YPP Network Description

The MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) formed out of recognition that youth are critical to the future of democracy and that the digital age is introducing technological changes that are impacting how youth develop into informed, engaged, and effective actors.

  • Happy Accident: How A Makeup Disaster Launched One Teen’s Business Career

    by Noah Nelson

    Back in high school, Jasmine Adams developed a little trick while she was doing her makeup. Little did she know it would lead her to win a national contest for young entrepreneurs.
    “I grew up as a swimmer and I used to just have a lot of swimsuits laying around my room,” Adams said. “So when I used to do my makeup every morning, I would mess it up sometimes, and one day the swimsuit just happened to be the closest thing lying there. So I just grabbed it and tried to wipe off my hands on it and then wipe off the makeup and it worked really well.”
    Adams continued to use her swimsuits to fix her cosmetic mishaps until she finally decided to cut up her older ones and stitch them together into pocket-sized pieces. This is the foundation of her business, Smudgies: double-sided cloths made from swimsuit-like material.
    But a business takes more than an idea: it takes a plan. That’s what Adams had to come up with as part of what she thought was an ordinary entrepreneurship class. As it turns out, the class was sponsored by NFTE, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. In a class of five girls and three boys, Adams created that business plan and a presentation she would go on to present in front of investors at a local college.

    “I was not happy at all about it,” Adams said. “I wanted to drop the class because I hated public speaking and it just didn’t sound like something that I wanted to do at all. [But] once I started going to the competitions, I found out that I actually kind of enjoyed it. It gave me a lot more confidence; it made me really want to pursue the business a lot more.”
    Before she knew it, Adams placed first at the regional competition and second in the state, both taking place at the College of Charleston. This led to an invitation to nationals where she presented Smudgies.
    After going for several rounds of presentations and questioning, she won the $10,000 first place prize.
    “[I was] really shocked, honestly,” Adams said. “Throughout the day, it was just running through my head, like ‘I can’t believe that this has all happened.’ It was pretty overwhelming actually. But I was just really grateful for NFTE and for all the opportunities and for all the people who helped me get there.”
    Adams now attends the University of Dallas where she plans on majoring in business and English alongside improving her startup company. Moving away from her home in Charleston, South Carolina, Adams connected with Angel Factory in Dallas to manufacture Smudgies on a larger scale and ship them off nationwide.
    It’s a far cry from how she started: with only an old sewing machine and a pile of worn swimsuits.
    “The hardest part [about making them] was using the sewing machine at home. It was just my parents old sewing machine they’ve had for decades,” Adams said. “So it would break every five that I would try and make.”
    While those days are behind her, Adams still packages the Smudgies herself. Things have changed a bit since she switched to mass production: there are fewer styles than when she was still making them at home, but she is happy with the quality of the product.
    In the next few years, Adams plans on recruiting other students to help package and get more of her designs into the factory production. She hopes to expand the product line and find other uses for the fabric, eventually selling the company at some point, thinking it may catch the eye of makeup companies.
    If nothing else, the journey has been educational.
    “Having a business has actually been really helpful because when I take my business classes like accounting, I have really good real-world examples that I can apply and I can definitely then use what I’m learning in my classes to help me run the business.”
    Not bad for an idea that started with a makeup mishap.

  • Alabama Election By The Numbers: Black Voters Elected Doug Jones

    by Teresa Chin

    Starting your morning out with math doesn’t necessarily sound very sexy. But today is a good one to make an exception. In yesterday’s special election to replace Jeff Session’s Senate seat, Alabama voters elected Democrat Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore (who has been accused of sexual misconduct with underage girls) — a stunning upset considering Alabama hasn’t had a Democratic senator since 1992 (and even that guy eventually switched parties and became a Republican).
    So um… what happened? Did Alabama voters collectively say “Nah” to Moore and the horse he (literally) rode in on? Not so much.

    TAKEAWAY #1: Black voters showed up, mostly voted Democrat.
    According to The Washington Post’s exit polls, Alabama voters’ choice of candidate largely correlated with their race. A majority of white voters (68%) choose Moore versus Jones (30%). In comparison, 98 percent of black voters went with Jones.
    TAKEAWAY #2: What did women want? Depended on their race.
    And in case you’re interested in intersectionality check out these numbers: both white women (63%) and white men (72%) mostly voted for Moore. Black women, on the other hand, overwhelmingly voted for Democrat Doug Jones (98%), a higher percentage than even black men (93%), according to The Washington Post’s exit polls.
    TAKEAWAY #3: Most young voters chose Jones
    Looking to your fellow millennial and Gen Z voters? Sixty percent of Alabama voters 18 to 29 voted for Jones. But does that mean red states will gradually turn blue over time, or will young progressives turn conservative as they age? Only time will tell.
    TAKEAWAY #4: White voters are willing to overlook political scandal for other factors.
    So how do we process these election results? Some are saying it’s a warning sign for Republicans, or creepy dudes, or both. But before we get ahead of ourselves, there’s one more set of numbers that it’s worth looking long and hard at from the Alabama election. Despite the fact that The Washington Post’s exit polls found that most women (57%) and nearly half of white men (42%) believed Moore’s accusers were telling the truth, a majority of white people still voted for him. To answer the question, “But whyyyyyyyy?” it may be telling to look at the issues. Doug Jones holds a pro-abortion rights stance, while Moore is staunchly anti-abortion rights. Alabama is also a deeply Republican state. So before you start making too many assumptions about what Alabama’s special election will mean for the next political cycle, keep your eyes glued to the numbers.

