The Power of Being a Nerd

First off I just want to start by saying I am a huge comic book nerd, nerd in general really, but that’s besides the point. I included the noun nerd because for decades it was used to describe anyone who enjoyed comics or anything of the like. Realistically I am nothing like the classical description of a nerd, I played sports all throughout high school, hung with the “cool crowd” and generally kept all my nerdish tendencies to myself. It wasn’t till I graduated that I really started to accept that part of me; and it was at this time that I started to discover the true value of comics, superheroes, or anything beyond the scope of “normal” media. Let’s take Wonder Woman for example; she has been such an influential character when it comes to the empowerment of women. Although she was created by a man in the 1940’s, she showed that women didn’t have to be these helpless creatures forever destined to spend their lives in the kitchen or the bedroom. She has reached and inspired millions of women since her creation, and her influence still grows today with the creation of Wonder Women day celebrated in my very own home town of Portland, Oregon. She is even getting her own motion picture in 2017, which is a big deal considering most superhero movies are dominated by male leads. The value of comics doesn’t stop there though; marvel has recently started changing some of their leads to incorporate more forward-thinking ideals. Some examples are female Thor, further running with the idea of an empowered female lead, and male superheroes who are openly homosexual. It’s not just the superhero sub-genre of comics that are making social impacts; because the comic is such an opened platform for media with limited censorship, most indie comics cover ideas or concepts often too intense for traditional media. One of the first comics I ever read, Saga, combined cursing, uncensored sexual content, and genocide to make for a very impactful message. Going along with the strong female lead, the comic Paper Girls has an entire cast of females, and each one is more strong-willed and kickass than the last.

 

To be fair, it’s really easy to say that comics are impactful considering I am from the United States, built on all it’s free-speech, and freedom of the press greatness. However, it is not just the U.S. that is seeing the impact of comics. Dr. Naif al-Mutawa created The 99, an Arab style justice league; he is using comics infused with Arabic style ideals to promote tolerance and peace. In an article entitled “Islamic Super Heroes” President Obama is quoted, saying “His comic books (Dr. Mutawa’s) have captured the imagination of many young people. His superheroes embody the teachings and the tolerance of Islam.” This is just further proof of not only the ever growing popularity of comic books, but the significant role they can play on influencing not just the youth of the world, but people of all ages, and religions.

Graphic News in a Graphic Era

 

In an age where we are pummeled by media from every direction, I often become lost and unable to determine which source of media is truly relevant, and which is just tabloid garbage. This, along with the rise in technology, has really diminished the value of the written word. Why would we read a twenty-page journal article on the effects of Methane gas in the atmosphere, when we can watch a ten-minute clip on YouTube, and effectively proclaim to the entire populace that we are experts on the matter. In THIS generation, graphic novels such as Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and Journalism by Joe Sacco holds true to the detailed text needed for certain stories while still catering to our ever growing want for captivating graphic forms of media. From the onset Persepolis captivates you, its artistic style of heavy black and white evenly separated comic strips along with the unintimidating text sizes draws you in. This novel, so unthreateningly simple at first glace is not all what it seems. You’ve heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” well Persepolis embodies this idea to it’s fullest. Told through the eyes of a child, this book lulls your mind into feelings of childlike euphoria, but this is when it gets interesting. Bam! All of a sudden you get images of death, of public executions, citywide bombings, and torture; and yet, the child’s demeanor doesn’t change, she still enjoys her life. I was so confused when I first saw this, the idea of these things happening in my own backyard is unfathomable to me as an American. We live in our own private bubble of 1st world safety, which is why it took me so long to realize that this was her reality. She lived this day and night, 24-7, four weeks a month, twelve months a year until she was twelve, that’s terrifying to me. This graphic novel, or comic book, or whatever you want to call it hit home with me; ripped through the numbness to violence of this age and hit home, that is not an easy accomplishment.

 

Now Journalism, although just as powerful, was a different kind of graphic novel all together.  Containing several journalism stories in one book, Journalism takes a much more real approach to introducing you to some of the horrible realities of our world. Although still comic book-est, each image is based on real photos taken by Joe Sacco, and he focuses much more on the facial expressions of each person. The emotion of the scenes jumps out, you feel immersed, completely sure that you experienced this moment yourself and not through the lens of media. Interlaced with large quantities of text both narrative and speech, Journalism gives you everything found in a standard newspaper article. However, unlike it’s predecessor, Joe Sacco’s own style of media brings something more to the table; it brings human emotion, it brings depth, it brings reality. The rough rugged lines of his art combined with the deeply informative writing that only comes from a well decorated journalist, makes for an unbeatable combination. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to jump into my favorite books and experience them firsthand, however, after reading Journalism I wonder no longer.

To Inflame! (or) To Inform!

