The Zeitgeist


Profile: Now 19, Rebecca Black Is Amazingly Normal AF

Rebecca Black’s childhood dream was to attend The Juilliard School in New York.

Far before the viral hit “Friday” was ever conceived, Black says she spent all of her free time performing.

“I was in dance groups, singing groups and musical theatre,” Black said in an interview with RISE NEWS.

A driven student, Black says she was always looking to her future, planning for college and life after high school.

“I was always thinking college, college, college”, Black said.

And that drive, according to Black, was where her song “Friday” originated.

A bubblegum pop song about what tweens get up to on the last day of the week, Black and her mother organized the recording of the song as a way for Black to boost her resume and get some performing experience under her belt.

“I just really wanted to go that extra mile at my school and get some experience,” Black said.

According to her, it was never really meant to go far beyond her circle.

That, of course, is not what happened.

When “Friday” was uploaded to Youtube by ARK Music Factory on March 14, 2011 it quickly went viral. In its first month online, the video amassed 30 millions views.

The 13-year-old Black didn’t know what to do.

Suddenly, she was propelled into the forefront of the public eye.

And with all of the sudden and unexpected attention came large amounts of criticism, directed both at the song, and Black herself.

It became one of the most “disliked” videos in the history of Youtube.

Eventually comments on the video had to be turned off due to the negative and hurtful nature of them.

Today, Black struggles to watch back interviews of herself in the weeks and months following the viral success of “Friday”.

The pain she was experiencing at the time, she says, is so clearly written over her face.

“I was so scared and so confused and had no idea what to do,” Black said. “I was hurting inside”.

Black herself admits there was no way anyone in her position could have been prepared for all of the attention.

Read More: My First Time At A Gay Bar

“I just put on, or at least tried to put on, a really brave face”.

So, Black did what any person in her situation would do, and turned to the people around her for advice, all of whom had an opinion of what the teenager should do next.

But the advice, which largely came from music directors and talent managers at the time, wasn’t what she expected.

Rather than stepping down from the spotlight, Black went on to produce even more music, under the advice of the studio.

“A lot of the music was stuff that other people told me to make”, Black said. “I just thought I’ll listen to everyone around me because they obviously know better than me…I thought, I’m 13 and dumb”.

Under their guidance, Black continued to release songs musically similar to “Friday”, including “My Moment” and “Person of Interest“, all of which retained the original song’s tween bubblegum vibe.

Sadly, the internet was more than happy to have another swing at the child star trying to make a name for herself, promptly tearing down all of her work.

The “dislikes” just kept piling up.

Black finally had enough, and in 2013 she split from her talent agent and went independent.

It wasn’t until the release of her song “Saturday“, a collaboration with Youtuber Dave Days, that Black finally felt like she had some control over her music career.

“[Saturday] was when I was able to take [my music] into my own hands, Black said.

The song itself almost acts as a parody of “Friday”, with witty references to old jokes and a sense of understanding that Black’s previous songs lacked.

Black herself admits that the song was less about making a serious single, and far more about making something fun for her own enjoyment- for the first time.

Around the same time, Black also reformed her roots on Youtube, signing onto the Youtube Network Maker Studios.

From her bedroom at home, Black began to upload casual videos, including question and answers, vlogs and song covers.

Black says that this was the time she finally began to feel free to do what she wanted creatively, free from a team of advisors telling her how to craft her image.

“It was very freeing to take it into my own hands and make content,” Black said.

Black also made a point on her channel to talk about her experience being bullied and share her advice with others.

Now, her channel has amassed a strong following of over one million subscribers, and the reception of Black’s videos today contrasts vastly with the reception of her old music videos.

Black believes this is due to the more genuine nature and rawness of her new videos.

“I could finally show a little bit more of me as a person in these videos”, Black said. “I was able to connect with others out there who have dealt with or a dealing with bullying, and I really hope that I have been able to reach them and let them know that it’s ok.”

Finally, Black feels like she can move on with her life.

She released a single called “The Great Divide” in 2016, during a period of time in her life when Black said that she started to accept everything that had happened to her since “Friday”

“The song itself is about letting go of the the people that might be holding you back, and also the parts of yourself that might be holding you back,” Black said.

