Before I ever met Transport Workers Union organizer Cheska Tolentino, I knew I was going to like her. Over lunch one day our mutual friend (and my Hey, Shorty! co-author), Meghan Huppuch, said to me with a grin, "You haven't met Cheska yet? Oh, you're gonna like her... a lot." Meghan and Cheska had been working together for a year in a coalition effort to increase subway safety called New Yorkers for Safe Transit. I was a new member of that coalition and was still in the process of meeting all the others. Any rave review from Meghan is good enough for me, and sure enough, when Cheska and I met, wouldn't you know I liked her? A lot.
The vows have been said, the register signed and the happy couple kissed on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in front of screaming crowds. For those of us who didn't score an invite to the most exclusive wedding of the decade, the media was on hand to guide us through the day—with a depressingly predictable side order of sexism.
Mallika Dutt is the founder and CEO of Breakthrough, an organization that "uses the power of media, pop culture, and community mobilization to inspire people to take bold action for dignity, equality, and justice." Breakthrough has been successfully integrating social justice messages with pop culture and media for years now, whether it's the 3D video game ICED (I Can End Deportation) or the ad campaign Ring the Bell, calling on men and boys to end violence against women. Their latest project is America 2049, an interactive Facebook game that takes place in the dystopic, but not-so-distant future. I spoke with Mallika about the process behind developing America 2049 and how her organization uses popular culture and media to start conversations about human rights.
A vaccination card from Ellis Island and a protest poster against INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services) reading "Fight Aids, not people with AIDS" aren't your average crime-thriller clues. But in America 2049, a new Facebook game tackling issues of racial profiling, immigration detention, sex trafficking, and more, they're not just pieces to a political puzzle, but actual American artifacts leading you to connect the past to dystopic future—with the hopes of changing our present.
Sometimes, products are all the more disappointing when they sounded pretty cool at first.
Case in point: Mattel's blockbuster franchise, Monster High. This series of dolls is centered around the children (mostly daughters) of werewolves, mummies and other classic beasties of horror tales. When speaking about the franchise to the New York Times, Tim Kilpin of Mattel said, "Who doesn't feel like a freak in high school? It started with that universal truth." Of course, high schoolers aren't Mattel's target market; in fact, most Monster High products are officially listed as "Age 6-8." Still, dolls that promote not buying into superficial mainstream standards would be neat, right?
Yeah, they would. Too bad that's not what's happening here.
On Tuesday, Glee aired their second vaguely Lady Gaga-inspired episode, "Born This Way." Like the first, Season One's "Theatricality," it was, to quote Alyx Vesey, "a mixed bag stuffed to the purse strings."
For LGBTQ and disability rights activists, allies and California youth, as of April 14th, it got better. The CA senate voted 23-14 in favor of a bill mandating the inclusion of curriculum based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools, and if the bill is adopted by the state assembly, the teaching of LGBTQ history will become lawful. Much like the cultural contributions made by women, people of color, immigrants, aboriginals, and workers, if the bill is signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, California will become the first state to require the inclusion of LGBTQ history in schools. Hardly mentioned in the media thus far, the passage of the bill will also grant people with disabilities long overdue space in California classroom curricula.
Cooly G is one of the UK's hottest artists at the moment, releasing singles on revered label Hyperdub (Burial, Kode 9, Ikonika) as well as setting up her own label, Dub Organizer. I caught up with her at a hectic time, with her four-year old son Nas clamouring for attention and a repairman in the house attempting—and by the end of the interview, failing—to fix a broken boiler. I found Cooly G to be by turns open and evasive, flinty and warm, funny, contradictory at times, but always compelling.