Over the past couple of weeks my mind has been flooded with thoughts of how the media interacts with its citizens. It may be because I have been binge watching The West Wing, which has strong undertones of the bizarre and sometimes ruthless ways of the media. It’s also possible that both of my popular culture classes this term has something to do with my mind state; but the point is, I’ve been thinking about it. It’s because of this that David Puttnam’s Ted Talk on the role of the media in politics and democracy as a whole really lit a fire under me. He took the quote, “you must take care to avoid acts or omissions, which you could reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbor,” and applied it to the broad definition the media seems to have of the truth. Puttnam concluded that the media has to decide if their job is to inflame or to inform. He strongly argues that it is their job to push the latter, and denies this as a form of censorship; he asks, why do both the truth and freedom of speech have to be mutually exclusive, why can’t large companies with greater influence be held to a higher standard? My answer would be; to impose these sort of limitation on the media would not only hurt freedom of speech, but would be a major blow to democracy. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely agree with the concept of higher standards for both the media and major corporations. I should not have to double or triple check something written in the paper just to make sure it is true, nor should I have to worry if companies are trying to pull a fast one on me. However, to impose such limitations breaks down the fundamental concepts on which this nation was built, and ultimately lessons the freedoms of its people.

 

Let’s take for example, Michael Pollan’s docuseries “Cooked,” which I feel really shows why limiting some forms of the media would be so difficult. On the one hand you have this great series that shows how the act of home cooking has been reduced by the rise of the fast food industry. The docuseries does a fantastic job of instilling in you the idea that the art of cooking is disappearing; everyday families taxed by ever increasing work hours find solace in easy, fast, and cheap food. Pollan even enforces his points by contrasting America with India. India, which is a rapidly developing country, is starting to feel the effects of the fast food industry. Pollan goes on to state that India has found a very real solution, a sort of Post Mates for home cooked meals, where mothers and daughters will contract out their skills as cooks. On the other hand, Pollan completely disregards the fact that a major reason why these mothers and daughters are contracting out their culinary skills is because the poverty level in India is rising do to their ever growing population, and in order for some families to survive, every member must work. Another issue is that Pollan barely spends any time talking about how much more expensive it is to cook at home, especially with fresh ingredients. Because we have our own issues with poverty, it just makes more sense to go out and eat the cheap stuff you can find at McDonalds or Taco Bell. Getting back to how this ties into regulation in the media, could we really condemn Pollan for omitting some of these facts? Or is “Cooked” truthful enough to pass Puttnam’s standards? And if so, is that where we drawn the line? My point is that once we begin to impose major restrictions on civil liberties, it wont stop until the core of democracy crumbles away, leaving our nation as nothing more than a hollow shell of what we once were.

The Social Impact of Filmmaking

I want to discuss a Ted Talk, titled “Jeff Skoll: My journey into movies that matter”, and some of the thoughts I had on the subject. I want to start by stating that it is obvious that media, especially the movie industry, has a huge impact on the way the populous views things. Movies can even influence what we buy, and what we see as acceptable or not. It really begs the question; do we give Hollywood too much power? The depth of Hollywood’s influence is best shown in Morgan Spurlock’s Documentary “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”; every major corporation has money and staff allocated to getting their product featured in the television and film industry. Is that it though? Can the influence of film only be used to make people buy stuff? According to Jeff Skoll, founder of Ebay, no; and I am inclined to agree. Skoll believes that movies can be used to close the opportunity gaps; if these powerful, expression filled pieces of media can be used to inform, educate, and influence us; why not use them for good? I myself am a movie fanatic and for a long time I didn’t understand why I liked some of the movies that I do. I realized, however, that I am drawn towards any film that incites emotion; whether its an awkward scene that makes my stomach turn, or a heart filled confession of love; I’m a sucker. It’s not just regular movies, but documentaries like “Blackfish” or “Super-size Me” that get me. I spent a solid month researching ways to help Orca’s in captivity, and after “Super-size Me” I stopped eating McDonald’s. If these films effect me there must be others, and if they can bring on such emotion that they can cause actual change, why not make more?

There are problems, however, with using films as a starting point for social change. The Indiewire article “The Downside of Measuring the Social Impact of Documentary Films” discusses some of these problems. In a survey done at the True/ False Film Festival it was found that 56% of filmmakers surveyed had no intention of conducting outreach programs to further the social impact of their films, this was largely due to the fact that those filmmakers didn’t have the time nor the budget. I believe that we should put more money towards these films so that outreach programs can be established to go along with the films. If people really want documentaries and other social commentary films to really make a difference, finishing the film can’t be the last step in the process. If a filmmaker wants to create an emotionally riveting film, something that will make the viewer call out in support, it should not be difficult for those viewers to find ways to make differences. Even though I strongly believe in everything I’ve said in this paragraph, I’m not trying to take away from films that might not be as emotionally impactful. Sometimes just informing an audience of an issue can be enough; just getting the word out, so that someone else can take the reigns. My main point is that the film industry reaches millions of people worldwide each year, why can’t we use this industry as an instrument for social justic