  • Election Day: Alabama Teens Weigh In On Roy Moore And Senate Race

    by Maya Cueva

    Sexual assault and harassment have been the main issue surrounding the Alabama Senate race. But what does this election mean for young people in Alabama? Youth Radio asked some teens from Alabama to weigh in on the issues that matter most to them in this election. 
    The quotes are edited for length and clarity. 

    Photo Courtesy of Madeline Shackelford
    Madeline Schakelford, 17
    As a 17-year-old black, queer, woman, I do not think that [candidate] Roy Moore has my best interests in mind. I do not think that he has Alabama’s or even the south’s best interests in mind. I don’t believe a candidate deserves to make laws if he can’t even follow ones that are as important as the legal age of consent. The fact that Roy Moore was able to keep campaigning after multiple allegations of sexual assault is simply despicable.
    I do believe that [candidate] Doug Jones has my best interests in mind. [I believe he will address] the unequal access to education in Alabama. And as a student in public education, I do not have an AP government text book. Sometimes we don’t even have qualified teachers, or bathroom doors in the school restrooms. We don’t have access to the same quality of education of those who live in majority white school districts, and I feel that is a problem that needs to be addressed. We, as a state, have created a system where it is perfectly legal to have unequal access to education without explicitly stating in our constitution that “black people should get worse education than white people do.”
    There are issues that haven’t made it to the light because of the Roy Moore scandal. As far as I have seen, neither candidate has mentioned the fact that Alabama is still one of the most obese states in the country, and several cities in the state are food deserts. I haven’t heard anyone talk about providing better public transportation either. 

    Photo Courtesy of C. Audrey Harper
    C. Audrey Harper, 18 
    I have been anticipating this election as this will be the first one I am able to vote in.
    I have vehemently disliked Roy Moore since 2016 when [as a judge] he would not allow same-sex couples to be married. When I learned he was running for Senate, I didn’t think he would win the primary. After the sexual assault allegations arose, I was horrified.Those girls were my age. The youngest girl was 14. When I was 14 I was just out of middle school. To even think about a 30-year-old man making advances on me makes me sick.
    I see Roy Moore as the antithesis of every value that Alabamians hold, yet people continue to support him. I want people to see the state that has given me everything that I hold dear. Seeing people support Moore has also made me acknowledge that while Alabama is beautiful, it can be so terribly toxic. There are people believe the women who are accusing Roy Moore but are still voting for him. What kind of message are we giving to young women if an accused sexual predator wins this election? A lot of people said they would not be voting because they “can’t vote for a child molester, but also can’t vote for a Democrat,” but there are still other things to vote on besides the Senate election.
    I also care about education and healthcare – something that Alabama is lacking in. A lot of Alabama is rural, and many of the people living in these areas do not have proper access to healthcare services and well-funded school systems. I was lucky enough to grow up in a more affluent community in Alabama, but just a few minutes south of me there are people who do not have quality textbooks and teachers and have to drive long ways to see a doctor. Some of Alabama’s counties have among the lowest life expectancies in the country. How can we expect to prosper as a state if we can’t even give adequate health care or properly educate our citizens? In my city, there is a vote on a tax renewal for my school system which gives us a lot of funding. Alabamians immediately object when the word “tax” is ever said (hence our low property taxes, hence our poorly funded schools!) .

    Photo Courtesy of Tyler Brown
    Tyler Brown, 16
    This race, involving a tarnished Republican candidate, gives Democrats an opportunity to win a Senate seat in Alabama. This would be unusual in today’s political climate. As I look forward to my future post-graduation, economic stability is important issue to me. I tend to favor the big business policies of a Republican candidate. I am also concerned with the cost of healthcare and maintaining insurance coverage. However, because this election is for the remaining term of former Senator Jeff Sessions, it is unlikely that the election of either candidate will have a long lasting impact.
    Special thanks to the Alabama Youth Alliance and YouthServe for this coverage. 