And move on, she has.

In April, Black released a new single, “Foolish“, a song which she says truly shows her progression as an artist and her own growth, “ I think [Foolish] is very representative of how, stylistically, my tastes have changed and started to develop.”

Now 19, Black seems comfortable and at peace with her past.

“A lot of people ask me if I hate ‘Friday’, and I truly don’t,” Black said. “I never want to put down my own music”.

The young star’s level headed attitude is something to be admired.

Black knows that she can’t convince everyone to move on from “Friday”, and that she might always be known for its unbelievable notoriety.

But Black says that’s ok.

“You’re not going to be able to change everyone’s mind. You’re not going to please everyone,” Black said. “But at least I could finally start pleasing myself.”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

Watch More: 96 Year Old WWII Veteran Still Works At His North Miami Beach Barbershop

Photos/ Rebecca Black- Facebook

My First Time At A Gay Bar

“I’m giving it my all, but I’m not the girl you’re taking home, ooh. I keep dancing on my own (I keep dancing on my own)…”

I remember my first time at a gay bar in DC.

Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” was, unsurprisingly, blaring on the DJ’s speakers.

Other popular go-to gay anthems included “No Scrubs” by TLC and, of course, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by the late, great Whitney Houston (“How Will I Know” is the superior Whitney song, however. Fight me!).

Hearing these songs play in the background of my first gay bar was not only a great change of pace, but also a breath of fresh air.

My bar/club experience in the DC scene was limited to the predominantly straight spaces where songs foreign to my young, queer heart reigned supreme.

So, when the chance came for me to finally go to a party space made by and for gay people, I was utterly giddy.

I was excited to move how I wanted, talk how I wanted, and wear what I wanted without fear of judgement or harassment from others.

Prior to entering the gay spaces of DC, my knowledge of gay culture was limited to what I watched on RuPaul’s Drag Race and Jennie Livingston’s Paris is Burning.

These pieces of media showcased queer, trans, and gay folk who challenged societal and gender norms, wore outlandish, yet awe-inspiring, costumes, vogued the house down, threw shade, lip-synced for their lives, and wore their identities as badges of honor.

Photo Credit: Hotlanta Voyeur/ Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Most importantly, these individuals showed me the resilience of the queer and trans community, a community whose people have been and still are vulnerable and oppressed today, especially those of color.

Bearing all of this mind, I was ready to enter my first gay bar itching to (try to) death drop like Shangela (a former contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race), walk like Pepper LaBeija (the late house mother of the “House of LaBeija”), and serve “Pretty Girl, 1986” realness.

When I finally arrived at my first gay bar, I was disheartened by what I found.

Some people reading this may think that I was being completely naive to expect so much out of these places.

In hindsight, I understand that I was.

But, at the time, I could not help but hope that these bars and clubs would be like the “balls” I had seen in Paris is Burning or the exuberant people I had watched on Drag Race.

For many queer people, representation is so slim that the moment I got to have a first taste, I was excited to take a huge bite out of gay culture after years of imagining, hoping, and wishing.

Upon entering the bar, after the initial songs of excitement had waned, I slowly realized that what I expected paled in comparison to what was actually around me, and I mean literally paled.

Almost everyone at my first gay bar was white with the folks of color added in sparsely like sprinkles put on a vanilla cone by a stingy Baskin-Robbins worker.

Also, practically everyone was wearing the same thing.

It was either a snapback with a muscle-tank, shorts, and high-tops, or an unbuttoned button-up that revealed a chiseled body formed by countless hours at the gym.

I saw little to no displays of gender interrogation, scarce embracements of femininity, and little of the “diversity” that the mainstream LGBT community ostensibly champions.

Photo Credit: Hotlanta Voyeur/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

At straight clubs, I felt like I stuck out, and now at gay ones, I felt invisible.

Nobody looked like me nor at me.

Many argue that a large proportion of gay men do not find Asian men attractive due to racialized “preferences,” and that is true.

But, it would not have made a difference if the people there were interested in me.

At the end of the day, my feminine, gender non-conforming Asian self did not fit in with the white, snapback-wearing, masculine gay people of my first gay bar.

