Inflammation and stories on pop culture

The world lost one of its greatest literary voices and most popular celebrities on April 17, 2014, with the death of Colombian writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In his 87 years of life, Marquez touched the hearts and lives of individual readers around the world, and is renowned for his poignant words and heartbreaking characters. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

Marquez’s anthology of works is all-encompassing. He wrote novels, short stories, screenplays and poetry. The most famous of his texts are “Love in the Time of Cholera” and “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” The genre of magical realism is what it is today because of his foundational and groundbreaking approach to it as a writing style.

Arguably his most groundbreaking narrative, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” speaks to the realities of many impoverished or rural communities across the developing world. In it, he creates the fictional village of Macondo, and follows its various trials and tribulations through the span of several generations, such as death, disease and abuse. Underlying these problems though, is his constant tone of hope and love, which are even more accurate realities of such communities.

Beyond his specific works, he is remarkable as a writer in general for the position from which he writes. Having grown up and spent the majority of his life living and working in developing nations of South America, he is what can be called a post-colonial writer. That is, his writing seeks to validate the voices and experiences of the inhabitants of regions of the world still reeling from colonialism.

Such countries tend to have large populations of socially repressed communities, historically silenced because of their low economic, racial or cultural status. Writers and activists, such as Marquez, are vital to opposing and subverting the disadvantageous system that continues to subjugate.

He is a constant testament to the power of love, friendship and the inherent beauty of life. He never ceases to affirm the life of the individuals he writes:

1. “Humanity, like armies in the field, advances at the speed of the slowest.”

2. “The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good.”

3. “Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but…life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”

4. “A true friend is the one who holds your hand and touches your heart.”

5. “There is always something left to love.”

6. “It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”

7. “What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.”

8. “Nobody deserves your tears, but whoever deserves them will not make you cry.”

9. “Our inner lives are eternal, which is to say that our spirits remain as youthful and vigorous as when we were in full bloom.”

10. “I would not have traded the delights of my suffering for anything in the world.”

These quotes give us not only a glimpse into Marquez’s mind and soul, but also into the incredible beauty of life for all of us. He reminds us to never take anything or anyone in life for granted, and that we are always in control of our own happiness. These are messages valuable to all of us, regardless of our socioeconomic status.

– Stefanie Doucette

Sources: Thought Catalogue, Philly Enternatinment, New York Times, BBC
Photo: srednja

The BBC is one of the more respected production companies in the world.

It produces such shows as Top Gear, which is an extremely popular show. It also produces a variety of news programs and also many sports programs as well. However, the BBC has, in the past few years, been straying from its normal programming and delving into the area of reality television and poverty. The BBC has aired Famous, Rich and Jobless, Famous, Rich and Homeless, and, most recently, Famous, Rich and Hungry.

The shows are designed to expose the lives of those who live on the fringes of England’s society and air them to the entire nation. In the latest show, Famous, Rich and Hungry, various celebrities in England are sent to live with poor families for a week in order to experience what food poverty really feels like. The show will have such celebrities as Rachel Johnson, the sister of the Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

It will also have Teo Paphitis an extremely successful businessman who is estimated to be worth over 200 million British pounds (roughly $332.26 million.)

The show is produced by Love Productions, who was also behind the production of the other Famous and Rich series. The show’s executive producer, Richard McKerrow, spoke in an interview recently and said, “I am sure there will be the same media storm, because my God, there is a political bun fight about whether people in Britain are currently going hungry.”

There is a plethora of evidence from both scientific and scholarly sources that there is indeed a crises occurring in Europe. The situation in Europe right now calls for a united effort to pass laws and bills that aid in both the economic recovery and aid of getting Europe citizens out from the ever present shadow of poverty.

The austerity measure that are being used by many European counties at the moment in order to lift their economies out from the rubble. The BBC has an opportunity as one of the world’s largest television producers and acclaimed sources of information really to aid those in need.

The BBC should focus on producing quality television that can educate, enrich, and inform its viewers rather than sensationalizing someone’s misfortune by showcasing it as a spectacle to the world. The poor need informed and educated people fighting for them, rather than having their lives made a mockery of.

