Why you should be binge-watching ‘Mr. Robot’

The first thing you learn about Eliot Alderson (Rami Malek) is that he’s an unreliable narrator.

He meets with psychiatrist Krista Gordon (Gloria Reuben). He talks about the men in black that follow him. He’s a junkie addicted to morphine pills. And he’s a depressed and paranoid schitzophrenic.

(You’re a voice in his head.)

But despite all this, Malik’s voice is hypnotic and even if his story sounds like a grand conspiracy theory, “Mr Robot” hits upon a nerve (this one encouraged people to Occupy Wall Street).

The tale Alderson spins is a superhero fairy tale, a modern retelling of Robin Hood. Actually, it’s one part “American Psycho” and one part “Robin Hood” — and the good and bad guys are painted in black and white like the bianary system of ones and zeros.

In Alderson’s story, anarchists work to dismantale the system of wealth and capitalism, to get rid of crippling student debt and eliminate the amount of money in your banking account.

Alderson’s twenty-first century superhero doesn’t don a mask, cape or sword. He wears a dark hoodie which wraps around him like a cloak. Behind a computer, he can take down child porn dealers, rapists and drug dealers. He’s hacked everyone he knows and fed online police tip lines.

But first back to Eliot, our paranoid narrator. By day Alderson works at Allsafe Cybersecurity, an online security firm with his boss Gideon (Michel Gill), his childhood friend Angela (Portia Doubleday) and her douchey boyfriend Ollie (Ben Rappaport). The firm’s contracted to protect big multi-national banking conglomerates like E Corp and it’s suppose to guard against hackers like him.

You can probably begin to see the problem here. By principle, Eliot cannot stand everything that E Corp, which he nicknames Evil Corp, represents. Evil Corp’s empire of 1 percenters is run by guys like Senior Vice President of Technology Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom) — guys with slicked back “American Psycho” haircuts who specializes in “murders and executions.” What’s more, Evil Corp, a symbolism for capitalism itself, supposedly owns 70 percent of the global consumer credit industry including a large portion of people’s debt.

Eliot’s occupation gives him insider access to Evil Corp and perhaps that’s why Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) contacts and recruits him to his fledgling vigilante hacker group fsociety. Their goal: to steal from the rich and give to the poor.

Created by Sam Esmail, “Mr. Robot’s” a wonderfully mad story that you wouldn’t believe. But recent current events seem to give this story credence. I mean, would you have believed that a child sex trafficking ring was held in the basement of a D.C. pizza joint with the help of top democratic politicians like Bill and Hillary Clinton? And if you did, would you have walked into this pizza joint with a loaded gun to investigate?

Or would you believed that a group of Russian hackers could sway a major U.S. election? And if you do believe in either of these things, whose to say there isn’t a small vigilante hacker group in Coney Island named fsociety who could topple world markets and eliminate all debt?

Clap your hands if you believe.

“Mr. Robot” was created by Sam Esmail. The first season is available on Amazon Prime. 

Internet ≠ freedom, Morozov writes

morozov_net-delusionJohannes Gutenberg’s printing press was to the Reformation as Jack Dorsey’s Twitter is to the Arab Spring. In the drafts of American history, both are credited for revolution. But unlike journalists like Andrew Sullivan who reported “the revolution will be Twittered,” Boston Review’s contributing editor Evgeny Morozov provides a cautionary tale on Internet power.

In his book The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, Morozov argues that the Internet is a tool that can both help and hinder social change. He clarifies the faults of the Google Doctrine (“the enthusiastic belief in the liberating power of technology … in the global fight for freedom”) and cyber-utopianism (a naïve belief that all online communication is positive) through case studies from the Arab Spring, Cold War, and Eastern European, Venezuelan and Chinese history. Facebook groups — which can advertise a public protest — can also provide the identities of activists to leaders of oppressive regimes. Cell phones — which activists can use to coordinate — allow governments to send mass text messages spreading propaganda or admonishing potential protesters. While technology makes knowledge more accessible, Morozov points out that it takes increasing Big Brother surveillance and censorship.