Though we did have similar interests, RuPaul’s Drag Race being one of them, it seemed as if their “feminine” inclinations were okay so long as their bodies were muscular and mannerisms of the macho persuasion.

Although my first taste of the gay scene in DC left my palette wholly unsatisfied, I did not allow myself to settle or conform.

Much like the fierce queens on Drag Race who worked for the crown, or the resilient people in Paris is Burning who reached for the stars, I, too, knew that my search for queer spaces was far from over.

I know that there is more to queer life than the ones readily accessible to me, but until then, I will stay true to Robyn’s words and dance on my own until I find the people I want to dance and feel the heat with.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

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Cover Photo Credit: Hotlanta Voyeur/ Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

You Really Need To Watch Out For Rental Housing Identity Theft

Renter beware.

You’re scrolling through the rental listings and you come across the perfect house.

It seems legit, especially if it’s on Zillow or Trulia.

The ad isn’t full of typos and the landlord seems like a real person because you Googled them and find out they actually live in the same town in which you are trying to rent.

You click on the ‘request a tour’ button.

They send you an application to fill out first.

You give them your social security number, driver’s license, phone number, email, current address, yearly income, and pretty much every piece of information they can use if they want to steal your identity.

The lack of awareness about cybersecurity makes many people an easy target for anyone trying to hack into their personal data.

An obvious sign of a rental scam is the owner asks for a deposit up front via Western Union Moneygram or prepaid Visa.

Don’t do that.

What if they don’t ask for money?

It can still be a scam because that person gathered all of your personal information.

If you’re new to the rental housing game, do your homework and beware of potential traps.

It’s easy to get sucked into someone’s plot when you are desperate to find a home.

Here are some tips to avoid rental scams used to defraud users, as well as recourse.

Do not fill out an application until you’ve actually seen the property.

Here’s a scenario.

You submit an application and email it to the person or supposed real estate agent on Zillow.

The landlord emails you back and asks if you can see the property on a certain day and time.

Photo Credit: Eelke/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

You agree.

The next day, they email you again and inform you they have decided to rent the house to someone else.

You have just revealed your entire personal and financial history to someone who gave the house to another more “qualified candidate.”

You are left holding the bag.

They have removed the rental listing and changed the status of the property to “off market.”

Even if you verified the property exists, it doesn’t mean it’s really for rent.

People could already be living there, and unbeknownst to them, their house is being advertised as for rent.

It might not be a scam, but it might be.

Either way, all your information is in the hands of a stranger who could have ill intent.

The damage of identity theft sucks.

The tricky part is you don’t know if you’re identity is compromised until it’s too late.

Someone could open credit card accounts in your name, file a fraudulent tax return with your SSN, and claim your medical insurance benefits.

It make take years to fix.

Abuse of your personal information can seriously disrupt your life.

In 2015, a Tennessee woman found out her Social Security disability check – her only source of income – had been canceled because a thief had filed a tax return with her SSN.

The fake return led the Social Security Administration to think she had lied about being disabled, even though the IRS had confirmed she was a victim of identity theft.

Another way credit cards get compromised is through a company’s database.

For example, in 2013, 40 million credit and debit card accounts were compromised when hackers gained access to Target’s database.

What do you do next?

If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud or identity theft, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

In 2015, the FTC reported more than 490,000 in identity theft complaints.

Every year, the threat continues to grow as advancements in technology uncover vulnerabilities that could allow fraudsters to get your personal information.

Report the ad to whichever online real estate database company you’re using, such as Zillow or Trulia.

Give them as much information as you can about the property, what happened, and include the email exchanges.

The company is supposed to follow up even if they bear no responsibility and make it clear on their website that they are not involved in the transactions between buyers/sellers, renters/landlord, or borrowers/lenders.

They simply tell you to beware of scams and other internet fraud on a Frequently Asked Questions page.

Photo Credit: Urbane Apartments/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

You can freeze your credit for free and up to three months to prevent someone from opening accounts in your name.

It’s easy to do.

To place a fraud alert on your credit reports, contact, which are then forwarded to Equifax and Experian.