– Arthur Fuller

Sources: The Guardian TV-Radio Blog, The Guardian Media, The Guardian, Daily Mail
Photo: Daily Mail

Ben Affleck may be famous for his role in movies such as Argo, The Town and Good Will Hunting, but nowadays he’s making an impact in a new role. Because of his philanthropic involvement in eastern Congo, Affleck went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to testify about the Congolese people and the need for U.S. involvement in the region. The hearing provided an opportunity for Affleck to draw increased media attention to the precarious human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and pressure lawmakers to do more to help.

Affleck first became involved in the Congo through his grant-making and advocacy organization, the East Congo Initiative (ECI). This organization seeks to increase investments in Congolese-led programs that create safe and sustainable communities. Additionally, ECI advocates for increased U.S. involvement in Congo while working against key problems such as rape and sexual violence as well as inadequate education and health resources for children. The East Congo Initiative also seeks to reintegrate former child soldiers back into their homes while leading community-level peace and reconciliation programs.

During his testimony, Affleck highlighted many of the struggles the Congolese people are enduring every day. For instance, Affleck cited UN reports that not only indicate that 2.9 million Congolese had been displaced internally, but also that 428,000 others have become refugees in neighboring countries. These people are being scattered throughout the region by the armed militia known as M23 that had previously taken over the capital of a northern Congolese province. A UN peacekeeping force recently coerced the M23 to surrender and sign a peace agreement. Affleck cited the UN group as evidence that “when the international community acts, and the Congolese government rises to the moment, these challenges are in fact solvable.”

Affleck finished his testimony by sharing a story about one of ECI’s partners, Theo Chocolate. An organic, fair-trade chocolate company, Theo imports more than 50% of its Chocolate from the DRC. Theo Chocolate’s business was connected to small folder farmers in the DRC by ECI and has helped support many of these small Congolese business operations. Through professionally directed investments, ECI was able to help spur economic development in the Congo and improve the lives of several Congolese people.

Through his charitable initiatives with ECI, Affleck is an example of how ordinary Americans can make a difference in influencing Congress and bring attention to the issues they care about. Affleck acknowledged, “I am, to state the obvious, not a Congo expert. I am an American working to do my part for a country and a people I believe in and care deeply about.” Through his actions, Affleck not only successfully drew the attention of the United States Senate to the plight of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but he also gives hope for a better life to many impoverished people.

– Martin Levy

US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, East Congo Initiative
Photo: Heritage

sin nombre
Sin Nombre may seem like old news compared to Cary Fukunaga’s most recent project “True Detective.” This is especially the case since the newly popular HBO crime drama, starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, has cemented the fledgling director’s reputation as a serious filmmaker.

However, before 2014’s “True Detective,” and even before his critically acclaimed 2011 adaptation of Jayne Eyre, Fukunaga debuted as a director with the much less watched Sin Nombre (Spanish for “nameless”). The 2009 U.S.-Mexican production tells the story of two emigrants travelling north through Mexico to the United States. One of them, a young girl from Honduras accompanied by her family. The other, a former gang member from Chiapas, Mexico, escaping from the Mara Salvatrucha, known colloquially as the infamous MS-13.

While the film lacked the mainstream success of some similar area films (like Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s “death trilogy”) it fared well on the festival circuit and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from critics. The film currently holds an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, a score of 77 on Metacritic and a 7.6 on IMDB. The film was popular both domestically and internationally, receiving awards at the Sundance and Stockholm film festivals, among others.

Sin Nombre is noted for its gritty and at times harrowing portrayal of Central American gang culture, particularly focusing on the entrapment faced by young men growing up in poverty. The film’s protagonist, known as El Casper, decides to escape after his gang leader questions his loyalty. Atop a northbound train, full of other U.S.-bound emigrants, Casper is befriended by a young girl named Sayra, despite her family’s reproach.

According to Roger Ebert’s review, Fukunaga was inspired by a story of 80 illegal immigrants found trapped in a truck in Texas, 19 of whom had died. Unlike many films on social issues, however, Sin Nombre is an apolitical and one could even say an amoral film, depicting the dangers of emigration without the politicking of immigration reform.

Though the film lacks the gloss, subtext and moral of what you would call “socially conscious films,” the movie is socially conscious in its own way, depicting desperation that transcends political ideals and the legality of immigration. Its message is not in its words, but in the adrenaline of watching its characters go through struggle.