  • On Liberal Education: Views from Abroad

    by Howard Gardner

    In the United States, when we contemplate the phrases “liberal education,” “liberal arts education,” or “education in the liberal arts and sciences,” we face two essentially opposed perspectives. On the one hand, the years beyond high school have long been seen as a period when young people can leave home, spend several years in a comfortable setting (perhaps near, perhaps distant from their families), mix with peers, enjoy an active social life, and perhaps learn things that are interesting and useful. We can call this the romantic view of higher education. More recently, however, the high expense of higher education, as well as the lesser likelihood of finding a good job right after graduation, has led to a less happy perspective. Perhaps college is not worth it; indeed, in recent polls, politically conservative respondents actually indicate that higher education is bad for the national interests—a pattern of response that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago. We can call this the disenchanted view.
    In other parts of the world, higher education has had a quite different history. For one thing, it has been restricted to a small elite: students who have done well in secondary school and have passed a challenging completion exam. Second, it is usually pointedly vocational; one goes to university to become an engineer a lawyer, or a physician. Third, and importantly, it has traditionally been free or of low cost, with the vast majority of students living at home and not “on campus.”
    But recently, notably in Europe and Asia, an increasing number of institutions of higher learning—both government-sponsored and for-profit—have been launched. (It’s been estimated that there are about 200 self-styled liberal education institutions outside the United States.) Students who decide to enroll have a “blanker slate”—they do not arrive with a disposition to romanticize or castigate this form of education. Taking advantage of this situation, three scholars (Jakob Tonda Dirksen, Daniel Kontowski, and David Kretz) have asked students who are attending or have attended liberal arts institutions in Europe to answer the question, “What is liberal education, and what could it be?”. The editors have published the responses of 17 students in the slim volume What is Liberal Education and What Could It Be? European Students on Their Liberal Arts Education.
    In some ways, the respondents are reminiscent of students at select American liberal arts schools. By their own testimony, they tend to come from relatively affluent backgrounds—and yet also have to defend themselves against friends and family members who ask them why they are not pursuing a vocational career. As Leon says of his school, “Leuphana University is a quite homogeneous space where many of us students come from middle-class backgrounds, spent a year volunteering before entering university, and speak at least three languages.”
    More so than most Americans students, those enrolled in European colleges that style themselves as “liberal arts” centers see themselves as risk takers. The kind of education that they have chosen to pursue is unfamiliar to many in their worlds—and so they feel like they have proclaimed themselves as different from their peers. In this sense, they are more like first-generation students in the United States: they have placed a distance between themselves and both family member and secondary school peers—who, if they had pursued tertiary education at all, would have been more likely to pursue a conventional degree in a single subject matter (like economics) or in a professional career.
    These select students declare their uniqueness in what they say and how they say it. Consider this evidence:

    Some lines from the poem “Artists and Scientists: The Uncommon View” by Nathalie (Leiden University College):

    We are the artists one hasn’t seen before
    Since we draw connections through actions, reactions, and dissatisfaction
    We are the scientists of the shades of grey
    When everyone’s leaving, we smile and stay to inspect it all

    Teun (University College, Utrecht) on “The Headaches and Joys of an Open Curriculum”:

    For the Renaissance women and men, they have an opportunity to avoid choosing
    For the Tailors, a way to choose precisely what they wanted
    For the Shoppers, they will try different courses and see what grabs them
    For the Avoiders, a way to avoid courses or approaches that they feared or were not interested in

    Sem (University of Winchester) makes a drawing of the difference between the oblivious child and the one who has seen the light:

    While Lukas (Leuphana Univesrity, Luneberg) mixes Simon and Garfunkel’s lyrics with his own text about liberal education:

    Simon and Garfunkel: “Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down”
    Lukas: Against this background, my study was a salad bowl of experiences. All over the liberal arts, the “multi-, inter-, & trans-disciplinary hype of un-education accompanied me smoothly, carried me safe”
    As should be evident, the writers collated by the editors are a lively group, not reluctant to express what is on their mind in artistic form.
    Some of their testimony is more pointed and critical:

    Iesse (Leuphana University in Luneberg) wonders whether, instead of being critical of capitalism, he and his peers are being prepared to join the neo-liberal class—becoming in effect the future “Davos” women and men: “For me liberal education rather corresponds to the latest developments in capital society—its ideals of capital accumulation, market-liberalism, comprehensive competitiveness, and the inherent exploitations of capitalism. Whether one likes or dislikes this will certainly vary with context. I guess that many people, are, like, me, torn.”

    Jacob (European College of Liberal Arts, Berlin) questions a number of widely held assumptions. He wonders whether liberal education truly achieves critical thinking (let alone the more radical challenging of assumptions); rather than being “interdisciplinary,” he suggests that it is pre-disciplinary; and it fails to ask whether a competitive career is really the sole aim of life. As he concludes, “modern liberal education misses the same introspective qualities that it fails to develop in its students.”

    I’ve introduced some of the more exotic responses to the questions put forth by the editors—allusive in their use of artistic tools and/or pointedly critical of the programs in which they have matriculated.
    But this sample in isolation gives a distorted picture of the testimonies in this collection. Overall, I was impressed by the thoughtfulness of the responses—whether literal or metaphoric, whether critical or complimentary. Here are some powerful points made by the students:

    Drawing on Plato, Clara (Leiden University College) sees the education of the soul as the ideal conception of liberal education. She delineates how one might educate the soul of the good man (the ideal soul, the just soul, the educated soul) as one which is wise and courageous and which is able to moderate its desires so that it may focus on the achievement of higher (immaterial) goods. The true liberal artisans would get along well with Plato; they are open minded critical thinkers, who do not back away from challenges.