By law, you are also allowed to get one free credit report a year.

Look for sudden or unexpected changes in your free credit report summary, which is updated every month on

Final Advice

Do your research and trust your gut for the legitimacy of potential listings.

Some apartment complexes will offer legitimate applications via a property’s website, but don’t submit an application with personal information until you’ve verified the property exists and you’ve toured it.

The photos online may not match reality.

Don’t get your identity stolen and taken for a ride.

Common cyber crime is more widespread than the occasional or sensational headlines suggest.

Cyber criminals aren’t masterminds or experts, but they can easily victimize people who shop, bank, or send money online.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Michael Dorausch/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

How Strong Female Relationships In Pop Culture Make Real Positive Differences For Young Women

I met my best friend when I was fourteen.

Of course, she wasn’t my first best friend.

She’s not even my only one now.

Since I was little, I’ve surrounded myself with girls that push me in every possible way.

However, it wasn’t until recently that I really started to appreciate those relationships.

The lack of strong female relationships in pop culture is sort of like your heartbeat.

You spend years not noticing it.

But when you do, you can’t stop noticing it.

Even as I started to write this piece, I was shocked by how many of my favorite female characters don’t have a single strong relationship with another girl – at least not one the audience gets to see.

The moment I started to notice my heartbeat, I was still really young.

When I was 8, my favorite TV show was Wizards of Waverly Place.

For any of you who’ve ever watched it, you know that the relationship between Harper and Alex is incredibly strong and incredibly complex.

That was a friendship that changed my life.

I could see me and my friends, finally represented on screen, and it felt amazing.

Not only that, but I wanted to work to improve the friendships I had with other girls.

Nowadays, I hardly ever consume any pop culture that doesn’t have a strong female relationship at its forefront.

The best part is, they’re all different.

My favorite show is New Girl, where the relationship between Jess and Cece is both one of the show’s most subtle, while also being its very bedrock.

My favorite artist is Taylor Swift, someone who became widely known for the strong female relationships she developed.

Teen Wolf is unabashedly one of my favorite shows on TV, and its highlight of female friendships changed the way I think about them.

Photo Credit: Flickr (CC By 2.0)

This is a show that finds a way to put female relationships at its forefront, despite being centered around males.

The friendships between Allison, Lydia, Malia, and Kira, in all their different combinations, display an incredibly wide variety of relationships.

Some of them have dated the same boy, some of them have tried to kill each other, and some of them have every petty reason to hate each other, but they don’t.

This show has decided that its female friendships are more important than any love triangle, even though those do exist.

The show doesn’t pretend those obstacles don’t exist, they just demonstrate that the relationships formed among girls are way stronger than anything they could face.

They have found a way to put complex, varied, and oftentimes confusing female relationships on display, something I see in very few corners of the pop culture world.

I’m not the only one who’s felt the effects of seeing strong female relationships on TV.

I asked a few of my own strong female friends to talk to me about when they’ve seen their life changed by viewing those types of friendships in pop culture, and here’s what they said:

“Ann and Leslie [of Parks and Recreation] taught me that women should strive to build each other up, and that nothing is stronger than a female friendship built on pure love, loyalty, and trust. Female friendships don’t have to be filled with drama, and the best ones consider a five hour phone call about anything and everything equally as important as huge celebrations and milestones.” – Maggie

“Cristina Yang and Meredith Gray from Gray’s Anatomy depict what not only is a wonderful friendship, but a support system for one another. The fictional characters from the show have inspired me to not only be in my friends’ lives during the good times but to be there for support during the hard times.” – Sreelekha

More and more female friendships being represented is crucial, but the way they’re portrayed is also really important.

And while we like to think all female relationships in pop culture are great examples of representation, some miss the mark.

Here’s the biggest issue with the way pop culture sometimes displays female relationships – they exist only in a two-dimensional world.

An example of this comes from an often-raved about female friendship that just premiered this winter – Betty and Veronica on The CW’s Riverdale.

Now, I watch and love Riverdale, and I think there’s a lot of potential for the relationships to develop in new and interesting ways, but the way Betty and Veronica’s relationship exists now is very two-dimensional.