The protagonist, after all, is hardly a hero. The film does not ask its viewers to respect or adore him. It shows the other side of the border which we rarely see, and tries to explain that for some, the risks of emigration are small compared to the consequences of home.

What is also important to note is how films like Sin Nombre have reached wide-ranging audiences through outlets such as Netflix—especially its “Watch Instantly” feature. Viewers looking to watch a film immediately (as opposed to planning to see it in theaters) are more likely to go beyond their genre comfort zone. The fact that films like Sin Nombre, Maria Full of Grace and Whore’s Glory have become well-known in the U.S.—all of which are foreign or transnational productions—shows how filmmakers can use neutral outlets such as Netflix to reach new audiences, sparking discussion and interest.

– Dmitriy Synkov

Sources: Rotten Tomatoes, Meta Critic, Nth Position, Roger Rebert, IMDB, New York Times, The Borgen Project
Photo: Brad Nehring

British welfare system
The United Kingdom welfare system has a huge impact on everyday family life in Britain. According to the Guardian, over 20.3 million people in the UK receive some type of benefit from the government. That is over 64 percent of all families in Britain. The British welfare system has come under enormous scrutiny due to a television program known as “Benefits Street.”

Benefits Street, on Channel 4, features citizens of an area where welfare claims are as high as 90 percent. The show first aired on January 6th and will run for 5 episodes.

The first episode caused an immediate uproar in both the public and political sectors of the United Kingdom.  The BBC issued a report where during Prime Minister’s Question time, Prime Minister David Cameron said in a response to the program that “the government should intervene in people’s lives to help them work and off welfare.”

A number of politicians have weighed in one way or another on the controversy with the show. The complaints from the show range, but mostly that the show is misrepresenting the people, in that they are actually not as badly off as the show portrays them to be.

The outcry from the public, on the other hand, is another story entirely.

After the first episode aired, popular social media sites like Twitter contained death threats; one posted, “set fire to Benefits Street”, while another read, “How do we eradicate this scum?”  The critics of the show say that the show created hatred and dislike for those in the British welfare system–parts of the program showed various crimes committed, as well as drug use.

Those in favor say that it is about time those at the bottom had a platform to speak. Fraser Nelson, an editor for a magazine called the Spectator, a traditionally right leaning publication, said in a statement to the Associated Press, “Poverty is one of the least fashionable topics in Britain. People don’t want to believe that the welfare state now sponsor[s] the poverty it’s designed to eradicate.”

The controversy surrounding the show, however, does highlight a painful truth that needs addressing. The Associated Press reports that the British Government plans to take another 12 billion pounds out of the British welfare system. The question then becomes, how does Britain continue to offer support while at the same time staying within their budget?

– Arthur Fuller

Sources: BBC, The Guardian, The Guardian, Telegraph, ABC News
Photo: ITV

Rap and hip-hop music has a rich and diverse culture with its roots linked all the way back to the era of slavery within United States history.  Hip-hop evolved into a music genre in the 1970s when DJs performed at block parties in the boroughs of New York City using the breaks of popular funk, disco and soul music.  As the genre progressed, hip-hop became an outlet of artistic expression for the youths growing up in the inner cities.

Hip-hop blessed the world with popular artists such as 2Pac, the Notorious B.I.G., KRS-One and Eminem, among others.  The lyrical content gave the rest of the world a lens in which we could try to understand and empathize with the people living in impoverished conditions within the inner city where kids had little to no economic opportunity, faced rampant drug infestations and constant battles with authorities.

As hip-hop music gained popularity, it gave some individuals a chance to make a living while creating work that inspired millions.  Since the hip-hop genre is directly infused with the universal struggle of the worlds poor and underprivileged, it is always great to hear about those individuals that were able to escape that life and use their fame and fortune to benefit others.  Here are a few prominent members of the hip-hop community that do just that:

  • Russell Simmons – the co-founder of the influential hip-hop music label Def Jam,  Russell Simmons is involved with over 20 different charities and foundations.  He is the founder of the Diamond Empowerment Fund which supports education initiatives in African diamond mining countries.  Simmons also created the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation which provides art and educational programming to New York City youth.
  • Nas & Damian Marley  These two artists collaborated on an album called Distant Relatives which features themes related to African ancestry and poverty.  Proceeds of this album were donated to various projects in Africa including building schools and raising AIDS/HIV awareness.
  • Immortal Technique – This underground artist combines gritty hip-hop with politically conscious messages in order to raise awareness of social issues plaguing the inner city and underdeveloped nations.  He collaborated with Omeid International to open the Amin Institute in Kabul, Afghanistan, an orphanage, school and medical facility for children.
  • Akon – Akon created the Konfidence Foundation to help kids in Senegal and the United States have a chance at an education and healthy life.  The foundation assists undeveloped schools in constructing key infrastructure projects so that they can become operational.  In Ecole Elementaire P.A.Y. Unite #3, the foundation completed construction on unfinished classrooms, drilled drinking wells, and provided educational materials.