    Nathan (Amsterdam University College) points out that “the liberal arts have shown me that it is this professional and academic humility—at a time when young people are pressured to have clearly articulated convictions, interests, and ambitions—that will allow me to dare to explore disciplines beyond my specialization.”

    Sanne (University College, Roosevelt, Middleburg) praises the features of campus life that American students too often take for granted: “The university college made sure rent was affordable; living together next to your fellow students only minutes from the university made working together easy to arrange, and there were always people around to have a cup of tea with late at night. UCR students really formed a strong close-knit community.”

    Arthur (King’s College, London) asserts that “the liberal arts afforded me the opportunity to think as a history student, as philosophy student, as a film student, and as a literature student at the same time. I found that studying multiple different subjects at the same time allowed me to pool knowledge and different methodologies from each discipline for the benefit of a project. In addition I could take different ways of thinking from different disciplines to approach a subject in a new way.”

    Brita (King’s College, London) declares that “ultimately liberal arts and its inter-disciplinarity has for me involved an acknowledgement of life as simultaneously meaningless and bursting with meaning. I am no longer to conceptualize or express my life and future life without including art, personal growth, relationships and emotions, as well as academic and professional progress… Liberal arts can teach you what is good, what is bad, what you value, and what does not matter to you. Ultimately, what more could you ask of an education?”

    These voices from young persons studying liberal arts outside of the United States are illuminating in two ways:

    They cast fresh light on features of a form of education that has long been associated with the United States—both its prestigious private institutions and its capacious public institutions—that may have become less visible and less vivid to those who have long taken their assumptions for granted.
    At a time when liberal education is under severe attack in the United States (for some valid reasons, but mostly for reasons that are ill-informed), this informal European study suggests some features that may flourish in soils remote from our shores.

    Note: For expositional purposes, some of the quotations above have been lightly edited. I trust that the intended meaning always comes through.

  • For The Love Of The Game (And My Dad)

    by Denise Tejada

    My dad and I both love baseball. But for him it’s just a game. For me, it’s about spending time together.
    As a kid, I was daddy’s little girl. He introduced me to new music. We went to the movies together. And–my very favorite–he took me to baseball games.
    Even though I’m a teenager now–we both still enjoy cheering for the Giants. On game days, my dad, my brother and I often gather on the couch in the living room. When my dad and I are bonding over the game–which players we love, the way the game is going–I feel really close to him. Which is why it’s so disappointing when my younger brother talks over me and takes up our dad’s attention. I’m not sure my dad even sees this dynamic. To him, we’re just hanging out.
    Traditionally, sports are a father son thing. But for me, it’s one of the few times I still get to spend time with my dad. And as I get older, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to do that.
    I wish he could see–baseball isn’t just baseball to me. It’s my attempt to reconnect with him.

  • Why I’m Saying “Boy, Bye” To Abusive Artists

    by Youth Radio Raw

    My friends and I were driving through the hills of Grizzly Peak in Berkeley, California, blasting our favorite artists as we zipped past curve after curve. I handed my friend the aux cord, a signal they could pick the next song. Being given the aux cord when riding in the car with friends is synonymous to being given the power. And with great power comes great responsibility.
    “Play X”, my friend suggested, referring to popular Soundcloud rapper XXXtentacion.
    But I didn’t want to. I knew XXXtentacion had been convicted of domestic abuse and assault multiple times before and it made me uncomfortable to listen to his music knowing my plays were what was filling his bank account. I laughed off the suggestion and played another song off the hip hop charts.
    In this time of activism and being “woke”, how do artists like XXX and Kodak Black sit at the top of the chart every week? I’ve noticed that even movements set to free these incarcerated rappers, like #FreeX, have skyrocketed them to popularity amongst youth listeners who see their conviction for domestic abuse or rape as mere roadblocks in the way of their music career. According to DJBooth, after #FreeKodak started trending across social media sites, Kodak’s “Tunnel Vision” jumped 19 spots, earning him the first top ten hit of his career.
    My friends who still listen to these artists argue that they can separate the music from the artist. They brought up directors like Woody Allen, or producer Harvey Weinstein, both of whom have faced sexual assault allegations. Does that mean we never watch another movie produced by the Weinstein company again?
    Contrary to popular opinion, I think we should leave these artists behind.
    Every time we listen or watch something produced by a rapist, not only are we adding to their wealth, we are normalizing rape and domestic abuse. By streaming Kodak Black or XXX, we are allowing their talent to excuse their behavior. This leads to rape culture, which is built on normalization of rape and violence.
    Even though I don’t think quitting listening to Kodak or XXX will magically cure our society from rape, it’s a step in the right direction. I want Hollywood and the music industry to send the message that alleged rapists like Casey Affleck or R. Kelly aren’t welcome no matter what level of talent they have. This can be as simple as skipping a song on a playlist and explaining your reasoning behind it.
    So next time you get control of the aux with friends, know it’s not just about the music. You have a chance to make change and hold media makers accountable.