Disregarding the discussion of queerbaiting, and any sexual tension fans have picked up on, Betty and Veronica have the quintessential Strong Female Relationship.

Sure, they’ve both had feelings for the same guy, but that doesn’t matter!

They’re Strong Female Friends, and all they do is lift each other up.

The reason this comes across as a little unrealistic is because it is.

Look, I love my best friend with my everything I have.

I really would die for her, but sometimes I want to be the one doing the killing.

We’ve fought – a lot – and we have fought about boys!

The reason I consider our friendship one of the strongest in my life isn’t the fact that we’ve had jealous, petty moments – it’s the fact that we were able to move on.

Female relationships are just like any other relationship in life – they’re complicated.

The right way to portray a strong female relationship isn’t by following the rule book about what you think that should be.

It’s about embracing the different ways girls interact, the different ways they form bonds, and the different types of relationships that rise from those bonds.

One show that’s done this perfectly is HBO’s Big Little Lies.

Much of the miniseries is based on petty fighting between these women, but the end result (no spoilers here) is all the more satisfying because of that.

The show portrays female relationships exactly as they are – complex, frustrating, petty, and most of all, different.

All five of the main characters have extraordinarily different personalities, and the show doesn’t pretend those don’t exist.

In fact, every episode up until the finale points in a certain direction that is the destruction of those bonds.

However, the final episode clearly puts on display the way relationships between women are stronger than anything else in this life, even if their personalities don’t exactly mesh.

Despite all of this, all strong female friendships are good, just like all strong female characters are good.

The reality is, when a girl sees two other girls being friends, whether on TV, in a movie, in a book, or in real life, she’s inspired to develop those same sorts of ties with her friends.

And the effects of that are really, really good – like, scientifically proven good.

A UCLA study from 2002 suggests that women respond to stress with a cascade of brain chemicals that cause us to make and maintain friendships with other women.

Hanging out with our friends can actually counteract the kind of stomach-quivering stress most of us experience on a daily basis.

Relationships among women aren’t only good for the women themselves, they’re a necessary foundation to our entire society.

When women build each other up, instead of tear each other down, everyone wins.

And as women work to unlearn the decades of media that taught them girls should always fight over boys, the representation of female friendships in pop culture will be more important than ever.

My list of strong female relationships in pop culture to check out, not already mentioned:
Rachel, Phoebe, and Monica: FRIENDS
Blair and Serena: Gossip Girl
Cher & friends: Clueless
Hailee Steinfeld’s music
The Clone Club: Orphan Black
Ginny and Luna: Harry Potter series
Sansa Stark and Margaery Tyrell: Game of Thrones
Selena Gomez’s “Me & My Girls”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Stress In The Information Age Is Grinding Up The Millennial Generation

The internet and social media have revolutionized the way in which we communicate, conduct business, and learn.

For students especially, such a rapidly changing environment has had an equally pronounced effect on student life and culture.

Opportunities are endless, and pursuing those unlimited opportunities seems to be pushed harder and harder with each new wave of prospective students.

As a recent graduate friend of mine reflected, by sophomore year, incoming freshmen will be overseeing at least five on campus organizations, conducting graduate level research, working two jobs, applying for 30+ internships, and getting published all at the same time.

While a bit of an exaggeration, it isn’t too far from the norm, and reflects a growing trend among college students leading increasingly fast paced lives.

None of this would be possible without the internet, but there may be a dark side.

Several studies have come out recently highlighting an increase in levels of stress and anxiety among both college level and high school students.

Academic institutions are increasingly having to expand care for mental health as the demand continues to exceed capacity across the nation.

According to the American Psychological Association, the percentage of students seeking counseling has skyrocketed from 37% in 2007, to around 50% by 2014.

Anxiety ranks as the most common reason students seek help.

As a rather involved university student myself, I’ve grown accustomed to the occasional fits of anxiety and have seen it become more and more commonplace among friends and peers.

The problem may be that technology has opened up so many doors that students are having trouble deciding which ones to close.

Photo Credit: hyunjoongie/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

This goes back to the increased level of involvement of students mentioned earlier.