Yet George Orwell’s 1984 doesn’t paint the only analogy between oppressive governments and their people, and Morozov is quick to incorporate Aldous Huxley’s views from Brave New World. In the chapter “Orwell’s Favorite Lolcat,” Morozov acknowledges that both Orwell and Huxley’s ideas are valid and working, but suggests that perhaps Huxley’s thesis that “a man has an almost infinite appetite for distraction” is more effective. “Even authoritarian governments have discovered that the best way to marginalize dissident books and ideas is not to ban them,” Morozov writes, “but to let the invisible hand flood the market with trashy popular detective stories, self-help manuals, and books on how to get your kids into Harvard.” Western television placates East German and Russian citizens, and, he argues, this escapism makes them less likely to rebel. This passivity extends to activism in social causes.

Coining the term “slacktivism,” Morozov describes what happens when someone creates a Facebook group and invites his or her friends. Yes, Facebook allowed for political mobilization of online campaigns, but the catch is, it can further fake campaigns as well. “If a nonexistent… cause could garner the attention of 28,000 people, more important, well-documented cases… can certainly rally millions,” Morozov writes. But Facebook doesn’t equal engagement. How can you affect change if all you’re doing is sitting by your computer and liking posts?

Morozov asks us to reconsider the media narrative of the Arab Spring, providing a critical counterpoint to the stories of Internet activists like Wael Ghonim — credited for managing the Facebook page of the Egyptian revolution. (Ghonim documented his involvement in his own book, Revolution 2.0.) “I see nothing wrong with established political groups using the Internet to spread their gospel,” Morozov writes. “What bothers me is the emergence of brand-new, decentralized, leaderless structures that exploit all the benefits of the Internet to mobilize their supporters while also believing that they won’t need to become centralized, hierarchical, and competitive in the political arena.” It’s a fair point (remember the Occupy Wall Street movement?).

While Morozov offers a convincing narrative about the dangers of over-trusting the Internet, his intended audience is cyber-utopianism subscribers creating these media narratives. He structures his argument by introducing his terms, cyber-utopianism (someone who doesn’t see any negative effects from the Internet) and Internet centrism (the Internet is a vehicle for democracy). Then he sets up the reported media narrative of the Arab Spring, in which “on one side are government thugs firing bullets and on the other are young protesters firing tweets.” Look, Morozov argues, aren’t we giving the Internet too much credit here?

“The premise of this book is thus very simple: To salvage the Internet’s promise to aid the fight against authoritarianism, those of us in the West who still care about the future of democracy will need to ditch both cyber-utopianism and Internet-centrism. Currently, we start with a flawed set of assumptions (cyber-utopianism) and act on using a flawed, even crippled, methodology (Internet-centrism). The result is what I call the Net Delusion. Pushed to the extreme, such logic is poised to have significant global consequences that may risk undermining the very project of promoting democracy. It’s a folly that the West could do without.” – Evgeny Morozov, The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom

The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom is a persuasive warning to view the web more cautiously. Morozov echoes the battle cries of Howard Zinn, Martin Luther King Jr., and others before him, adding, “Tweets, of course, don’t topple governments; people do.”

‘The Dark Knight Rises’: a wild ride

Detective John Blake (Jason Gordon-Levitt) is chatting with a boy from the orphanage when he learns that the boy works underground. “What work is there to be found in the sewers?” Blake asks.

“What work is there to be found up here?” the boy responds.

Movies are a reflection of the times and Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” is no exception. With last month’s national unemployment rate at 8.2 percent (and the unemployment rate among 16- to 24-year-olds at 16.5 percent), the dismal economy and job market is nothing new. Nor is the global undercurrent of social unrest — from the Arab Uprisings to the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Just like how “The Dark Knight” carried post-9/11 themes of terrorism and wire-tapping, Nolan’s third installment in the Batman trilogy channels Gotham as a parody of today, seeming to provide another social commentary.