  • Why Wholesome Memes Might Be Our Best Hope Against the Nazis

    by Petey

    In Tokyo Boogie-Woogie: Japan’s Pop Era and Its Discontents, the historian Hiromu Nagahara describes a Japanese government meeting convened during the second World War. A wartime ban had been placed on American popular music, and so officials were serenaded instead by the popular nationalist songs of the day, including "Over There," a 1939 tribute to the bravery of Japan's soldiers—and, unbeknownst to all but a music journalist in attendance, a cover of "Over There," the 1917 American anthem better known by its opening hook "Johnny, get your gun." 
    Nagahara tells this story as a case of and for transnational optimism, evidence that even mortal enemies could share a deep and common cultural connection under conditions of total war. Of course, the same facts can be read in the opposite way: that two nations could cheerfully hum the same tune while violently slaughtering each other. 
    I've been thinking about this story since Jason Koebler at Motherboard published an article earlier this summer revealing that many mainstream memes are made by Nazis. And not just the ones featuring fascist frogs, either: dank memes of all kinds often emerge from subcultural territory occupied by the alt-right before circulating throughout the wider web. Jason raised the question of whether it is ethical to share memes manufactured under such conditions, as if they were conflict diamonds.
    But it also made me wonder: what does the mutual appreciation of these memes say about us? What common aesthetic allows a Nazi and a non-Nazi to appreciate the same dank meme? Should we worry about that kind of cultural connection? And if so, what should we do about it?
    This problem is not new, but in fact just a different form of an ancient struggle between fascism and democracy. The common aesthetic of these circulating memes is the nihilist irony that developed as a reaction to WWII and today fuels the alt-right while fatiguing the rest of us. Our best cultural weapon against the advances of the alt-right, then, are wholesome memes, which look much like the memes you know, but are rooted in sincerity and compassion rather than nihilism.

    As Jason referenced in his article, for decades academics have been arguing whether it is ever OK to cite Martin Heidegger. The basic problem is that Heidegger was a brilliant and influential philosopher and also a Nazi. Some people argue he was so brilliant we can't ignore his philosophy; others said no, you shouldn't cite Nazis, because they were Nazis.
    The debate was renewed in 2014 with the publication of Heidegger's long-embargoed Black Notebooks, which are somehow even more sinister than their title makes them sound. To save you from reading a thousand pages of a Nazi's diary, what the Notebooks show is that not only was Heidegger a committed Nazi, but that Nazism was baked into his thought, which means his philosophy must not only be discarded but actively opposed.
    But how do you fight one of the philosophy's most brilliant/damaged thinkers on his own turf? In 1953 Jurgen Habermas, perhaps the most influential democratic theorist of the postwar West, argued that Heidegger was too important to be ignored but too dangerous to rely upon. Instead, he proposed that "it appears to be time to think with Heidegger against Heidegger": to take his critical insights and transpose them democratically in order to, as one commentator put it, "to leave space for the citizens themselves to determine and develop their different collective and individual life projects." For the purposes of this essay, we can think of Heidegger as the philosopher of Nazi memes, and Habermas as the philosopher of democratic memes.
    And so the time has come to think with memes, against memes: to reappropriate and redesign the meme-form to fight fascism and rebuild democracy.

    There are many kinds of memes: dank, spicy, and fresh, just to name a few. But the memes that Jason identified as emerging from the alt-right are often wrapped in layers of irony that insulate the reader from caring about their subject. Who cares about climate change if we're all garbage?
    This particular style of nihilism resembles that found in Heidegger's philosophy, specifically his concept of being-toward-death. According to Heidegger, we are thrown into the world, and our uncertain fate makes us feel guilty and anxious. Only the resolute anticipation of our own death can free us by allowing us to see, in our individual absence, our individuality. Our own death makes possible our own life.
    Being-toward-death thus liberates us by alienating us. It reminds us that we are individuals, apart from society, and that when we die, our being ceases. Except here is the thing: being an individual waiting/wanting to die is no way to live together in a society, which is precisely the problem we face broadly, now. We sit and scroll and daydream of the day we will each be dead in the ground, freed of our respective responsibilities. Meanwhile, the alt-right, enthusiastically alienated from/by society and without a single fuck to give, is on the march.
    The good news is that there is an antidote to this kind of alienation. The bad news (for lovers of nihilist, ironic memes, anyway) is that it's to be brutally, unironically earnest, to others and with yourselves. It requires a New Sincerity, but for memes: replacing the ethic/aesthetic of postmodern irony with an earnest wholesomeness that, as Habermas hoped, helps us live together rather than apart.