We as humans are naturally risk averse, and for far too many, not pursuing an opportunity is seen as a risk.

At the same time, social media exposes us to what everyone else is doing, causing us to judge our actions more harshly against a larger pool.

Instead of applying for five colleges for example, some high school grads report applying to a minimum of 15 as the norm.

All too often we find ourselves pursuing opportunities either because we saw that someone else had success and wonder if we can mimic it, or because we don’t know what we want to do so we apply for everything.

If we don’t, we feel we may miss out.

Thus, students end up increasingly overburdened with work they may not even enjoy, and more and more confused about their futures.

Among those students who don’t favor such a fast paced life, they too are finding themselves questioning their decisions and lifestyles against their other more involved peers, ignoring what may be best for themselves.

At the end of the day, that is where all this anxiety and stress is coming from.

It is a product of doing something that is not in line with one’s personal ethos, and the increased uncertainty of an environment dominated by technology.

By that I mean, the internet has no set focus.

It bounces around from one thing to the next with no attention span whatsoever.

If we are to give any credit to the idea that humans mimic their environment, the internet is making it increasingly apparent that we do.

Photo Credit: Jessie Jacobson/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

We can see this on every level, from the CDC’s tracking of increased rates of ADHD in kids, to college students who report less and less meaning in their relationships.

The way many millennials behave and interact with each other draws stark parallels to the way we consume information.

Facebook, for example, is overloaded with short flashy videoclips that bounce around form one topic to another.

These videos are quickly becoming the average millennial’s go to for news and updates, and while they may look nice on the surface, in actuality, they convey very little.

This makes the problem of stress even worse because normally our best counters to those feelings are our personal relationships, friends and family that keep us grounded.

Instead, millennials are turning to their phones and computers for their security, but very little of it provides any genuine long term comfort.

The internet has changed the environment at such a sharp pace it may be that the mind has not had enough time to adapt.

The best medicine may simply be to slow down.

As someone who once went into a cardiologist’s office mistaking anxiety for heart problems, if there’s any advice I can offer my fellow peers who feel overwhelmed by the intensity of the world around them, it would be to learn how to say no instead of maybe.

Remind yourself that you don’t have to constantly be in motion.

That sometimes a moment of solitude on the shores of a lake offers more value than a night out. And to do what you want to do, not what you feel pressured into.

Because at the end of the day, you will never do as good a job at something you don’t like as opposed to someone who enjoys it.

College is a difficult time for everyone, but the most important lessons you learn won’t come in the form of your classes.

You’ll forget most of that stuff anyway, and most the experience you’ll need will come from work or post-grad.

Instead, the most important lessons that college teaches you are how to handle people, how to handle time, and most importantly, how to handle yourself.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Sodanie Chea/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Dan Piraro, The “Bizarro” Cartoonist Who Wants Us To Stop Shitting Where We Sleep

Cartoonist Dan Piraro looks up from his drawing monitor: “You mind if I keep working a little bit on the side here while we talk?”

Piraro is a busy man.

His one-panel comic series Bizarro is featured in more than 350 daily and Sunday newspapers, which requires him to churn out a hand-cramping seven cartoons a week.

He maintains a strict routine to keep up with this level of demand so he alternates his attention between his work station and his webcam where he chats with me via Skype.

Piraro is absolutely absorbed by his literal task at hand.

He responds to each of my questions with a laid-back gusto- not dissimilar to the feel of his daily strip, although there are some topics that get him going. Take the environment for example.

“Virtually all animals know not to shit where they sleep,” Piraro said. “They try to defecate as far away from where they live and raise their families. In a local sense we do that but in a larger sense we’re poisoning the one planet that’s inhabitable to us.”

That’s one of the few riffs Piraro goes on during our 28-minute conversation.

He is a man of passion when he feels drawn to a topic.

It was the way he was raised.

His parents were Kennedy Democrats.

Public service was a big deal in their home and they wanted their children, Dan and his sisters, to show the same sense of responsibility their beloved president had.

“I was raised to believe that certain things in life are more important than your job or social standing,” Piraro said. “We were sort of raised with that notion that it’s up to everyone to build and maintain a society worth living in.”

