, based out of Boulder, Colorado. Renewable Choice Energy is a business that sells renewable energy credits and was recently purchased by Schneider Electric. An example that Dean mentions about the company is that “Companies can become 100 percent wind powered quote un quote by purchasing these credits which are produced through the implementation of renewable energy even though they don’t buy that energy directly.” Renewable Choice Energy has helped many companies with green power. One major company Renewable Choice Energy has helped was Whole Foods. They made it possible for Whole Foods to be 100 percent powered by wind.
When Dean talks about economies becoming stagnated, he mentions, “What causes economies to be messed up is when we subsidize industries that don’t deserve to be subsidized.” He feels emission standards are implemented, because it’s good for the economy. He thinks that policies implemented for emissions benefit the economy.
To conclude, it has been interesting to see how companies are learning how to profit with stricter emission standards. There really appears to be no foreseeable solution to the plight of the coal industry, and it seems like there may not be any in the future either. With no new technology to really help coal become more emission friendly, along with fracking making natural gas be so cheap there really doesn’t look like there is a viable solution for the coal industry.