    Postmodernism refers to many things, but can be broadly understood as a philosophical and artistic movement, developing especially after the catastrophe of the Second World War, that questions modern concepts of progress and objectivity. In literature and art, this skepticism was performed especially through irony, which projected expertise while protecting authors from being pinned down to truth-claims. In the decades since, postmodernism spread not only across the humanities and arts but the sciences and now everyday life, with government officials offering alternative facts and Facebook struggling to define fake news.
    Yet in recent years a new movement has sought to transcend postmodernism by moving beyond irony and rebuilding the world it once sought to split. If this movement has a manifesto, it might be David Foster Wallace's 1993 essay on television and US fiction. The essay, while nominally a review of contemporary sitcoms, is also a commentary on the postmodern aesthetic of nihilist irony: distant and distancing, and terribly isolating. The title of the article itself (E Unibus Pluram, or "out of one, many") describes both how televisual culture operates and the ultimate effect on a nation subjected to it.
    Written while he was drafting Infinite Jest (which, may I remind you, features a germophobic President tanned an unnatural orange whose television stardom gets him improbably elected despite a quixotic campaign of building a border wall and launching trash into Canada to Make America Clean Again), Wallace argued that "irony and ridicule are entertaining and effective [and] at the same time they are agents of a great despair and stasis in U.S. culture."
    For Wallace, the nudged ribs, cool smiles, and knowing winks of televisual culture made people laugh, but also made people afraid of being laughed at, and thus simultaneously kept them pacified by entertainment and frozen by fear, afraid of becoming entertainment. This is also why, when people asked Wallace what the massive Infinite Jest was about, he often told them "loneliness."
    Against this debilitating irony, Wallace both predicted and prayed for a new post-postmodernism, one that, rather than daring to be skeptical, would dare to be sincere:
    "The next real literary ‘rebels’ in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels...who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels."

    In late 2016, as the entire world was collapsing, a new kind of meme was exploding. Wholesome memes did not originate on reddit, but they came to be gathered there, aggregated in an eponymous subreddit that called for memes expressing "support, positivity, compassion, understanding, love, affection, and genuine friendship by re-contextualizing classic meme formats, and using them to display warmth and empathy...with no snark or sarcasm." Such memes are not pre-ironic but post-ironic: they are aware of, and actively remix, the expectations and form of more nihilistic genres in order to express authentic sentiment and acknowledge the human connection between author and viewer.
    Wholesome memes are effective because they encode, in a spreadable and durable digital form, the kind of emotional labor that picks people up and encourages them to go on, even if it's not clear where they are going or what awaits them. They dare to speak of the ordinary with reverence and conviction. They require vulnerability on the part of both author and viewer, and through that vulnerability build strength. They liberate not by anticipating individual death but by affirming shared life: that, after we pass on, we do not die, but instead live on through the people and institutions that compose the common world we made together.
    For these and other reasons wholesome memes are also remarkably Nazi-proof. It's not only that territories controlled by the alt-right don't source wholesome memes, it's that they can't. Or, at least, they haven't yet, and I think it's unlikely they will. The wholesome ethic is egalitarian, antifascist, and resists ironic deployment. Instead, wholesome memes are fundamentally democratic because they build solidarity, indeed are solidarity: in both essence and function artifacts of a democratic consciousness, realized through communicative action, that Habermas has spent his life trying to build after Heidegger and despite postmodernism.

    Most of us were raised in a postmodern age, taught first on the schoolyard, and eventually in the schoolhouse, to be cool, distant, safe, and so also passive, weak, complicit. But the challenges we face require a change in our culture, and thus also the media that both bears and transforms it. That change is here in wholesome memes. And it could not have come at a better time.
    This change will not be easy. Living wholesomely is hard. Sincerity has risks. Faith can be tested, and can falter, but mustn't fail. Particularly in the present, beset by false facts and fascist frogs, but still trying to forge the path ahead, progressing in a dumb determined animal way, simply because we must. Because authentic wholesomeness, not the wholesomeness of a child but of a monk, not inherited but chosen, not given by grace but earned by hard work, can be mocked, or betrayed, but it can never be corrupted. It has the lasting strength of strength surrendered; "no one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own accord." And in these dark days, it may be the best hope we have.

  • Gen Z Fashion: From YouTube To Your Closet

    by Noah Nelson

    Erica Louie, a YouTuber who goes by Miss Louie, left her corporate job to be a full-time YouTube fashion vlogger. (Photo credit: Denise Tejada.)
    I used to be addicted to an internet phenomenon called haul videos.
    It sounds kind of weird. But I’ll literally watch someone sitting in their room, trying on clothes and talking about how they fit.
    “So I’ll literally turn on both cameras, stand in front of the white background, model clothes, and then change out and then just do it over and over again for hours,” said Erica Louie, a YouTuber who goes by Miss Louie.
    A corner of Louie’s Santa Clara, CA living room has been converted into a film set. She has a white floor-to-ceiling backdrop and a rack full of clothes with tags still on them. Louie’s been working on these videos for six years. She has a quarter-million followers.
    “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I found my group. I found my niche,’ whether it’s young women entering college trying to get internships or women trying to get their first job,” said Louie.
    Earlier this year, Louie left her corporate job at Dell to grow her YouTube channel, and her decision is paying off. Now she says she is earning a six-figure income, but it’s not easy money. Louie puts in 50 to 60 hours a week on her videos.