Piraro doesn’t hide his liberal political views in his strip but he said that he doesn’t consider himself much of a political cartoonist either.

He’s different. Hard to pin down. So is his work.

In the world of syndicated cartoons, there are humorous comic strips featuring cute kids or sarcastic animals and then there are political strips that maybe feature cute kids or sarcastic animals who have a bone to pick with a specific politician or political party.

Piraro tries to keep himself within the lines but sometimes his sensibilities get the best of him.

This happened in 2005 when he drew a panel relating to gay marriage and changed it due to concerns that it would not be received well.

Piraro said that sometimes he worries that his panel will be received differently to a general audience that he wants it to be.

“My editor will call me saying that a certain cartoon might upset people in more conservative markets,” Piraro said. “It could result in losing a newspaper client and getting my strip replaced with something that doesn’t make pointed political statements.”

Piraro will sometimes side with his editor.

It’s not worth losing a client over a panel he isn’t 100% invested in.

But most of the time, Piraro said that he will take the risk of getting his point across.

Public service, remember?

“I’m not a balls-to-the-walls political activist but with my strip I have a growing audience and a sense of obligation to address some issues that seemed to me to be social injustices that could be repaired with changes in attitude,” Piraro said.

Despite the reluctance of syndicated strips to go political, Piraro says there’s one figure everyone’s making an exception for.

“When I started doing cartoons on Donald Trump I expected a similar response as to when I was doing George W. Bush cartoons,” Piraro said. “Lose a paper here or there but nothing happened. They didn’t mind I was taking these pot shots at Trump even though I’m technically not allowed to delve into politics.”

Readers don’t seem to mind either.

Dan claims his readership has actually gone up since Trump took office but he’s not allowing for “anti-president” material to dominate his strip any time soon.

He limits himself to one Trump cartoon for every seven panels he produces.

For now, Bizarro is more focused on the patented absurdism that makes it unlike anything else in the funnies.

Whether it’s a crossdresser lamenting the pointlessness of cross dressing in the Middle East or God creating mankind when he was piss drunk over a wild weekend, Bizaroo is the product of Dan Piraro’s hypernormal imagination.

It’s not die-hard political satire but it’s not exactly a cat who for some reason enjoys lasagna.

“My cartoons are an artistic representation of the way I think and imagine things,” Piraro said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m not a millionaire.”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

Is Video Game Addiction A Real Thing?

Much like gamers themselves, instances of gaming addiction are often stigmatized.

While stories of deaths stemming from three-day gaming binges in internet cafes are hyped in media coverage, gaming addiction in the United States is more often characterized by someone sacrificing their work, school and social life in order to progress in the digital space.

Psychologists such as Douglas Gentile at Iowa State University have studied video game addiction for decades and asserts that our access to broadband internet and the spread of technology have only increased addiction numbers.

Gentile believes that the global gaming addiction rate falls somewhere between 4 and 10 percent of gamers.

Who is and isn’t addicted is often hard to determine, as researchers offer contrasting definitions of what constitutes addiction.

In an interview with CNN, Gentile says games become compelling because they satiate our basic human needs for autonomy, belonging and competence.

Games put you in control, they can offer a sense of community and most games have skill curves that allow players to feel successful while playing.

Recent additions to modern games include systems designed to keep the player engaged through unpredictable reward systems.

Games such as Destiny have been called out for their random number generator (RNG) loot systems that randomize the rewards dropped for players after completing a mission or objective.

Photo Credit: patrick janicek/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Titles boasting millions of players such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Rocket League and Overwatch feature cosmetic items that are unlocked through a system that most closely resembles a slot machine.

In Call of Duty, items that bear a significant impact on gameplay are obtained through this same RNG system, giving an edge to players able to obtain higher-tier items.

Those unable to secure the best rewards are encouraged to keep playing or spend even more money on a micro-transaction system to gain an edge over others or secure coveted in-game items that hold little to no value outside of the digital game space.

Through these examples, one can assume that not only are modern games hooking players with feelings of empowerment and belonging, but the addition of systems that closely mirrors gambling has created a dual threat of addiction for gamers young and old.

