Spring Break with President Clinton. But first, Hunger Games
I have never been one to jump onto pop culture bandwagons, or any other type of bandwagon for that matter. If bandwagons were made of wood, and if it were up to me, I would make a mission out of dismantling them and grinding the remains down into manure. For much of my life, I have been very intent on shielding myself from the excesses of popular culture. I have already blacklisted a few of pop culture's most irritating products including but not limited to reality shows, auto tune, pointless talk shows, and singers that derive pleasure from wearing dresses made of beef.
I ask myself various questions as I grapple to comprehend the baffling universe of Hollywood and its offshoots. Does anyone at all actually care about the emergence of cellulite on a celebrity's thigh? Is the world made better off because some television network runs a show with panelists offering convoluted analyses of the degree of frozenness of an actress' forehead? What is it precisely that moves one to mummify one's body in hunks of brisket and finish off the look with a hat sewn out of steak? Is it necessary for all of society to drop all productive behavior just to pour congratulations on celebrities for losing weight on an acai berry diet? Is all this information the media plunges down our throats pertinent, let alone useful?
Of course, these questions cannot be definitively answered, since the answers depend very much on what each individual person values. Personally, however, the degree of superfluity that pervades popular culture has made me very sceptical of many of its products.
Which is why I was particularly sceptical about The Hunger Games, and why I had vowed never to set eyes on it. You see, I had automatically concluded that The Hunger Games was just another hyper-commercialized yet substantively anemic series of books facing a tortuous transformation into yet another banal chain of embarrassingly bad films. (Hie, unnamed string of movies concerning pale vampires.)
BUT boy, was I wrong about it.
The Bonner Scholars Class of 2015 and I travelled to Buffalo, NY, to serve at a community centre for the first half of spring break. This experience is deserving of a blog post of its own, but the fundamental point to be gleaned from this for now is that in spite of being heavily opposed to the idea, I finally caved in to persuasion from my fellow Bonners and went to watch The Hunger Games. And I must admit that it turned out to be an extremely compelling piece of cinematic brilliance. Without giving too much away, the Hunger Games are essentially a full-blown warfare among some twelve districts of a post-apocalyptic world in which only one "tribute" (representative of a district) can prevail at the end of a no holds barred killing spree.
The whole event is televised (!) and manipulated by the powers that be in a rather innovative way (oversized dog/wolf like creatures are created via CGI and then set loose on the tributes). The whole tale is revealed to us through the protagonist Katniss, herself a complicated repository of many layers of wonderment, contradictions, and fascination. I left the theatre deeply moved to think about the story, its implications, insinuations, and problems, something which I don't always get from movies of this nature. I kind of highly recommend it.
AND IN OTHER NEWS...
My new-found sympathy for pop culture and my Hunger Games epiphanies had to be put on hold for a minute because straight after Buffalo, I headed to Washington, DC, to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University annual conference at George Washington University. The Clinton Global Initiative is an annual conference hosted by President Clinton in which he gathers young people from all over the world who are committed to effecting transformative social changes in their respective countries and communities. CGIU gives them the opportunity to network, share ideas, and be inspired by the invited guests and speakers who are leaders in social justice.
I put my best game face/future diplomat/very formal persona on, as well as VERY formal clothing (a rarity in Oberlin) and got right into the business of networking with many amazing young people and hearing about the impressive initiatives they had committed to pursuing or had initiated.
The conference provided skills sessions, working sessions, and plenaries that covered diverse goals such as poverty alleviation, global health strategies, microfinance, and human rights advocacy.
Some of the notable speakers included President Clinton, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, Usher, human rights activist Sadiqa Saleem, twitter co-founder Biz Stone, and environmental activist Dr. Vandana Shiva.
More impressive than the caliber of the panelists and experts was the enthusiasm and passion of the student attendees. I was constantly impressed by the level of innovation--young people making bicycles out of bamboo to ameliorate transport challenges in the developing world, establishing scholarship programs for students from the world's newest country South Sudan, to rebuilding schools in Haiti. I came away more inspired and challenged to press forward with my own commitment to helping develop education in Zimbabwe.