“The Dark Knight Rises” continues eight years following the aftermath of “The Dark Knight” — when Gotham’s District Attorney Harvey Dent/ Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart) dies and the Gotham Police Department, under Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), exalt Dent as a hero when he was also a murderer. Gordon feels guilty about praising someone who threatened the life of his family while blaming Batman for Two-Face’s crimes. Meanwhile, although billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has hung up his cap and cape and retired from a life as Batman, those events also haunt him. But when a new mercenary named Bane (Tom Hardy) threatens the social order of Gotham, Wayne doesn’t hesitate to return to Gotham as Batman.

Whereas Christian Bale’s Batman paled in comparison to the eccentricities of Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight,” Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne is fascinating. Like in “Batman Begins,” the story refocuses on Wayne, breaking him down and building him up. But Wayne was never an underdog. “You get to keep your house. The rich don’t even go broke,” Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) quips after Wayne loses his money following some bad investments (J.P. Morgan, anyone?).

Although Wayne’s household name prevents him from invisibility, his desire for anonymity seems both brave and arrogant. In one scene, Wayne shows up at a masquerade party without a mask. When asked what’s his costume, he responds, “Bruce Wayne.”

But if Bruce Wayne is only a costume, so is Batman. “The idea is to be a symbol,” Bale says. “Batman can be anyone.” Bale echos “Batman Begins” where he expressed similar sentiments on a plane: “As a symbol, I can be incorruptible.” But Bale isn’t the only one with the ability to don two masks.

Hathaway also displays fluidity as Selina Kyle and Catwoman, giving a convincing fake scream one minute and walking calm and composed the next. Hathaway’s Selina Kyle is a fantastic actress, proving Hathaway’s own prowess in the field and her ability to land on her feet.

Tom Hardy gives a powerful presence as Bane, expressing that no one paid attention to him before without the face mask (Did anyone pay attention to dollar bill guy before the OWS protester taped a dollar a bill to his lips?). Perhaps it’s the face mask that warrants the added attention (or the fact that the mask muffles Hardy’s voice, making it harder to hear him, and therefore making you listen harder). Or perhaps it’s his buff physique. Or his words, which echo the words and signs of the Occupy protestors: “Return control to the people,” “Demand resignation of the corrupt.” Whatever the reason, Hardy makes you watch him as he tells you, “There can be no true despair without hope.”

Brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s screenplay is a emotional roller coaster, full of twists and turns. But Bale, Hathaway, Hardy and the rest of the cast are strong pillars, providing support for the dizzying drops and mounting heights of the film. From when Wayne’s butler Alfred (Michael Caine) proclaims his love and guilt — “You are as precious to me as you were to your own mother and father. I swore to them that I would protect you, and I haven’t.” — to the stunning fireworks (such as when Bane and the construction workers blow up an entire football field), “The Dark Knight Rises” promises and delivers a wild ride.

“The Dark Knight Rises” was written by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan and directed by Christopher Nolan.

Double-Speak, Pretty-Speak & Avoxes: Revising Orwell for the 21st Century Young Adult Audience

The following is a paper I presented at the 39th Annual Children’s Literature Conference on June 15, 2012 at Simmons College.

I was fifteen years old the first time I read George Orwell’s 1984. It was around the same age I devoured Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy, and other young adult fiction.

What fascinated me about 1984 was the two minutes of hate, the way your own kids would betray you, the way words were cut from the dictionary, the way Big Brother knew and controlled everything — from thoughts to memories to reality.

The Uglies saga has the same elements of betrayal and government control, but what drew me into the books was the premise — that at 16, you get an operation that turns you pretty forever. Two thirds into the first book, you find out that being “pretty” isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and you realize that making everyone “pretty” is a form of maintaining order.