 – Sunny Bhatt

Sources: Look to the Stars, Konfidence Foundation, Omeid International, Culture Bully
Photo: DrJays

What had once been a course on music production and entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has now become one of the most innovative global outreach programs in current times. Founded by Stephen Levitin, Doctor Mark Katz and Pierce Freelon in 2011, awareness and support for Beat Making Lab was originally gleaned through crowd-sourcing.

However, Levitin, Katz and Freelon gleaned more than just funds–they also attracted the attention of PBS Digital Studios, which agreed to document the efforts of Beat Making Lab in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Panama and Ethiopia.

Beat Making Lab collaborates with global communities in order to achieve cultural exchange, innovation and inspiration. Beat Making Lab, an enterprise of the production company ARTVSM LLC also partners with PBS Digital Studios in order to donate equipment such as laptops and software to global communities. The studio also shoots music videos with the selected community in order to create a weekly web-series with PBS.

For example of how Beat Making Lab has spread its message of global collaboration and peace through art is evident in Ethiopia, last summer, Beat Making Lab trained a group of 18-25 year old students in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The group was taught how to blend modern hip-hop beats with traditional Ethiopian rhythms in order to convey messages regarding pressing political and health issues in their homeland.

One of the many goals of Beat Making Lab is to provide youth around the globe with the tools and information necessary to become entrepreneurs of their own. In order to ensure that the knowledge provided during the two week session is not lost, students are requested to keep training other members of their community.

A former Beat Making Lab student, DJ Couler, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, stated that ““when the instructors return to the United States, for us that will not be the end. It will be more like a continuation, or even a beginning for us because we will be able to teach others how to create their own beats.”

– Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: Beat Making Lab, Beat Making Lab- 2, PRI
Photo: Okay Player

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook and inspiration for Jesse Eisenberg’s role  in The Social Network, has committed $1 billion  to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVC). Audiences who remember the movie might be surprised by this contribution, considering the depiction of Zuckerberg in the film was essentially that of a ruthless and self-serving young man. The technology industry in general is often considered greed-oriented and profit-driven, rather than beneficial to humanity.  Chief Executive of the SVC fund, Emmet Carson, says the money will go to health and education.

The SVC Foundation helps identify organizations that are most effective with their aid, both in the US and internationally. Their mission, listed on their official website states, “We provide visionary community leadership by identifying emerging challenges in our region. We address those challenges through our grantmaking programs, our research and our ability to bring together diverse groups of problem-solvers. We build and energize a community of philanthropists who strengthen the common good.”

The organizations that the SVC funds have been studied in order to confirm that their work is making a tangible difference with the money they are given.

Featured on the SVC homepage is a spotlight section that is currently linking viewers to the top charities helping Typhoon Haiyan victims. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation partners with and researches these organizations to track what their relief funds actually do so that donors know their money is really making an impact. Much of what the foundation does revolves around investment management, and matching potential donors with charities that are involved with specific lines of aid ,disaster relief and medical research.

Zuckerberg’s donation to the foundation will be his second large donation in the past six months.

In December 2013, Zuckerberg donated almost $1 billion in Facebook stock to charity, and his 2014 donation makes him responsible for the largest cash or stock donation of anyone under 30 years of age. Wealth and technology have been criticized for their power to corrupt, but donations like these to organizations that do legitimate good for others definitely speak for themselves.

– Kaitlin Sutherby

Photo: CNN Money
Philanthropy, Silicon Valley, Business Insider

Sean Penn is best known for portraying the cult character Spicoli in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” as well as his Academy Award winning roles in “Mystic River” and “Milk.” Penn has also been known for his humanitarian efforts, and over the years, he has yet to slow down.

