Let’s Talk About: Hurricane Maria

My opinions and I don’t have much data to back it up…but I feel it in my gut.

Has anyone else felt like the public response to Hurricane Maria pails into comparison to that of Harvey?

Harvey, which devastated much of Houston in August, became the focus of all public attention during it’s nearly week long attack. Celebrities ranging from Kevin Hart to Kim Kardashian tweeted their support and donated money to organizations assisting victims. Beyonce helped coordinate “Bey Good,” giving away food and supplies to victims; Trump flew out and participated in clean-up efforts and Nicki Minaj participated in a telethon that raised over $55 million. The country came together to support the fourth-largest city in the world in its time of need.

I don’t feel that same support for Hurricane Maria, which is currently devastating Puerto Rico, an American territory. Puerto Rico’s Gov. Ricardo Rossello referred to Maria as the most devastating storm, to hit the country, in a century. The island is now without any electricity or telecommunication services. 700 people had to be rescued from rising floodwaters. The storm quite literally defaced the country.

So where’s the attention? Where are the telethons? Why isn’t everyone talking about this; why don’t people seem as concerned? During Harvey’s terror there was an almost tangible gloom. People weren’t happy: fellow Americans were in need, struggling. How could you be happy even if you wanted to be?

I don’t feel that gloom for Hurricane Maria victims and I’m worried that it reveals an implicit bias. Puerto Rico is apart of America…but I don’t feel like we look at Puerto Ricans as Americans. They’re over there, we’re here.

Take a look at the response from celebrities. Hurricane Harvey served as a PR stunt for many, with celebrities boasting their support for victims. From what I’ve seen thus far, a majority of the celebrities consistently voicing their support are Latino and/or Hispanic.

 

Dios protege a mi Puerto Rico 🇵🇷 y dale fortaleza a la gente de México 🇲🇽

A post shared by Jennifer Lopez (@jlo) on

Don’t get me wrong: Britney Spears, Beyonce and Ellen Degeneres are just a few American celebs that have assisted in raising awareness for Maria victims, but it doesn’t come close to the furor of support that came with Harvey.

So why? Why are people seemingly not as interested, or anxious with Hurricane Maria as they were with Harvey? They both did impact American territories. So why the difference in support?

I can name a few reasons (and I urge you to comment as well if you have any ideas yourself) but I’ll leave that for you to consider. We can’t deny that the public reception between the two aren’t on the same scale.  However, we can explore why.

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The Power of Twitter: Kenneka Jenkins

Twitter sheds light on issues of importance, but what happens when users get it wrong?

And I mean dead wrong. Like “wow, this should be illegal” wrong? Because that’s exactly what happened with the “Twitter investigation” of Kenneka Jenkins.

The Backstory

For those who need context or are not familiar with this case, Kenneka Jenkins was a 19-year-old woman who was found dead in a hotel freezer after a night of partying with her friends. When Twitter users (particularly members of Black Twitter) initially got a hold of the case, the theories were immediate: some said she was sexually assaulted by a group of men who proceeded to kill her after raping her, while others said her friends sold her to the group of men for $200. The evidence at this point consisted of nothing more than a Facebook live stream posted by a girl who attended this party and several posts made by other attendees throughout the week. There was not any legitimate evidence (legitimate in the sense of it could stand on its own in the court of law) but Twitter users did what they do best: they began crafting conspiracies that would turn a tragic death into a media frenzy.

Users analyzed the video above and used it to create a narrative: Kenneka was being raped while her friends watched, doing nothing. Why did her friends do nothing amid the teenagers cries for help? Why did they allegedly turn the music up every time she attempted to scream? Because they sold her for $200.

This narrative, however assumptive you may say it is, was the leading theory on this case for weeks. Thousands upon thousands talked about the issue, celebrities voiced their support for the victim and urged an investigation. Eventually mainstream media began to report on the woman’s untimely death. By the time large-scale publications like the Chicago Tribune began to write about it, an investigation was underway.

Twitter succeeded again! Taking what had the potential to be brushed off as “another city death” and turning it into the subject of a national investigation and immense scrutiny. Users brought the case to the forefront of the media, created an active dialogue around the issue and assisted Kenneka’s mother in getting closure. There was just one thing that no one was prepared for. Being wrong.