Although both Orwell and Westerfeld’s books resonated with me, critics have traditionally seen the two as different animals. 1984 has been praised as “the cautionary form of projected political fiction.”[i] Meanwhile, young adult books like Westerfeld’s Uglies, or Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy have been largely dismissed. As New Yorker critic Laura Miller writes, the books “operate like a fable or a myth, a story in which outlandish and extravagant figures and events serve as conduits for universal experiences. Dystopian fiction may be the only genre written for children that’s routinely less didactic than its adult counterpart. It’s not about persuading the reader to stop something terrible from happening—it’s about what’s happening, right this minute, in the stormy psyche of the adolescent reader.”

Despite these differences, both trilogies echo Orwellian lessons. Like in 1984, the tension rests between maintaining your own identity and maintaining a utopia.

The two cannot coexist.

As Orwell writes, “The ideal set up by the Party was something huge, terrible, and glittering — a world of steel and concrete, of monstrous machines and terrifying weapons — a nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting – three hundred million people all with the same face” (Orwell 74).

Well in Uglies, at 16, the characters literally get an operation that makes them look like everybody else, think like everybody else, talk like everybody else. As Shay tells Tally, Westerfeld’s heroine, “Maybe when they do the operation — when they grind and stretch your bones to the right shape, peel off your face and rub all your skin away and stick in plastic cheekbones so you look like everybody else — maybe after going through all that you just aren’t very interesting anymore” (Uglies 50).

From "Shay's Story" by Scott Westerfeld.

From “Shay’s Story” by Scott Westerfeld.

Shay is the voice of wisdom in Uglies: “Listen, Tally,” she says. “These two months are our last chance to do anything really cool. To be ourselves. Once we turn, it’s new pretty, middle pretty, late pretty. Then dead pretty” (Uglies 49).

The Hunger Games trilogy also illustrates censorship and government control through the games, a televised contest where children fight to the death: “The real message is clear,” Collins writes. “Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there’s nothing you can do” (The Hunger Games 22).

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Rue (Amanda Stenberg) in "The Hunger Games" film.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Rue (Amanda Stenberg) in “The Hunger Games” film.

This is why Hunger Games contestant Peeta Mellark reveals his biggest wish as: “I want to die as myself. … I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not” (The Hunger Games 171).

By understanding the system, the characters hope they have the devices to retain their own identity and rebel. Orwell maintained that when the public ceases to think of the meaning behind language, and uses phrases others have created for them, they will cease to think for themselves and become an extension of the governmental product controlling the masses. As Orwell writes in his essay, “Politics and the English Language“: “A man may take a drink because he feels himself to be a failure and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

This is illustrated in 1984’s “Newspeak” and “doublethink.” The destruction of words leads to the destruction of thought. How can we express the ideas of freedom or rebellion if we have no words for them? Under Big Brother, words are eliminated so one word contains multiple meanings. “Take ‘good,’ for instance,” Orwell writes. “If you have a word like ‘good,’ what need is there for a word like ‘bad’? ‘Ungood’ will do just as well… Or if you want a stronger version of ‘good’… ‘plusgood’ covers the meaning, or ‘doubleplusgood’… In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words — in reality, only one word” (Orwell 51). This is how “doublethink” works: one word takes multiple meanings so that war becomes peace, slavery becomes freedom, and ignorance becomes strength.

This elimination of language, and thus the elimination of thought, becomes a means of controlling the masses, as evidenced when uglies in Westerfeld’s series undergo the operation to become pretty. In addition to becoming “pretty,” the “bubblehead operation” also lobotomizes its patients, adding lesions that make thoughts and memories fuzzy. Much like how Big Brother wasn’t worried about Winston after he came out of the Ministry of Love, the government isn’t worried about pretties rebelling. After all, how can you rebel if you can’t think? As Westerfeld writes, “Maybe the reason war and all that other stuff went away is that there are no more controversies, no disagreements, no people demanding change. Just masses of smiling pretties, and a few people left to run things” (Uglies 267).

