This is a guest post by Ethan Amarant, co-creator of Wayward Nation. Wayward Nation is dedicated to sharing the positive stories of Generation Y, ordinary young people doing extraordinary things and living as aspirational examples of our generation.
In light of the recent national tragedies of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting and Hurricane Sandy, the debate over sensationalism and the media’s role in reporting news has once again taken center stage. Postulated a half century ago by communication theorist Marshall McLuhan, the “if it bleeds it leads” mantra that dictates the modern news cycle has once again glorified the horrors of these tragedies in lieu of magnanimous efforts made in their wake by a compassionate global public.
Thousands of volunteers from across the country made their way to the decimated East Coast states after Hurricane Sandy. 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief, which was accessible world-wide to nearly 2 billion people, raised $50 million in initial proceeds for the Robin Hood Foundation for Sandy relief efforts. At least 28 states held moments of silence for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings in Newtown, CT. And in Brazil, peace activists, in a gesture of mourning and solidarity, mailed the people of Newtown crosses and American and Brazilian flags.
These efforts demonstrate empathy’s ability to usurp the fear and worry we have for our own safety, survival, and the accumulation of comforts. Human social institutions have grown from family, to clan, to tribe, to kingdom, to nation, yet people’s empathy in times of suffering transcends our instinctual need to associate with a specific, manageable group. This notion of a “global village” was also something McLuhan predicted in his award-winning 1962 book The Gutenberg Galaxy, which has since become a textbook in the field of emerging media. Since mainstream media is first and foremost a business (TV itself is a $300 billion-a-year industry) and sensationalism rates better than positivity, how is the model to change?
The answer, if you follow McLuhan’s theory, is that it won’t. According to the man who predicted the internet in 1960, “The medium is the message.” So as long as our information is communicated via the television, our world will be one dominated by chaos and fear. In November we feared the weather, today, we fear guns.
It is this representation of the world that is largely responsible for the stagnation of effort to alleviate suffering for others and even for one’s self. Historian and activist Howard Zinn, most well known for his best selling book The People’s History of the United States of America, argues that the media’s focus on the cruelties of life prevents people from taking action. But he also believes that focusing on positive human interest stories energizes action. Everyday, everywhere, there are people behaving magnificently: people trying to eradicate youth homelessness, cure cancer, or provide clean drinking water to those who live without it.
What would we be able to accomplish should these stories steal the headlines in our global village? And when can that happen?
According to McLuhan, “As technology advances, it reverses the characteristics of every situation again and again. The age of automation is going to be the age of ’do it yourself.’” Enter the Millennial Generation. The Millennial Generation accounts for around 25% of the population, are almost 20% of the voting turnout in the country, and that number will only grow with time as it has for every previous generation. Also, according to a study by UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, Millennials will be nearly half of the employed workforce by 2020. We have the population size and influence to be “The Next Greatest Generation,” and we have the heart.
A study by the Pew Research Center concludes the Millennial Generation is more optimistic, confident, and open to change than past generations. Couple that with a view of success that has more to do with social impact than simply financial security and you have a generation with the attitude and desire to change the world. But they need to take action to do so. A survey of Millennials by the organization Young Invincibles in conjunction with Bellwether Research and Lake Research Partners shows us to be a generation focused on “doing it yourself.” The survey found that 54% of Millennials either want to start their own business or already have. However, the survey also found that fear of loan guarantees, economic risk, and a lack of the education or skills necessary to do so holds them back from striking out on their own.
It is with this in mind that I, my best friend, Mikey, and a crew of spirited film makers are about to set off on a cross-country adventure. The mission is to create 5-10 minute episodes of members of the Millennial Generation, our own generation, who have found purpose and/or faced obstacles in their lives in a manner that is magnificent. We do this in the hopes of inspiring ourselves and our audience to take action in their lives and the world around them. Embracing the do-it-yourself mentality of the Millennial Generation, we achieved funding for the series through a combination of significant personal investment by the project’s creators (we gave everything we had), and a successful crowd-funding campaign that attracted over $30K and 300+ donors. The project is called Wayward Nation and can be learned about more in depth at WaywardNation.com.
It is a theory as old as Plato’s Republic. Art imitates life, and in turn, life imitates art. That is the fundamental purpose of Wayward Nation. By sharing stories of young, socially conscious, entrepreneurs following their ambitions and finding success, we can hold a mirror to our generation. In that mirror, we can see ourselves conquering our fears and truly being great. As McLuhan wrote in Understanding Media (1964), “Art at its most significant is a Distant Early Warning System that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.” Wayward Nation plans to tell the old culture the Millennials are happening to it, and we believe we can change the world.