The Crowne Plaza Hotel, where Kenneka and her (alleged) friends were staying the night of her disappearance, released surveillance footage that told a story vastly different than what was initially speculated.

Video showed a drunken Kenneka stumbling throughout the hotel, alone, before ending up in the deserted kitchen of the hotel. She’s not seen after.

What does this mean? Kenneka Jenkins could have accidentally stumbled into a freezer and died. She could have accidentally committed suicide. 

What does this mean? Well 1. While Twitter is most likely wrong, the case has not been closed. For all we know, another video could come out in a few days. It’s not like the conspiracy theories are stopping (some are now claiming that the woman seen in the video is an actress).

It is worthwhile to take a second out to explore the true power of not only Twitter but social media: We live in a time where anyone can say anything and have millions of people hear it. This can sometimes be a good thing; other times a bad thing. The Kenneka Jenkins story is no different: it’s great because a group of Twitter users succeeded in bringing attention to this tragedy; it’s not so great because a group of Twitter users could have falsely accused everyone seen in the initial livestream of murder, claimed that the girl was raped and did so without any concrete evidence. The intent to do good was there, but that’s not always enough.

While this all goes back to the importance of independently verifying everything you read (including all of the tweets on your timeline), we’re getting to a point in time where that may not be realistic. So I end with a question: What do we do? How do we handle situations like this? Where Twitter could have done as much bad as it did good? I say we continue to use Twitter as a means to present problems but maybe not as a platform to conduct in-depth investigations. As updates to Kenneka’s case continue to trickle in, I can do nothing but allow officials to do their jobs (while closely watching nearby), wish her family the best and pray that they get closure and urge eager users to sit the rest of this one out.

Let’s Talk About: Natural Disasters = Branding tool?

Let me preface this by saying: Regardless of intent, any contribution to assist those in need during a natural disaster or any catastrophic event is a positive. Thank you.

 

However, do you ever wonder what the intent behind these donation is? In the past week America has been hit with two powerful hurricanes. Lives have been lost and families have been displaced. Among various federal agencies, private organizations and The Red Cross (no comment), celebrities have placed their money where their mouths are and donated thousands upon thousands of dollars to those in need. From Beyonce’s “Bey Good” campaign for the victims of Harvey to Kevin Hart’s “Hurricane Harvey Relief Challenge, donating has become the norm among society’s upper echelon.

 

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But one can’t help to wonder if donating is still done out of kindness and genuity, or if it’s an obligation at this point. What would be the reaction if Beyonce, a Houston Native and literal billionaire (when Jay Z’s net worth is taken into account) chose not to donate or even vocalize her support for the victims. If Beyonce silently mailed a check to victims would that suffice? Or would a mandatory twitter post highlighting her exploits be necessary? I don’t point this out to be cynical, but rather to point out just how misguided society has become. It’s not about the donation, but rather about who knows about the donation.

 

 

The thing I can’t figure out though is whether or not this is problematic. Is there anything wrong with celebrities highlighting their charitable acts and getting brownie points for it? To answer this question, let’s look at what happens when someone doesn’t do what society (or Twitter) perceives as being enough.

When Houston-millionaire-mega-church-preacher Joel Osteen, didn’t immediately offer his stadium-turned-church as a shelter to victims the outcry was instantaneous. Osteen, who released a statement soon after the hurricane made landfall but did not open his doors until days after, eventually explained that he was fearful that the church would flood. But that wasn’t enough. People were angry that this multi-millionaire who for decades has profited off of Houston natives didn’t act quickly and show support.

Osteen, soon after, opened his doors but was it because he planned to the entire time or because the negative public reception he received forced him to?

We may never know the answer, but one thing we do know is this: In the social media era we’re in, we live in a time where public reception is more influential and powerful than it has ever been. Doing good is one thing, but showing that you’ve done good is what is deemed as more important. You must be timely and you must feign genuity, but you mustn’t do to much or you’ll be percieved as seeking attention (even though that’s subconsciously the focus).

Let’s Talk About: 13 Reasons Why

I really didn’t want to, but I am. Welcome to your review y’all.