Of course, there is no denying the power of speech. Collins writes in Catching Fire, “Peeta’s tongue would have far greater power against the Capitol than any physical strength the rest of us could claim” (Catching Fire 408). Perhaps that is why Avoxes in Panem lose their tongue so they are unable to speak, and thus unable to express ideas or rebel. Instead, Avoxes are forced to be Panem Capitol slaves, watching Capitol extravagance and never being able to say a word in dissent.

If this is the case, it’s no wonder that contestant Katniss Everdeen has frightening nightmares where she becomes an Avox. (Mockingjay 161). That is the state of shock Katniss finds herself in after her sister Primrose dies near the end of the third book. “I’ve become a mental, rather than a physical Avox,” she says (Mockingjay 410). Although Katniss has her tongue, she is mute after the trauma she’s been through. Like Winston following his torture in 1984, Katniss is broken, unable to function.

When Avoxes try to scream, they make horrible, guttural animal noises. Peeta remembers watching Avoxes being tortured by the Capitol. As Peeta says, “They kept asking him questions, but he couldn’t speak. They didn’t want information, you know?” (Mockingjay 320). Instead, the torture is a punitive measure, much like how the games are designed; they are both intended to be an example for anyone else who disobeys. Look, the government says. I can cut off your tongue — kill all your children — and there is nothing that you can do but watch.

Even worse than not being able to speak is not being able to remember — not being able to distinguish reality from fiction. In 1984, memory is established by the Ministry of Truth, which rewrites history every time an ally or enemy changes sides. Without this memory, there is no loyalty. As Orwell writes, “For how could you establish even the most obvious fact when there existed no record outside your own memory?”(Orwell 36) Peeta experiences similar mental confusion when he is injected with tracker jacker venom.

Tracker jackers are a lab-created mutation of killer wasps, whose poisonous venom targets the part of the brain that houses fear, causing hallucinations and nightmares. After the Capitol captures Peeta following the events in the second book, Peeta was subjected to the venom in a torture technique called hijacking. As Collins describes, “Imagine that I ask you to remember something — either with a verbal suggesting or by making you watch a tape of the event —and while that experience is refreshed, I give you a dose of tracker jacker venom … just enough to infuse the memory with fear and doubt” (Mockingjay 210). This is how memories can be rewritten, not through words but through feelings. After weeks of being subjected to this torture, Peeta has no idea what is real. Katniss, who Peeta loves and protects unconditionally throughout the first two novels, becomes an enemy in this mind. In their first reunion since the two of them were separated, Peeta tries to strangle and kill Katniss — a complete departure from how he felt and acted in the past.

The way the governmental bodies like Orwell’s Big Brother manipulated Party members through words, speech and memory appears throughout both Westerfeld and Collins’ books. But despite all the governmental measures to maintain control, rebellion never dies. In 1984, this is seen through the Brotherhood and the rebel leader Emmanuel Goldstein. Goldstein’s book explains how hope for the future is in the proletariats, who are not subject to Party rules. Because “proles” still have their own voices and thoughts, they are the only hope for an overthrow of the current system. Therefore, hope lies in the people, not the Party members. Even though members of the Brotherhood may die for tiny acts of defiance, the proles will always survive.

Westerfeld also shows rebellion by creating a society that survives outside the boundaries of Uglyville and New Pretty Town. This society is called the Smoke, and the residents are called Smokies. When Maddy and Az, two middle pretties who were surgeons on the Pretty Committee, discovered the tiny lesions in the brains, the two ran away and founded the Smoke. Maddy and Az wanted to create a focus group to observe uglies that did not undergo the operation. It turns out, these uglies are more confident and self-reliant. That’s because the lesions make you dumb and complacent, which in turn, makes you easier to control.

From "Shay's Story" by Scott Westerfeld.