    So how exactly does she make money?
    Well, let’s say you like the jacket she’s wearing in a video. You can click on a link in the video description, which directs you to the retailer’s site. For every jacket that’s sold, Louie gets a percentage from the cart total. And that link is accessible even years after the video is posted. So, for instance, today Louie could be making money from a link she posted five years ago.
    Ilse Metchek, head of the California Fashion Association, calls people like Erica Louie “influencers.” She believes they are changing how the fashion industry works
    “Influencers are the new Vogue,” said Metchek. “Influencers get front row seats at the fashion shows. They get clothes sent to them daily. ‘Here! free! Please wear this.’ This is a business now.”
    Erica Louie’s business model is surprisingly personalized. She buys what she likes for her wardrobe–with her own money–and then approaches brands, instead of the other way around. So she’s not tied to any one label.
    That freedom and customization is refreshing to Gen Zers like me. Unlike older generations, we aren’t loyal to single brands. Plus, we are more interested in connecting with real people than with companies.
    My friend Trinity Balla’s favorite haul videos are from YouTubers Sophia and Cinzia. She asked me to watch their haul from a shopping trip in London.

    Part of the appeal of Sofia and Cinzia? We see ourselves in them. “They’re just three years older than us,” said Balla. “And they don’t have a bunch of money, like, they work.”
    Sofia and Cinzia feel genuine. They are buying things they like for themselves. It’s a level of customization and a feeling of authenticity that speaks to us. Metchek says it’s going to be hard for retailers to keep up, since we’re so individualized in our tastes.
    “You will not all have the same hairdo, and you will not all be wearing torn jeans, and you will not all be wearing the same footwear. And you may not even use the same cosmetics,” she told me. 
    Maybe Metchek has a point. I know this sounds nuts, but over the course of reporting this story, I even I found myself getting bored of YouTube haul videos. What’s next? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll even go to the mall?
    This story is part of a special Youth Radio series Generation Z produced with NPR’s Sonari Glinton.

  • First Job? Here’s What You Should Know About Sexual Harassment

    by Youth Radio Interns

    Teens girls from Mount Diablo High School, listening to recruiters talk about trades in December 2015
    As sexual harassment revelations break out across the country, #MeToo continues to be in the headlines. But what’s at stake for young women entering the workplace? Youth Radio’s Nina Roehl spoke with Malinda Tuazon, an investigator at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which is the federal agency that enforces the laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace, about advice she has for young women.
    This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

    Nina Roehl: Legally, how are people protected against sexual harassment in the workplace?
    Malinda Tuazon: There is a federal set of laws that says that it’s illegal to subject someone to conduct that is unwanted, such as lewd comments, graffiti, and things like that in the workplace. So, under federal law in California you have up to 300 days to file a charge of discrimination. Under the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, you have up to one year to file a charge of discrimination. For youth under 18 who have been harassed, they have until one year after they turn 18 to file a charge. So for example, if you’re harassed at age 15 in the workplace you have up until your 19th birthday to file a charge of discrimination with the state.
    NR: I’m a young woman at one of my first jobs here at Youth Radio, and I’m going to be entering the workforce, so what advice do you have for young women who may be sexually harassed at work?
    MT: One of the things that I always recommend to people is if you feel like you’re being harassed or in any other way discriminated against, take really good notes and keep a journal of what happens. This can be what someone says to you, what day it was, what time it was, and if there were any witnesses. 
    I think it’s really important for people to understand that a person does not have to be a victim of sexual harassment themselves to report it or even do something about it. [It’s important to] do something to either stop it or engage the person who’s being subjected to it. Ask, “Is there something you would like me to do to help you?” We always recommend if you’re going to be an active bystander, you should get the consent of the person who has been the victim of sexual harassment before you talk with management or Human Resources. Otherwise,  encourage the person to talk with H.R. management themselves.  But I always recommend young people to report these incidents– if not just for themselves, but to try and prevent it from happening to other people in the future.
    NR: Personally, I think it’s really inspiring to see all these people step forward using #MeToo, but are there consequences or retaliations when coming forward in such a public way?
    MT: I can certainly imagine the social consequences of people coming forward and in a public way. In the workplace, people who complain about sexual harassment get protected from retaliation. That’s not to say that they won’t be retaliated against but if they are, they can file to start an investigation. Depending on how strong the evidence is that links the complaints to the action, then it’s likely that we would find retaliation, discrimination, and a violation of the laws that we enforce.
    NR: What is the process like once you come forward with a sexual harassment report? What does it entail?
    MT: Under the law, when an employer gets a complaint of sexual harassment, they are required to respond promptly and adequately to ensure that the sexual harassment stops and doesn’t occur again. Oftentimes if you’re going to your employer, they’ll either take the complaint directly or refer you to Human Resources.  
    So, sometimes an employer will do an investigation regarding the sexual harassment, or they will just interview the person who was harassed and maybe the alleged harasser. Sometimes they will issue some discipline or they will just talk to the alleged harasser about their behavior, assuming it will stop from there. If a person wants to come to our agency and file a charge of discrimination, you have to do it within 300 days of the most recent incident of harassment. 
    NR: Is there anything else you would like to add?
    MT: One of the communities that [the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] is really reaching out to is immigrant communities. In immigrant communities, youth often are the conduit of knowledge and information for their families. So, it’s really important for youth to know about a lot of these laws, because even if they’re not the ones who are being discriminated against or harassed or sexually harassed, one of their parents could be. So, this is great legal information they can bring to their family.