It’s a very thought-provoking concept. An emotionally-broken girl commits suicide and leaves thirteen tapes detailing the reasons she did it behind. Beyond this, each tape is addressed to a specific person who the suicidal girl feels contributed to her death. It’s a fresh idea that forces us to really think about how we truly treat the people surrounding us. Netflix saw this potential and decided to turn the 2007 novel by Jay Asher into a full blown series. How did they do?

Just okay. They did fine. Not to good, but not too bad. The thing about this series is that for every pro, there’s a con that I just can’t get away from.

The most prominent example is the acting. Dylan Minnette does a great job bringing Clay Jensen to life. He nails the awkward, not that confident side of the character just as well as he does the “I’m about to have a breakdown and I’m feeling violent” side of the character. You’re intrigued by the moment he first receives the box of tapes in the first episode, up until the moment he forwards the box to its next recipient in the last. Clay becomes the show’s central compelling character and his narrative arc, while campy, is the most engaging. Katherine Langford, nails her character Hannah Baker, although the performance is not as well done as Minnette’s. Langford is captivating and the sheer vulnerability she provides her character is enough to keep anyone watching. Playing a suicidal girl isn’t easy, but Langford does it well.

Amy Hargreaves does a great job as Hannah’s mother Lanie and Brandon Flynn nails the antagonist role of Justin Foley.

A lot of the other characters are too one dimensional even though the show provides them with numerous opportunities to sell themselves. Alisha Boe, who plays popular girl Jessica Davis, is a perfect example of this. Her character was the most dynamic: we saw her laugh, cry, get drunk and get high, but her character didn’t feel familiar by the end of the series. Her performance felt forced. Miles Heizer version of Alex Standall relied to much on the teenage angst schtick. It got old very quick.

 

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While not every actor had a spot-on performance, they all did relatively well for the characters they were given. One aspect of the show that is not as redeemable was it’s casting. I understand that high schoolers are typically played by actors in their 20s, but you can only try so hard to make a grown man look like a 16 year old. Some characters have perfect casting: Minnette and Langford are great as Clay and Hannah. Michelle Ang was great fit for the intelligent but devious Courtney Crimson and Devin Druid nailed the nerdy but creepy look of Tyler Down.

However Christian Navarro’s array of tattoos made it hard to believe that his character Tony was only 17. School president Marcus Cole looked like he was a 7th year senior and the school’s football team looked like they hit puberty at five. Average casting can be saved by great acting, and average acting can be redeemed by great casting. But average casting and average acting= a show that you truly have to want to watch in order to really get into it.

The show’s storytelling concept was amazing. Hannah Baker left 13 tapes and each episode was centered around the person that the tape was dedicated to. This allowed you to get to know all of the people that contributed to Baker’s suicide and understand why. It also gives the supporting cast a chance to shine (which few of them did). Baker narrates the entire series but in a untraditional way. You’re literally listening to her tapes. Her tape recordings serve as the show’s narration. You hear everything in her voice: the emptiness, the voidness, the few moments where she has hope and the many moments in which she gives up; you hear it all. By the time you get to end of the show; by the time you reach tape 13, you get it. It all makes sense and things begin to come full circle.

Box

The great storytelling formula was thrown off by the pacing. As much as I enjoyed the concept of each tape warranting its own episode, some tapes just weren’t that interesting. The show attempts to fill empty space in episodes by highlighting moments of teenage angst or focusing on Hannah and Clay’s relationship, but that gets boring fast.  Things would have been fine if episodes were 30 minutes, but sitting down for an hour gets hard and it takes a while for the series to really pick up. And when I say a while, I mean a while. I’m talking about I didn’t feel interested until episode 7, a while.

Overall, this show won’t be remembered for its acting, casting or it’s storytelling formula. It won’t be remembered for it’s characters, dialogue or editing either. It will be remembered for it’s message. One common critique of the show is that some of the reason Hannah sites as inciting her suicide “aren’t serious enough” or “don’t warrant their own tape.” And while that may be true (one character’s tape consisted of him yelling at Hannah, and stealing compliments that were written to her) that’s not the point of the show. People who have watched the series understand that there are a couple traumatic moments that probably had a larger role in Hannah’s suicide, but the little things add up too. When someone’s depressed or suicidal, things as small as them being ignored or cursed at can have a huge impact on them. So apply this way of thinking to your own interactions with people. You never know what someone may be going through or how your actions may have a influence on their lives. Be nice and remain cautious of how you treat people. That’s the (very simplified) point of the show.