From “Shay’s Story” by Scott Westerfeld.

Of course, this system would not work if its members did not buy into it. Uglies are smart, if not insecure, because they still have their minds. As Shay tells Tally, “You’ve only seen pretty faces your whole life. Your parents, your teachers, everyone over sixteen. But you weren’t born expecting that kind of beauty in everyone, all the time. You just got programmed into thinking anything else is ugly” (Uglies 84). By running away to the Smoke and remaining ugly after 16, you are rebelling, accepting your ugly face even though you’ve been called zits or freak your whole life. Like the proles, the Smoke is a symbol of hope, survival and rebellion. Even though the original Smoke burns down at the end of Westerfeld’s first book, the ideal of the Smoke lives on because there are still uglies willing to stay ugly forever.

From "Shay's Story" by Scott Westerfeld.

From “Shay’s Story” by Scott Westerfeld.

Although both Tally and Shay are forced to become pretties, this did not stop them from rebelling. Their pretty clique, called the Crims, fight to stay alert from the mental fuzziness the lesions cause. Tally accomplishes this by falling, or eating diet pills, or kissing Zane. Shay got the same feelings by cutting. In this way, both Tally and Shay overcame the brain damage the operation caused. As Westerfeld writes, “Brains are good at rewiring themselves. … Controlling someone by changing their brain is like trying to stop a hovercar by digging a ditch. If they think hard enough, they can fly right over” (Specials 84).

Sure enough, not even Special Circumstances can control the revolution. Special Circumstances, or Specials, are the city’s police force. Both Tally and Shay are also forced to become Specials: their job is to stop rebellion and maintain order, but that proves to be an impossible task. The Smoke, which was destroyed in the first book, has spread to the city of Diego, a town now full of independent thinkers. Cities have no business with the politics of other cities; therefore, even if New Pretty Town’s pretties escape to Diego, the home of the New Smoke, there is no way to penalize them. Meanwhile, the Smokies continue to cure pretties from their brain damage. With so many freethinking pretties and ugly runaways, even specials cannot maintain control — which leads to the collapse of the regime.

Meanwhile, Collins’ trilogy also captures unrest and rebellion. The Capitol of Panem, which incorporates 12 districts and the Capitol, originally inherited its name from the Latin phrase Panem et Circenses (Mockingjay 260-261). This translates to “Bread and Circuses.” The job of the districts was to provide goods and entertainment to the Capitol. As the districts begin to rebel from the Capitol and provide neither, the Capitol is rendered weak. Of course, this rebellion didn’t happen overnight.

When both Katniss and Peeta were cast to fight like gladiators in the 74th annual Hunger Games, they both came back alive. This was unheard of since the rules of the games have always been to crown only one victor. However, both Katniss and Peeta threatened to commit double suicide by eating poisonous berries at the same time. The only thing worse than having two victors was having no victors at all. Katniss and Peeta showed that it was possible to defy the government’s own rules while playing their game. The Capitol never intended to crown two victors. This act encouraged other unsatisfied districts to rebel from Capitol rule.

Mockingjays are also creatures that the government never intended to create. Mockingjays are the offspring of jabberjays and mockingbirds. Jabberjays were a Capitol mutation designed to act as spies and repeat overheard conversations. When rebels learned of this, they filled the jabberjays words with lies, so the Capitol had all the jabberjays destroyed. The Capitol never predicted that jabberjays would be resilient enough to mate with other songbirds and pass on their genes. Meanwhile, in Hunger Games, Katniss and another contestant named Rue are able to utilize the mockingjays’ song to create a form of communication. This four-note tune becomes another symbol of rebellion, and the rebels see Katniss as a mockingjay.

The Capitol also never predicted the existence of District 13. The district was originally destroyed after the first rebellion before the games were established as punishment. The Capitol bombed District 13 to silence them. However, after the bombing, some survived and moved underground, beneath the rubble. As Katniss’s actions spurred rebellion, District 13 re-emerged from the rubble to lead rebel forces against the regime.