Recently, Penn hosted the Help Haiti Home Gala in Beverly Hills’ Montage Hotel, where he helped raise $6 million for his charity, the J/P Haitian Relief Organization. Celebrities in attendance included Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Martin, Anderson Cooper, Chris Hemsworth, Goldie Hawn and rumored girlfriend Charlize Theron.

Founding the origination in 2010, Penn acts as the Chief Executive Office Chairman of the Board of the J/P Haitian Relief Organization where he has conducted the Help Haiti Home Gala for its third annual year. J/P Haitian Relief Organization primary focus includes striving for improved medial aid, protection, and re-location of internally displaced persons (IDP) across the globe. The J/P Haitian Relief Organization has organized many camp management sites for thousands of IDP’s across the Haiti region.

The Help Haiti Home Gala also included a surprise guest appearance by U2 which saw Bono and his fellow band members perform such songs as “Vertigo” and “Desire” for the first time in four years. There were a plethora of various donations which were auctioned at the gala including a $1.4 million sculpture made out of discarded firearms which was purchased by CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper. Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin also donated to the cause by outbidding Charlize Theron for a $650,000 Banksy art piece.

Penn was in high spirits following the event where he told People Magazine, “This town has been very supportive of me and, more importantly, what our organization is doing in Haiti. I got a lot of gratitude and no complaints.”

Since the inception of the J/P Haitian Relief Organization, Penn and company have built a tent city on a golf course which has served as a temporary home to nearly 60,000 people.  Of those people, nearly 80 percent of them have successfully returned homed, a primary goal of the organization. Penn’s organization has also provided educational, health, community development, and other economic opportunities for many Haitian citizens and continues to do so today.

Jeffrey Scott Haley
Feature Writer

Sources: Haitian Relief Organization, M Starz, Crowdrise
Photo: The Accidental Activist

Sochi, Russia makes the news almost every day. Whether it be about the enormous security being put in place for the forth coming Olympic Games or the various political leaders who are boycotting the games to demonstrate their displeasure at Russian anti-LGBT law. What is left out of the news however are Russia’s poor.

There are currently 18 million Russians living on or below the minimum wage of 4,600 rubles, according to Forbes Magazine. That is the equivalent of $155 a month, in a country whose cost of living is 6,200 rubles or $210. In the United States by comparison, there are 46.5 million people living at or below the poverty line which according to the Huffington Post in 2012 was $23, 283 annually. That works out to around $1940.25 per month.

By the time the 2014 Winter Olympics occur, Sochi will have had spent $51 billion, making it the most expensive Olympic Games to date. However all is not well even inside Sochi, Human Rights Watch has put out a 67 page document detailing some of the abuses that many of the migrant workers have been subjected to while working to prepare Sochi for the Games.

Human Rights Watch points out that the majority of these workers are paid between $1.80 and $2.60 an hour working on constructing the various Olympic venues. Moreover, in an interview with the Washington Post, 64-year-old resident of Sochi, Alexander Dzhadze lives on a pension of $170 a month and was told to make improvements to it in order for it to be an acceptable part of Sochi’s backdrop.

There have also been accusations of corruption concerning the issuing of construction contracts dealing with the Games. For instance, two lifelong friends of Vladimir Putin, Arkady and Boris Rotenberg have received upwards of 21 contracts and $7 billion.

The gap between rich and poor in Russia is also widening. According to Bloomberg, the 110 billionaires in Russia own 35% of the planet’s wealth, in comparison, worldwide billionaires only account for 1 to 2% of the world’s wealth.

The Olympic Games are a time for nations to come together and share in the joy that is the competitive spirit of the sporting world. The games are a chance for nations to shine and to reconnect with their citizens and the athletes who represent them.

Russia’s foray thus far into the Olympics has been met with scandals, allegations of criminal activity and a myriad of other issues and conflicts. However, the Games have also given those in Russia whose plight would have remained a mystery had the games not come to Sochi, a voice and platform from which to tell and share their stories and experiences with the outside world.

This opportunity can result in media exposure for Russia’s poor and will hopefully allow for new and exciting opportunities for them once the Olympics begin. As the Games approach, the world can only wait and see how they will unfold.

Arthur Fuller

Photo: Autostrattle
Mother Jones, Forbes, Business Week, Washington Post