Author: Laura Jensen

Those Darn Millennials and Their Revolutions

Khalid is adamant that we are “at the mercy” of scrolling. That is, anyone from artists and creatives to advertisers and corporations must make their content worth stopping for. It must be attention-grabbing, immediately recognizable, and worthy of a share. I was inspired by Khalid’s talk, because while this kind of content is usually chastised in think-pieces as  Just Another Thing Those Horrible Millennials Do, it is clear that this content is not only impactful, but revolutionary.

Too often, social media and the people who use it are painted as lazy, unmotivated, young people with short attention spans and poor social skills. But what is not always fully realized is that social media can facilitate revolutionary causes. There is often an argument that people on social media are participating in “slacktivism” or “clicktivism.” This is a valid grievance, as many people at least initially involve themselves in causes through social media, leaving their work on the screen.  But this is not necessarily a bad thing. First, most “slacktivism” is just the initial entry-point into other forms of activism. We cannot expect all people to care about revolutionary causes if they have never accessed information about these causes before. Social media serves to inform people about these issues first, and to allow people to grow, learn, and gain momentum at an incredibly fast pace. While some work may stay on the screen, others could use this knowledge and engage in other forms of dissent and disruption, such as protest. That being said, it is also not necessarily negative for some activism to remain confined to a screen. Protesting takes physical and mental health that not everyone has, while screen activism can be done for people who are not able-bodied. Protesting also requires a certain socio-economic status; if someone is worried about losing their job and not having enough for even the most basic resources, taking to Twitter might be far safer than taking to the streets.

Yet we are still quick to judge millennials and others who use it as a form of activism. I am wondering, then, if part of this resistance stems from the belief that young people do not have the capabilities, time, or will to turn “slacktivism” into a revolution. Regardless of the histories of young people starting and succeeding in revolutionary work, we still view the efforts of young people as frivolous or “phases.” This is fascinating, because even very recent history proves otherwise, whether by pointing to the role of social media in Obama’s 2008 election, the use of live Facebook video during the most recent police shootings in the United States, and, of course, the importance of Twitter during the Arab Spring. To understand social movements and the political context within which they are growing, we have to also understand the role of social media. Hopefully, the work of Khalid and his contemporaries can show that activism sparked by social media often succeeds, not in spite of its online origins, but because of its origins.


Who (or What) is the Frankenstein of the Refugee Crisis?

One of the main takeaway points from Gillen D’Arcy Wood’s lecture on Tambora is centered on the treatment of refugees. During the summer of 1816, famine, disease, and poverty struck Europe, and while Mary Shelley and her contemporaries wrote books to fill their time due to what was seemingly just “bad weather,” those in lower socioeconomic classes who were dependent on the weather for food and livelihood suffered greatly. Wood called this a “social-ecological breakdown,” in which Shelley’s Frankenstein monster lived because she perceived the environmental refugees  as “beasts.”

I was struck by this description, especially due to its implications for the current refugee crisis in Europe. Recently, I read a New York Times article that discussed the ways in which Syrian refugees are treated by Greek citizens who want to keep Syrian children out of schools. One Greek parent against allowing refugees in schools said the refugee children “come from another continent with completely different disease and health conditions,” and that they “have a different outlook” on religious and cultural values. Concerns about health status, values, and keeping the schools “Greek” were echoed throughout the article.

This grievance sounds eerily similar to the “monster” narrative portrayed by Shelley. For Shelley and others watching the refugee crisis unfold in 1816, their claims that refugees had a “beast”-like nature occurred as people from lower socioeconomic classes became desperate for resources but found no source of economic relief or refuge. But what is important to note is that this dehumanizing relegation as “beast” was created by systems of oppression and influenced by people with social power.  I say this not only to imply that people (like Shelley) promoted a narrative that dehumanized groups of people of lower socioeconomic positions, but also in the sense that Shelley and her contemporaries’ attitudes towards these people were influenced by a long history of power hierarchies rooted in socioeconomic class.

As many are quick to note, there is a difference between Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster, and if we are to continue to use the “monster” narrative to describe human beings experiencing poverty (a narrative that should be critiqued), we must also understand that Frankenstein is not only those who are in positions of power, but also the system of power, itself, that creates and reproduces the xenophobic notion of the “monster” in the first place. We have to understand that it is not just the fault of the people who make negative statements about refugees who are perpetuating the refugees’ socioeconomic position, but also the fault of larger systems of racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and classism that create these social positions and hierarchies of power, in the first place. If we wish to change the status quo and subvert the dehumanizing status of “monster,” we must use these tools and knowledge of hierarchical power to understand the Frankenstein that created this crisis.