Be Humble: Let’s Talk About DAMN

Kendrick Lamar has returned to the rap conversation and put his competition on notice.

Kendrick Lamar has released DAMN, his first album since 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly. There’s never been a release with a more fitting title: the album’s melodies, lyrics and features warrant only one reaction. DAMN!

The album exists on a spectrum in between his two previous album releases: he makes full use of the storytelling skills seen in Good Kid Mad City while delivering the same blunt and occasionally political messages that attracted so many to the critically acclaimed To Pimp a Butterfly. This made for a thought-provoking piece that also had replay value; something that not to many rappers can accomplish.

The project’s lead single HUMBLE still holds the title for most radio-friendly track and while it doesn’t necessarily fit in with the album’s other raw, visceral tracks it does set the scene for its theme: Be humble. Sit down.

The first track, BLOOD, samples a Fox segment featuring Geraldo Rivera who, while reviewing the rappers applauded Grammy’s performance of Alright, claimed that rap music did more to damage the black community than racism. As BLOOD transitions into DNA and YAH it becomes clear the message Lamar’s trying to send. Rivera and his opinions are irrelevant. Unimportant. Insignificant. Lamar’s innate loyalty to the black community and unrivaled rap capabilities are what’s important. Ensuring that all black people know about the royalty that is embedded within them; the royalty that prevents them from ever being unworthy or not enough, is important. Lamar tells Rivera, FOX News and each and every one of his critics to sit down. You’re not important nor part of this conversation.

This mentality makes it way throughout the entirety of the hour long project.

In ELEMENT we see Lamar humble his competition. While most rap fans put Kendrick at the top of  their “Greatest Rappers” list, the Compton rapper rarely makes the claim himself. Boy did that change here. To the weak, broke, materialistic and fake rappers attempting to compete with Lamar, he sends a clear and sharp message.

If I have to slap a pathetic rapper just so you’re reminded of your place, I’ll do it and make it look sexy. Be humble. Sit down.

Lamar’s confidence exudes throughout the album but he still manages to get personal. In FEEL and PRIDE, we watch the rapper explore his own emotions while trying to navigate through this tumultuous road known as fame. Who’s praying for me? Happiness or Flashiness? These are just a couple of the questions that the rapper seeks to answer through these songs.

The album’s features are great. Each one feels natural: something that you don’t see often in the age of five guest verses per single.

The first feature is found in LOYALTY, a track which sees a rapping Rihanna work with Lamar to explain the significance of loyalty in all relationships, whether that be a working one or a romantic one.

We see the next feature on LOVE, where up and coming singer Zacari’s soft falsetto gives the song an ethereal feel that drives home the songs romanticism.

Lamar teams up with U2 on the albums final feature XXX. The surprising collaboration doesn’t seem so surprising when you consider the tracks political message. Violence in every definition of the term is problematic. Lamar talks about the need to find a solution, but the inherent hopelessness that comes drifting in once you look at our current administration. This theme of violence is seen throughout the rest of the album, but particularly in FEAR, where we get more personalized accounts of violence in Lamar’s life—situations where he, or those he loved, had legitimate reason to fear. He includes these tracks not to sound like a victim but to illustrate how much his past has shaped him.

The album’s last two tracks show a stark contrast that summarize the common themes seen throughout the project. In GOD, Kendrick Lamar reiterates that he is the most dominant rapper in the game. If him saying it isn’t enough, take a look at his album sales, critical acclaim and net worth. You can’t argue with facts.

This confidence, in which Lamar compares his success to that of God’s, is only temporary. In the finale track DUCKWORTH we see the opposite end of the spectrum. Kendrick tells the story of how his father was almost killed by the CEO of the label he’s signed to. He does this to connect back to his roots and reflect on just how easily life can change. How one’s circumstances aren’t set in stone and sometimes are strictly based off of luck. Coming down from the high of GOD, Kendrick ends with DUCKWORTH for a reason. The album’s theme applies to him as well. It’s his way of humbling himself.

Overall Kendrick Lamar produced a cohesive yet creative body of work that will probably be the new standard for this year’s rap releases. As usual, I’m excited to see what the rapper does next.