Monday, December 7, 2009

Beggars: Friend or Foe?

The phenomenon of people begging in the New York City subway is not a new one. When one first moves here, it's a true rite of passage to be asked for change - and it's not always in the traditional way, either. There are musicians, dancers, bag ladies, drunkards - it's really a part of the "melting pot" charm offered by living in such a large metropolis.

But, it wasn't until I could barely afford the rent, ate ramen noodles nightly and lived paycheck-to-paycheck and penny-for-penny that I realized how truly scary it is to be in that situation: feeling lost and defeated, as if I had somehow fallen through the holes of the weak safety net of society.

False sense of security? You betcha.

Now, as I ride the "L" train back home each night, I turn down the volume on my iPod and listen to the "stories" told by these individuals - tales of military service, death in the family, the economy.

And I simultaneously feel two polar opposite emotions: sympathy and disgust (or maybe anger is a better word). As these people hop from train car to train car, I toil away in front of a computer, struggling to make a name for myself - to prove that I am "worthy" in the media industry. And I can't help but realize that these select few are probably able to scrounge up more change per hour than I am afforded as an intern.

So, which is more sad: struggling and working hard or struggling and hardly working?

At the end of the day, I still make progress: the net somehow pulls me above the scary divide between success and failure over which I dangle so desperately. And they slip through.

It is illegal to solicit someone for money in the subway here in NYC (see Section 1050.6 b of the NYCMTA's Rules of Conduct) and as a law-abiding citizen, striving and hoping for the best, I turn my cheek. But that doesn't mean I don't notice the beggars' plight. God bless them because I can't help but feel their pitiful pain.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Climate Change: The Real Problem

"Responsibility. What's that? Responsibility. Not quite yet." - MxPx, "Responsibility"

I just read an article on the recent decline in public concern over climate change. And what a doozy it was! Be sure to read some of the comments below the actual post, as some of the readers have some fascinating commentary.

In recent years, we have all been bombarded with talk of carbon emissions, melting ice caps, rising oceans, increases in temperature, deforestation, ozone depletion... the list could go on forever. Oh, and don't forget Hollywood's continual exploitation of apocalyptic theories, a la "2012" (in theaters now), "The Day The Earth Stood Still," "Knowing" and even ABC's new prime-time hit, "V."

But what's the real problem? In my opinion, it rests with the acceptance of responsibility of our actions - a problem of much grander proportions that straddles many issues. And when I say "our actions," I'm not talking about the current generation, I'm referring to our actions as human beings and inhabitants of Earth, the only home we have.

Who cares about the specific levels of CO2 or the accelerating rate of climate change? We can argue the data for centuries. The point is that we need to accept responsibility for our actions and set a dignified example that we respect our planet. And the United States needs to be a leader in this process, NOT a follower as in recent years.

Create alternative energies, clean up our cities, plant a tree for every one that's cut down and, most importantly, change our current lifestyle to fit one that is in harmony with natural resources, as opposed to exploiting them for our own personal gain, which is what got us into this literal and figurative environmental "mess."

Thomas Friedman, critically-acclaimed New York Times writer and author of The World is Flat, wrote a piece for the NYT magazine, entitled "The Power of Green." It's a long article, but definitely worth the read. In it, Friedman discusses the importance of "the China price," a sustainable world economy and the perils associated with the USA's dependency on foreign oil. But the premise behind his entire argument is a proactive responsibility that is currently lacking in our society, and across the globe.

So as we continue to wage pointless political wars over whose side has more credibility - the left or the right, liberal or conservatives - we drive our gas-guzzling machines, hopelessly destroy our planet to drill for oil and build structures designed to crumble.

The carelessness never ends.

It's the "Boiling Frog Syndrome" screaming right in our faces, but to which we are unfortunately deaf. The only question left to ask is: will we be able to wake up in time to counteract the damage we have already done and slow the processes which we have placed in motion? We can only hope the answer is "yes," and do everything in our power to make changes in our own personal lives.

The decision is yours. Will you make it?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Meaning of "Fame"

Today, Perez Hilton tweeted about an ariticle from the Hollywood Reporter about Hollywood "rethinking the use of A-list actors" in films.

And it really got me thinking: has the meaning of "fame" changed in our culture?

The article cites "Twilight," "Paranormal Activity" and other (relatively) low-budget films with (formerly) unknown actors. The recently-released "Precious" also comes to my mind, with Gabourey Sidibe and comedian/actress Mo'Nique already garnering Oscar-talk for their performances.

But where did this all begin? Is MTV to blame for giving us reality television in the form of "The Real World?"

Or was it CBS' "Survivor?"

How about YouTube? Undoubtedly, the website has borne "celebrities" in the form of everything from internet sensations like Chris Crocker to talented artists like Justin Bieber, whose debut album "My World" drops tomorrow, November 17.

And what about Lady GaGa's rise to super-stardom based on the spectacle of her outlandish yet creative performances? Let's not forget that she started out as a MySpace musician.

The point is: we live in confusing and dangerous - yet exciting - times. Those who are talented and use the Internet as a resource by which to build a following - be it on Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, Facebook or what have you - are capitalizing on the beauty of the Internet that still seems to fall under the radar of politicians, businessmen and housewives alike.

Obama, GaGa, Perez Hilton - the most influential people in our society have capitalized on the connectivity of the Internet.

And it won't stop there.

So who will be next? Is it you?