Gay Pride and the Great Divide   Leave a comment

I did not grow up in Western Massachusetts.

True, the Bay State is known as being one of the more tolerant states (or quite frankly, one where the citizens really just don’t care all that much) in the Union. But Western Mass takes it to a new level. Beginning of freshman year, I remember going to Northampton for the first time and being simply astounded at the plethora of rainbow flags, same-sex couples, and fliers about safe sex and sexual health.

Walking down Main Street, as it turns out, is like a crash course in the gay sub-culture.

In Central Mass, a mere hour away from all of this activity exists a very different world. People aren’t outright homophobic, per-say, but significantly less open about all things related to sexuality. You walk down the streets of Northampton, Amherst, South Hadley, or a host of other small towns holding hands with your girlfriend (and you’re a girl), they wouldn’t bat an eye. Actually, there are a couple encouraging looks – you’re fighting The Man and sticking it to society. In Central Mass., not so much. Eyes are averted, heads shake back and forth and significant glances are passed. There are no congratulatory nods or smiles, rather just confusion. Dismissal.

Needless to say, life at the University of Massachusetts was quite a change for Megan.

New to this sparkling and multi-colored (yes, pretty much literally) world, I dipped my toe in a little bit. I went to a couple “Out for Reel” film festivals that showcase gay/lesbian films and documentaries; I went to a Pride Alliance meeting on campus one rainy Tuesday night; I read a couple of magazines. But it all seemed a little bit off. Beyond the flashy colors and outrageously bold culture that the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender, for those of you like me who used to be wholly unfamiliar with such acronyms) portray, I found the atmosphere to be one of defiance, of celebration of identity – of their unique identity.

But to be honest, what’s the point? Gay pride parades? Pride Alliances? Grand statements about the wonderfulness of being gay are great in high school, where bullying and teenage depression are a very real danger to the safety of the young adults studying there. But after? It transforms from an altruistic effort to reassure children of their normalcy into an effort to foster an “us versus them” mentality. As I was saying to my roommate when she made a remark about the gay culture on campus and how it seems to get out of hand sometimes:

We’re all just humans. And we all like to have sex.

I’m what you might call a sneaky gay. But since I’ve come to the university, I’ve realized that I truly want no part in the flamboyant gay subculture. You won’t find any rainbow pins on my jacket, nor will you find me cursing at some unseen oppressive majority for their unwillingness to sing and dance about my sexual orientation. Instead, you’ll find me doing homework. Socializing with friends, the majority of which are straight. Watching movies. Arguing about the debilitating effects of regressive taxation and our dependency on foreign oil. I study political science and journalism because I want to make a difference in the world, like any college student with big dreams. I’ve been dating an amazing girl for a few months. Overall, with the blaring exception of my recent bout of mononucleosis during finals week, I lead a happy life.

Must being gay be the primary identifier for someone who simply likes the same gender as themselves? I’d much rather be “Megan, the girl who writes well but argues too much” or “Megan, the crazy chick from first floor Baker that has 5-minute dance parties with her roommate on Tuesday nights to de-stress,” or even “Megan, that soulless ginger kid.” Never will I allow myself be known first as “Megan, the lesbian.” Gay pride, while it feels great in the moment, only leads to dividing society into camps based on sexual orientation. It becomes “us versus them” and it legitimizes that standpoint that those who are uncomfortable with people who are gay take – we really are drastically different from everyone else.

Let’s be honest. We all have bigger problems on our hands, including several foreign wars and a collapsing economy.

Thankfully, my parents taught me that it was okay to be who I am, and the crusty New England spirit from Central Mass taught me that no one should really care one way or another.

No, I did not grow up in Western Massachusetts. And to be honest, I’m glad for it.

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Posted December 14, 2010 by Meg in Uncategorized

Popping, locking, and breaking: Hip-hop at UMass Amherst   Leave a comment

To prospective students, UMass Amherst has everything. There are common sports like basketball, hockey, soccer, and rugby. It has cultural associates with influences spanning around the globe. It has prestigious research opportunities, improv comedy clubs, even water polo. However, it turns out that prior to tonight, this giant university did not currently have a hip-hop dance crew.

But fans of popping and locking, rejoice – they do now. If anyone ventured into Room 227 in Herter Hall around 7:30, they would find a small army of students, students hailing from around the world and from our very own backyard of Massachusetts, trying to dance their way into this first-ever hip-hop crew.

Before looking into how these dancers faired, fellow investigator James Bucklin gave us a good look on how hip-hop truly danced its way onto the stage. He breaks down the major steps, and talks about how it evolved from one lonely record spinner to the popular but still edgy form or art that it is today.