Although Winston is not able to escape from the clutches of Big Brother, Tally and Katniss were able to contribute directly to the downfall of the previous regimes. However, rebellion and war always comes at a price. Tally is forever changed by the ordeal. She can never unlearn the truth, forget the death of her boyfriend Zane, or allow anyone else to rewire her brain. Therefore, Tally is still subjected to random bouts of anger and arrogance. At the end of the trilogy, she realizes that freedom has a way of destroying things; no longer checked, populations will expand, taking resources away from the wild.

Meanwhile, Katniss and Peeta are also damaged and subjected to nightmares from the games. That blood will never disappear. Peeta paints pictures so he can try to live with his memories while Katniss makes a mental tally of every act of goodness she sees. Both work on a book so their memories will be preserved. Like Winston and Tally, they can never escape from the horrors, but it is important to remember the past in order to control the future. As Orwell writes, “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past” (Orwell 35).

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) in "The Hunger Games" film.

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) in “The Hunger Games” film.

Now did I pick up on all these lessons when I was fifteen? Perhaps not.

When talking to people who are in caught up in reading The Hunger Games, people usually ask Team Peeta or Team Gale — as if the books were about a girl having to choose between two great, good-looking boys. Meanwhile, Westerfeld once blogged, “The success of Uglies is partly thanks to high school being a dystopia.” Yes, both the Uglies and The Hunger Games trilogies are addicting. As one of my friends expressed to me, “The endings of the books always made me want to throw them across the wall.” But doesn’t the fact that I’m standing up here talking about some books I read in high school mean something? Yes, the premise of Uglies may have driven me to read the book. But the books also taught me that being yourself is more important than being pretty.

And who is to say that 1984 wasn’t the Uglies or Hunger Games of another generation?

Janice Turner, a columnist for The Times in London recently published a column about how she made her 14-year-old son read 1984. When he finished, he said, “It was all right.” When Turner read the books back when she was 14 during the Thatcher-era, she recalled that 1984 opened her to a whole new world. Now, with all the riots and rebellions and 99 percenters out there, perhaps Hunger Games speaks to our generation like how 1984 resonated with an older one.

As Teresa Jusino writes for Tor.com: “Young people today need stories like The Hunger Games reminding them that activism is not something they need to aspire to, it’s something of which they are already capable.”

Untitled


[i] Horan, Thomas. “Revolutions from the Waist Downwards: Desire as Rebellion In Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, George Orwell’s 1984, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New WorldExtrapolation. 48.2 (Summer 2007): 314-341.

OWS: Change I Believe In

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It didn’t look like much on Nov. 25 — ten days since Mayor Bloomberg ordered the eviction of the Occupy Wall Street encampment. After hearing the media hype about months of protests and police brutality, the Occupy movement at Zuccotti Park paled in comparison.

“It’s like a spectator sport,” my friend Shelby Mis said.

The protesters were like animals in a zoo, caged behind metal bars, the smell of pot clinging to their clothes. People carrying shopping bags and reveling from Black Friday sales were pointing and snapping photos of protesters’ signs:  “We’re the 99 percent!” “Exercise your rights!” “Hey 1 percent, suck it!” “Democracy not plutocracy!” “You can’t pepper spray ideas!”

Despite these initial impressions, I soon learned that the Occupy Wall Street movement was about standing up for your beliefs and raising your voice.

“If you’re going to stay here, you’ll have to move,” said a NYPD officer, pushing the crowd to try to clear the sidewalks.

“How do you feel about all this?” a woman interrupted, gesturing at the motley crew assembled in Zuccotti Park.

“This is nonsense,” the officer said, shaking his head in disapproval.

Those who dismiss the Occupy Wall Street movement have clearly not talked to the protesters.

