The Market Generation

“We are a ridiculous and beautiful trickster-generation and we just put our heads down and pursue the most random, minute nonsense until it’s almost holy.” –Catherynne Valente

We are a market group. We are a target demographic advertiser drool after and try to figure out how to gain our loyalty. Ironically, judging from how we’re marketed to, we’ve been largely written off as frat boys and girls gone wild. As I study the ads aimed at us, we’re a bar hopping, bed hopping, vacuous, self-involved, self-centered, all about our short attention spans and the gratification of our immediate needs lot who is in need of constant entertainment, movies, music, video games, and trends to distract us from the sheer emptiness of our own lives.

Look how cynically marketers analyze how new ideas spread from person to person. Whenever a new idea comes along, the innovators, the adventurous ones, are the first to pounce on it. Next come the early adopters, the opinion leaders in the community, the respected, the thoughtful people who watch and analyze what the innovators do and then do it themselves. These two groups are the trendsetters, the ones who eventually lead the early majority, the sheep.

Too few of us are the truly cool, the innovators and the early adopters, and more of us are majority, the lemmings, than we care to imagine. But we’re also more than endless trends and sheep herded by first adopters and clever marketers

We live in a media saturated age. We know when we are being targeted, we know when we are thought of simply as product to be catered to. We process all of this, we internalize it, and marketers forget or at least underestimate just how media savvy and knowledgeable we are.

We are more than folks worried about how much J. Lo’s wedding dress cost or what body part Britney/Paris/Miley has on display for the paparazzi. We are a generation of hope. Of passion. We think about things other than the assumed navel gazing. We care deeply about the world around us. We act when we see the failings of our parents generation rather than give into cynical apathy. We aren’t content to dance while the world goes to hell around us. We won’t sit still to be condescended to. Respect us for more than our potential to buy your product.

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Indianapolis Loves Its Panhandlers … Here’s the Broom

I live not too far from the 38th and 465 exit in Indianapolis which means I pass the same rotating cast of panhandlers on a regular basis. I know the vets (who can’t quite pinpoint what war they were veterans of) and I know the folks trying to get home (who turn down rides to said home) and I know the lady who’s been pregnant for the last three years (and have come to admire her growing set of heart-tugging props).

On the other hand, when I walk the streets of downtown, I encounter folks who’ve had bumps in their lives, who have found themselves homeless, and are looking for any chance to get some sort of traction in life. If only to get through the day.

In our cynical age, it becomes easy to brush with a broad stroke, writing off all panhandlers as lazy folks looking to get over or take advantage of well-intentioned folk. Mayor Ballard proposes to sweep them under the rug, I mean, direct them to services by posting panhandling boxes: “The reason they stay out there is because we keep giving them money and giving them food,” Ballard said. “We want them to come in and get the services they need. We need to stop giving them money, then they will come in.”

Five donation boxes, much like parking meters, were installed downtown. Money collected would be given to local agencies who help those in need and kind-hearted folks can drop off donations, instead of having to deal with individuals. Services are one way to handle the panhandling problem. Connecting folks with the proper resources is a big part of the battle. But where there is a system, there are cracks, and many of the panhandlers have already fallen through the cracks once.

Even on the assumption that a government solution can manage to funnel money to the proper channels, in a lot of ways, they miss the point: the immediacy of donation. Forget the bureaucratic time delay between donation and aid, there’s the impact of being a decent human being. Sometimes the act of personally giving is simply a matter of acknowledging the existence of the panhandler as a human being.

So darn those homeless folks, being all inconvenient and unsightly, reminding us of our failures as a society. Yes, I know some can be belligerent and I know there is the concept of personal responsibility in regards to the plight of the needy. But homeless toll booths aren’t compassionate. It’s a broom for folks who already are invisible.

IPS Woes

You couldn’t pay me to be a teacher. Well, you’d have to pay me a heck of a lot more than you currently pay teachers. We expect teachers to be police, guidance counselors, parents, psychologists, janitors, nutritionists, nurses, and maybe squeeze in some actual educating. On top of their well over 40 hours work week, there are tutoring, meeting with parents, and extracurricular activities which many have to do. But hey, they get summers off, so what do they have to complain about?

Anything to help them actually do their main job better, I’m in favor of. So when Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White details a plan to spend $278M for school improvements, he has my attention. Forget the fact that my property taxes are in play or that I have kids attending public schools, education is the silver bullet to solve a lot of our societal problems.