Travis Basset, on the other hand, looked at how the dance has emerged at UMass in the recent years. Please, click on the videos and look for yourself at the recent local talent in hip-hop and how they wowed the campus. It seems that until recently, hip-hop was very much alive here in Amherst.

Another interesting tidbit Basset pulled up was the complete lack off online advertising. On a huge campus and in an age where the Internet hold this eternal pull to college students, perhaps this was not the smartest idea?

From Ben Axelson, movie critic and dance culture extraordinaire, enjoy a look at the presence of hip-hop in film and American society. One might be a bit wary about entrusting this sort of socio-cultural analysis to a South Park episode, but once you watch it, you’ll understand why. He also discusses the inundation of hip-hop related films into the American media, and brings up the question of how close the highly-dramatized hip-hop dance competitions actually are to reality.

Now, to the events here on campus, come check out the on-the-scene reporter Keri Donaghue’s coverage. From what happened tonight to an inside look into the minds of the organizers, she’s got it all.

Then, head on over to Kellie McHugh’s blog for a photo gallery of the auditions, from the pre-audition moments to the main event.

Finally (if you haven’t had enough of hip-hop), view a bit of Arjun Collins’ video coverage of the organizers, the venue, the dancers themselves – the whole shebang.

Posted November 30, 2010 by Meg in Uncategorized

Multimedia Presentations: Better off going to the Moon   Leave a comment

Before I begin to compare the two works, I would just like to say that yes, both provided a beautiful multimedia presentation that presents a comprehensive picture of what the journalist wished to convey. However, I fail to see how these sort of “multimedia” projects have a significant future in journalism. When I use the Internet for news, it is normally under one of these circumstances: 1) I’m in a rush and just want a quick view of what’s going on in the world and a couple of new things I can learn, 2) I’m procrastinating in a public place and need something long but silent that I can look at or read.  If I have the time to look through a documentary-esque presentation, then I’ll turn on the cable news, or read a newspaper. That way, I can get a more balanced and diversified look at the media.

Despite  all of this, I must say that the “We Choose the Moon” presentation was far superior to “This Land.” The consumer has more control and flexibility, and instead of listening to one woman discussing her viewpoint and her perspective, there are multiple viewpoints and multiple perspectives. The graphics and design are better, both in design and in content. I might be biased; I’d rather learn about the moon and space than the bare arctic tundra of the far-reaching territories of Canada. I also enjoyed “Moon’s” compilation of historical footage; it gave it a newsier, historic feel, whereas “This Land” seemed like an overly artistic documentary. Both had parts that really worked, “We Choose the Moon” worked a lot better over all.

Posted November 30, 2010 by Meg in Uncategorized

Baby gone viral   Leave a comment

Videos that go viral are oftentimes quick, hilarious or an oddity, and utterly random. I believe it can safely be said that all of those characteristics are present in this week’s YouTube meme: Baby Bob Marley.

A quick synopsis for those who do not want to click up above and watch that one minute and nine seconds of giggling, gurgling cuteness: the baby boy is fussing about in the car, and despite the soothing (or not) Christian music in the background, he cannot be calmed down long enough to be buckled in. The radio station is changed, and Bob Marley’s Buffalo soldier comes on. The most magical of moments: the baby not only stops crying, but begins to bob up and down to the beat of the music. It’s a bonafide reggae miracle.

It was posted by the adults in the car, and in addition to linking out to iTunes, where one can purchase said Bob Marley song, it also links out to the video’s very own T-shirt line (“Help this baby go to college”).

Now, it’s funny and very adorable. Not many would debate that. But is it journalism? Is it media? Well, yes, it is media. It’s a story being told through a medium (in this case, a YouTube video) about an oddity, a novelty. One can even say it has some timeliness and relevancy in there too, what with the multiple references to legalizing marijuana. So while it’s neither hard-hitting or incredibly important, it still carries a necessary function: keep the masses happy, and keep the masses entertained. We can only ask for so much.

 

Posted November 16, 2010 by Meg in Uncategorized

DST: iPhones on the fritz   Leave a comment

First the reception was blocked by your hand. Then the sound quality was sub-par. Now the beginning of November has given American iPhone users yet another Steve Jobs mishap to whine about.

Photo Credit: kodomut at Flikr.com

The Guardian reports that the DST iPhone bug has hit the shores of the United States, and those that use their iPhone’s repeating alarm in some regions with find that daylight savings time has not kicked in; their alarm with go off an hour late.

And what does Apple Support have to say for itself?

