J500 Media and the Environment

Issues (Think about it.) by justinlev7

Everything is connected. Behind every apple you eat, every piece of clothing you wear, and every product you buy, lies a human face. Behind every face lies a thousand stories, tragedies, traumas and triumphs. Journalists seek the truth, but the truth often contains so much more than any writer can ever hope tell. 

Aye Aye Nu, a refugee from Thailand, works at Juniper Gardens, an urban community farm in Kansas City, Kansas.

Aye Aye Nu, a refugee from Thailand, works at Juniper Gardens, an urban community farm in Kansas City, Kansas.

Discussions in this Media and Environment class and participation in its KCCUA service learning project have brought me face to face with the enormity of the human experience. I thought that by narrowing our focus and looking only at food issues, we’d find ourselves covering fewer topics in class. Quite the contrary. It seems that every week, we’d find our way into new and unexpected territory, everything from GMOs and organic foods to the merits of economic capitalism and the psychology of eating disorders. 

Frankly, it was overwhelming. I was reminded of the Flight of the Conchords song “Issues.” The song’s a joke, I know… but seek within, and you may find a grain of seriousness. Human society is riddled with issues. Poverty, racism, injustice, depression and obesity pervade American culture. Preventable diseases like cancer and heart disease kill people. Kids call each other names like ‘dork.’

Part of me wants to ask, “So what? When did humanity not suffer from poverty, racism, injustice, or depression? If it weren’t cancer, heart disease or AIDs killing people, it’d be something else! Do we expect people not to die? Not to feel sad every now and then?  Concerned citizens find a limitless array of worthy causes to advocate, and they’ll do it, by whatever means necessary! Concerned citizen, aren’t you really just a bleeding-heart panderer trying to vindicate some injustice in your past?”

Go ahead, call me a hypocrite; in reality I’m as big a bleeding-heart as anyone I know. But don’t dismiss my arguments!


Cypher, hedonist par excellence

The modern American has an unprecedented standard of living. We have access to the tastiest foods, the best books, and the sexiest technology. Why not just enjoy the lives we are living, to the fullest? The danger of this approach, of course is that it could lead to idleness, and hedonism. You may find yourself emulating Cypher, from The Matrix, whose famous philosophy was, “Ignorance is bliss.” 

But that doesn’t have to be the result. What struck me about the farmer I wrote about, Aye Aye Nu, is that she seemed  content. She worked in a place she loved, with people that she loved, and when you talked to her, this love showed through. Although there were problems in her life, she did not let them define or dictate her. She had real inner strength.

Finding this kind of inner strength is a very real personal struggle for me.  I see it as a certain resilience, a will to keep working even when none of your leads seem to be going anywhere. There’s a lot to do, and a lot to see, and often I’m afraid to even start.

It’s frustrating to bump heads with the world and its seemingly endless issues. We never will reach the bottom, or see the end of human tragedy in this world. But that’s the nature of the job: to persevere, to keep fighting, and to always find joy in the small victories.

Justin Leverett loves “Like a Hurricane,” by Neil Young. He’s getting blown away.

4 Comments so far
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I really like the parallel you made between feeling powerless against so many problems in the world, yet your farmer being so content with her life despite all of her hardships. Tackling just food in this class did make it easier to overcome this frustration with “endless issues” — despite it being just one topic, we still covered so many things, and everything we talked about was connected.

Comment by jessicasb

I think your point about feeling “overwhelmed” is, well, the point. I’m, unashamedly, not a journalist, but I think you’ve hit (one of the many) nail(s) on the head: taking the tide of info and presenting it to others so that they don’t turn away in a “I’m only 1 person and there’s so much, I can’t do any good”, Cypher-esque way. Telling stories like Aye Aye Nu’s, and pointing out your own grappling with it all, I think, is a very good way to let people in, to give them something they can connect to (although that may, too, sound negatively Matrix-like). Hopefully, as you keep up the fight, you’ll keep helping others make those connections.

Comment by marybethw

Thanks! This was a great class- those readings we had every week were fascinating and really give us something to look up to.

Comment by justinl7

I like your analysis of the rarity, complexity and shieldedness of something so simple as contentment.

Comment by Elizabeth Herman

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