  • Is Gen Z The First Car-Free Generation? Not So Fast, Say Automakers

    by Noah Nelson

    Image courtesy of Maven
    Sheryl Connelly has a crazy job. She’s in Detroit, in charge of looking into the future for Ford Motor Company. And they’re trying to predict how people my age–from Generation Z– will use cars.
    “I have two Gen Zers at home,” said Connelly. “So my sixteen-year-old daughter is thrilled, actually. Her car is ready to go. As soon as she has her license, it’s in the driveway. And so she sits in her car and she listens to the radio and she loves her car.”
    That’s definitely not me.
    “I think it’s context,” said Connelly. “It depends on where you live.” A couple of decades ago, you would not have heard someone from Ford saying that owning a car is about context. Things are definitely changing. My dad is a car guy. He says he  started driving when he was 14. Somehow that was legal. But me–I’m 18 and I don’t want a car. I am from the San Francisco Bay Area. I take buses and trains. I bike, and when I need a car, I use Lyft. Ford’s Connelly says Gen Z is a game changer.
    “They don’t really care about ownership. They don’t necessarily see that their vehicle is going to be a status symbol. In fact they’re really savvy customers and can be quite frugal,” said Connelly.
    I asked Connelly if it scared Ford that Gen Zers are frugal. “No, I don’t think so at all. We’re ready for you. If you wanna buy a car, we’ve got it for you. If you don’t wanna buy a car, we can still help you there.”
    Ford started its own bike sharing service recently. They want to sell to people like me who have no interest in buying a car. The top three automakers in the U.S.–Ford, Fiat Chrysler, and General Motors–say they are no longer just automakers. Every major car company is trying to make a move – whether it’s car-sharing or ride-hailing or self-driving. General Motors has a new car-sharing app that it’s betting billions on called Maven.
    “The word means ‘a connoisseur,’ someone who has options and means to make good choices,’” said Peter Kosak, the executive director of urban mobility for Maven. “We needed to create a new brand because this is really about access and not necessarily ownership.”
    Kosak says GM’s new car-sharing company was created to target those on the older end of millennials and Gen Z. While my friends and I aren’t really interested in car ownership, we are redefining what it means to travel by car.
    Susan Shaheen researches innovative mobility at UC Berkeley.
    Susan Shaheen is at UC Berkeley and has been studying ride sharing since the 90’s before it was a real thing. She says this isn’t all bad news for car companies.
    “If you are using their mobility services,” said Shaheen, “chances are they’re gonna have a lot of data about your preferences — if you like to rent minivans or mini coopers or convertibles or Teslas. They’re gonna know a lot about where you travel and how you travel. They’re gonna be in a very good position to market to you.”
    Even if you haven’t thought about owning a car, you are essentially being placed on the road to ownership. Whether you realize it or not, engaging in these car sharing services is essentially test driving, which is the first step in purchasing a car.
    “This is a business opportunity for us,” said Maven’s Kosak. “You’re in that perfect case, and maybe later you will want to own a car.”
    So the car industry is hoping that I may want a car in the future, even if it’s not a priority now. If this sounds familiar, think back on all the doom and gloom about millennials not wanting to own cars. 
    Last year, the Associated Press reported that millennials are starting to buy cars in big numbers. They just had a late start–mostly because of the Great Recession.
    Could the same thing happen for Gen Z? I decided to ask Michelle Krebs, an analyst for Autotrader, if Generation Z might follow in Millennials’ footsteps once they’re turning 30.
    “We think that maybe, as Gen Z ages, as you start to think–I know this is hard to think about–but if you decide about getting married and having children you may have one personal vehicle in the household,” said Krebs.
    She may be right, but thats not happening for me yet. I’ve always wanted to live in Los Angeles, and I recently got to move down here for college. Before I moved, when I told people that I wouldn’t have a car, they’d say, “Oh, good luck.” I didn’t need luck because I got here and there’s Lyft and Uber, even taxis, and a train that will take me from my dorm to the ocean. 
    And right now, for people who are selling cars, I’m a problem. And so is the rest of my generation. I’m 18 years old and I know what I want–at least when it comes to cars. That is what is sending car companies into their own identity crisis.
    This story is part of a special Youth Radio series Generation Z produced with NPR’s Sonari Glinton.