In some regions, shortly before or after the daylight saving time (DST) change, repeating alarms created in the Clock app may work incorrectly.

Perhaps they could vague that up a bit, so we can really not understand what the problem is.

Twitter users, several days after the fact, are still up in arms about this latest bug.

w33ble : iphone DST alarm bug, eh? guess that explains why all my alarms got messed up. lame, we don’t even observe DST here!

Wulsin : my iPhone clock adjusted for DST on Sunday but today it jumped forward an hour. WTF Apple? Do I need to send Mr Jobs a link to www.time.gov?

Yet in the age of instant gratification and constant connectivity, you have to wonder if sometimes we take things like iPhone alarm malfunctions and Facebook server crashes a little too seriously. Perhaps tweeter garrettc summed up the situation with a bit more clarity:

garrettc : “Daddy, do you remember where you were during the great iPhone alarm calamity of 2010?” “No son, I was asleep.”

Posted November 9, 2010 by Meg in Uncategorized

A War in Pictures   Leave a comment

The online version of the Boston Globe (Boston.com) has a striking and often powerful blog called The Big Picture. Here, the writers and photographers use high-resolution and incredibly artistic photographs to tell a story about something that words alone cannot do justice.

On November 1st, the theme was “Afgahistan, October, 2010.

Since Vietnam, the violence, death, and horror of war has moved off of the battlefield and into American houses via radio, television, and now the Internet. Yet some of the pictures here (and this is where the Globe’s blog truly retains its prominence and majesty) are not of blood, explosions, or torture. There are pictures of Afghan children flying kits, of soldiers swimming in pools, of funeral processions and hospital wings. There are even breathtaking aerial footage from US military helicopters. All of these give the viewer a deeper understanding of what’s happening in Afghanistan. It’s one thing to be told textually that there are children on the streets of Kabul who are heavily affected by the violence; it’s something quite different to see a wide-eyed little boy hiding behind a fruit stand.

Additionally, the variety of the images makes the concept much more cohesive. The reader feels like they are receiving a complete picture of Afghanistan and the war there. It also speaks to the universality of it all. There are American soldiers being brought back in coffins, but there are also Swedish, Italian, and British soldiers loaded into planes in flag-encased coffins. There are Afghan police officers being trained, much like the training that happens here on US soil. There are young Afghan girls zoning out in schools, much like here. Oftentimes, it is pictures can unite humanity by simply showing us that we are not that different after all.

Posted November 9, 2010 by Meg in Uncategorized

“I was drunk the night I learned to write”: Gene Weingarten   Leave a comment

Gene Wiengarten, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for his Washington Post pieces, “Pearls before Breakfast” (2008) and “Fatal Distractions” (2010), spoke at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst today in front of a packed Cape Cod Lounge.

Weingarten’s talk sparkled with humor, college shenanigans, and utterly impossible coincidences. He talked about how he crafted one of his best leads while drunk off Tequila – and to this day he can’t remember writing it.

He credits his success to leading a sort of charmed life.

Gene Weingarten

“I don’t believe in God. See, I’m an atheist,” Weingarten said. “But I do believe in the god of journalism. I don’t know what she looks like. But every time I did something stupid, something over the top, it worked out okay.”

So, what stupid things has this esteemed journalist done?

“Well, I took enough drugs to stupefy a rhinosaurus. And I wrote for the college paper.” And sometimes, he confessed, he did them both at the same time.

Despite whatever might have happened in his youth, the crowd departs into the starry Amherst night without a shadow of a doubt that Weingarten is a brilliant man with a creative mind, and that he retains that essential quality for journalists that you can only really refer to as guts.

The talk hit a somber note when he discussed his most recent Pulitzer Prize-winning piece, “Fatal Distraction,” which investigates how parents accidentally kill their young children by forgetting them in hot cars. He cites his success at opening up such an emotionally-charged story by  telling about his own connection with the parents: he almost did the exact same thing to his daughter, Molly.

In the spirit of being on a university campus, he also brought up (albeit jokingly) a brief lesson on media ethics. He told the story of his first major break that came while working for the New York Magazine, while he was trying to get a story from a source that was being hospitalized and spoke to no one but his doctor. He explained that even as a green reporter in his mid-twenties, he knew that he could not intentionally mislead his source.

“But when I walked in,” Weingarten said with a smile in his voice, “instead of shaking his hand, I took his pulse.”

If you’re interested in Gene Weingarten, please check out his two, Pulitzer Prize winning stories:

Pearls Before Breakfast

Fatal Distractions

Posted November 9, 2010 by Meg in Assignments