“It’s a lot different than what I thought it would be,” said Henry Gong, a teacher at Penn State who was visiting family in New York City during Thanksgiving break. “I thought people were agitating for no reason, but they all seem to have different purposes — something like a clearing house of protestors.”

“I noticed that a lot of people here still work, but they’re here supporting a lot of other people,” said Henry’s wife, Pat.

This included Paul Armstrong, a 48-year-old white union ironworker from Los Angeles who has been involved in the movement.

“I’ve been upset with the direction America was going for about 10 to 15 years now, so I had to get involved,” he said. “This might be the most important thing I got involved with in my life.”

Armstrong had gotten involved in the Occupy movement purely by chance. He was stationed in New York City for a job since Sept. 17. While the project got postponed, Armstrong was admiring the architecture at the World Trade Center when he discovered the grassroots movement starting in Zuccotti Park. It was Sept. 20 — day three since the Occupy Wall Street movement started — and for some reason, the movement spoke to him, occupying his purpose and heart.

Since then, Armstrong has picked up a sign and hardhat to do battle in the front lines of Broadway Street in Zuccotti Park. In big, bold, black lettering, the sign reads, “I’m union, I vote, I work, I pay taxes, I’m pissed, so I’m here!”

“I make it a point to stand out there on the front line to show mainstream America that it’s not just a bunch of pot-smoking hippies out here,” Armstrong said. “It’s everyday Americans that are just disgusted out of where America is falling.”

Armstrong has two sons, and says it’s because of them and the younger generation that he stands in Zuccotti Park every day.

“I’m doing this for you,” he told me after I told him I was a college student.

Armstrong doesn’t think it’s fair that the younger generation will never see pensions, or that the new retirement age will be 70, so he stands in Zuccotti Park — his fingers frozen from holding up his sign — even after working 10 hours a day.

Imaraw Johnson, a black 17-year-old high school senior at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., is also protesting for our generation. Her cause: to illustrate the disparity at her public high school.

For a school with about 4,000 students, Edward R. Murrow High School has a 42 to one student to teacher ratio, and most high school students stay in school for six to seven years. Johnson protests all day — staying up until 1 a.m. to finish her homework — because she thinks something is wrong with a system where school budget cuts have eliminated summer schooling — effectively reducing many students from graduating and pursuing their dreams.

“Instead of accepting things as they are, we can change things,” Johnson said.

As young as the Occupy movement is, social justice and a cry for social change is not new. Former gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino and the Tea Party evoked these sentiments with the slogan, “I’m mad as hell” — a catchphrase on every orange campaign sign on every Republican Tea Party supporter’s lawn last election season. Meanwhile, President Barrack Obama cried for change with his motto, “Change we can believe in.” Going further back into history, anti-Vietnam War protesters, suffragettes, abolitionists, and American founding fathers also practiced civil disobedience.

“If you look at the abolitionists,” said Kelly Dietz, a politics professor at Ithaca College, “if you look at the liberal revolutions that overthrew absolutists rule, that was by breaking the law and throwing old structures in their face and rejecting them.”

Like the Occupy movement, Dietz said the other movements also started small and incoherent.

“Given all the different folks and ideas that are bubbling up from the Occupy movement — there’s liberalism, there’s anarchism, there’s socialism — you’re not going to come out with a coherent strategy,” she said.

Nevertheless, the fact that the Occupy movement has garnered such widespread exposure has shown that change is already happening.

“We’ve never had big changes without people getting into the streets,” she said. “What’s really coming out of it is that people are feeling empowered to critique, feeling the power to challenge and even the mainstream media is feeling empowered to raise issues of inequality.”

That empowerment is the reason I am writing this article. Justice is found in the good Samaritans, the Mother Theresas, Ghandis and Martin Lurther King Jrs. of the world. More importantly, justice is found in everyday people, striving to achieve the impossible by holding up signs. Perhaps if I write, someone will see my billboard for justice and join the 99 percent. Perhaps, like the protesters, I, too, can inspire change.