Few people have been showing up to the meetings to discuss the plan. Maybe no one wants to be the one to argue against luxuries such as air conditioning (Northwest High School finally gets it twenty years too late to do me any good), roofing, electrical work, and enhanced security.

The entire district does need overhauling and honestly, I don’t think the current plans go far enough. A lot of it is updating the model already in place: new computers, wireless internet, facility upgrades, and possibly shortening the teachers’ work day on Wednesday to allow for further training. Maybe the entire model needs to be re-thought.

Maybe get away from the factory model brand of education which trains students for tedium. Moving kids, who don’t want to be there in the first place, from class to class to a Pavlovian bell response, separated by age, subjects separated, all perfectly “modern” ways of doing education. All the while, teacher training amounts to recycling teaching techniques and seminars which swap out what was in vogue a decade or so ago.

We expect a lot from our school system, even as many folks move away from IPS in favor of suburbs and homeschooling. The folks who remain want the system to improve, all while remaining convenient to our schedule. In other words, we don’t truly care, but we reserve the right to complain.

Spirit of Volunteerism

I was leading one of the discussions in our kids class at church and were discussing some of the problems in the world. In this case, it was the lack of drinkable water some countries struggle with. Their response shouldn’t have surprised me: “what can we do?”

The young can still see the global evils or the magnitude of the problems around us and while the cynical may toss their hands up in resignation, the young want to jump in and do something.

Justice is the dream we have as children, where they can instantly, intrinsically recognize “that’s not fair.” That things aren’t going the way they’re supposed to go. We dream of a world of righted wrongs, a world of fairness, and a world where we treat each other the way we are supposed to treat each other. We want to fix injustices. We want a happy ending.

I see the spirit of volunteerism sweeping among our young (and young at heart) as a metaphor of the church as a body. The Spirit will work itself out among people who care passionately to make things right. To be the compassionate hands of God (whether they claim belief in God or not). We have different gifts, we just need to join in, get involved, build relationships, and become invested. You’ll be surprised how this will shape and form you.

We need to get outside of ourselves and pursuing our own self-focused needs. We need to take a look at the world around us and ask “does it have to be this way?” and then “what can we do?” We can join in Christ’s redemptive mission to right wrongs, restore order, and rescue one another. Because giving ourselves away is the best way to live. To give up our time, to put feet to our faith, and let our actions back up what we say is important.

The problems are large and many and there is not nearly enough workers. But if we each just do a little, the world will be a much different place. What can a group of six to nine year olds do? They are selling bottled water in order to raise awareness and sending the money they make to programs that dig wells around the world. We should all be so young.

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Art and Urban Renewal

A spirit must be been swirling within Indianapolis, taking root in similarly minded people. I’ve been encountering more and more folks who have been convicted to use art as an inspiration for urban renewal.

Art plays an indispensable role in the life of a city, though sometimes people lose sight of any practical value to it. These privately funded organizations, feeling the recessional pinch of government budgets, dedicate themselves to bring together artistic talent and civic projects with the goal of neighborhood development. They incorporate the creative talents of local artists into the big infrastructure projects in the hopes of influencing positive changes in a community.

Jonathan Thomas, CEO of Eastgate Studios, says that “Art, in its many permutations, has historically provided powerful platforms of expression for change, some of the greatest of which was conceived during hours of immense crises. Through the rising tide of homicidal bloodshed on the streets of Indianapolis, I believe that God is calling the people of this capital city into a place of bold response, rather than fearful reaction. The art community of Indianapolis has been given an incredible opportunity to respond with the beauty of creativity. Therefore, EastGate Studios exists to unleash hope by harnessing the power of creativity among those who feel voiceless, as a catalyst for spiritual, cultural, and economic renewal.”

Some are thinking through strategies that use art as a tool for development. Matt Theobald, chairman of the Revitalize Art Music Project, says that “RAMP is a synthesis of the creative class in urban renewal and cultural tourism. If you throw the creative class at problems, all kinds of creative solutions can emerge.” The arts bring with them vitality, and there is an underexplored relationship between exhibition and the economic and social development of a poor and neglected community. Among their planned activities include a mural festival seeking to renew the east side.

So while short sighted politicians are happy to see funding for the arts cut, forgetting the importance of cultural tourism in the life of a city, the arts have not turned its back on the city. And that’s good for all of us.

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