But statistics and insights from psychologists only go so far in explaining the real-world impact gaming addiction can have on an individual.

Speaking from personal experience, I can recall how detrimental my teenage gaming binges were when I would sometimes spend more than 24 hours at a time playing a single game.

I would ignore school work, reject spending time with family and not leave my house for days.

The concept of these marathon sessions weren’t taboo in my friends group.

We would boast about having more than 1,000 hours logged in a game.

It wasn’t uncommon for us to lose literal days of our lives to these online experiences.

I’ve met people well into college with close to 3,000 hours played in an online multiplayer game.

They commonly have the propensity to brush off criticism about their time invested with explanations like “It’s the only game I play,” and “I still get my work done”.

But life isn’t a game, and too much time spent in the digital world can be detrimental to your health, work and social life.

This is all coming from someone who runs his own gaming website, who hosts a gaming and tech talk show at his college and has poured months, if not years of his life into video games and the culture encompassing them.

I’ve seen how gaming can foster creativity, establish connections between generations and empower the physically disabled.

But I’ve also witnessed the impact being too deeply enveloped in a particular game can have on a person.

I’ve seen friends fail classes, fracture relationships and miss out on amazing opportunities, all because they couldn’t pull themselves away from the TV or computer screen.

Although gaming addiction has no fixed definition, its credibility as a real issue in the present day should be undisputed.

The complications gaming addiction creates may originate from time spent in a digital space, but the effects are tangibly existent in reality.

There’s no reset button for the real world.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: COD Newsroom/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

A Message To The Guy Who Honked

By Emily Chadwell

I’m not really sure why I am writing this.

You will never see it, but you did affect my day in a way that compels me to share.

When you slowed down your car, honked until I looked at you, and waved/winked/gesticulated towards me I did not feel special.

No longer was I a person on a run, no longer was I an athlete, no longer was I a human working on my mental/physical fitness.

I became a body.

I was legs.

I was breasts.

Whether or not it was your intention to turn me into these disconnected entities, you did.

Maybe you meant nothing by it; you liked my dog, or my shirt, or you just enjoy honking at people.

Photo Credit: Yann Cœuru/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

But, you took a woman who trusts her body, a woman who respects her body, and even loves it, and turned her into just a body.

I may be oversensitive or dramatic, but for the next 45 minutes my run was no longer about me; it was about how I looked.

Was my shirt too tight?

Were my pants too sexual?

Did my stomach jiggle when I ran?

Things I should never dwell on while working out.

I can’t blame you.

I can only blame the society that socialized you to honk, and me to smile back.

The society that taught you to feel like you had a right to comment on my external body and me to internalize being self conscious.

I don’t think my experiences are special, or deserving of extra attention.

I recognize that there are people who are victims of worse treatment every single day.

I only ask that people who don’t understand the way your actions impact the lives of others to try.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Jean-François Gornet/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

10 Of The Biggest Misconceptions About People Who Live In Rural Areas

The tiny towns that dot the landscape of every rural region in the country provide endless fodder and perpetuate many a myth and misconception, the kind of stuff urban legends are made of.

I can only speak to the Rocky Mountains because I grew up in Wyoming where “men are men and the sheep are scared,” and have spent most of my adult life in Idaho where potato trucks have been known to tip over, spill thousands of pounds of spuds onto highways, and force temporary closures.

I’ll share what I know.

I can also say with 100 percent certainty that the wide open spaces we are known for promise to embrace anyone brave enough to endure the howling wind.


Here are 10 misconceptions about people who live in rural areas:

1) We are all farmers

Photo Credit: Susanne Nilsson/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

As much as I love home-grown food, I wouldn’t know the first thing about tilling the land. Too bad for me.

What’s more unfortunate is the fact that farms and other rural businesses are dwindling, which means the lack of job availability is driving country people into larger cities.

After the recession, deep poverty hit across the board, making rural life unsustainable for a large chunk of the 46 million people who live in rural communities.

But rural tradition is still strong in Idaho, especially during the fall potato harvest, when students in the eastern part of the state get a two-week break for “spud harvest.”

Yep, that’s right.

Kids get to miss school because farmers rely on the extra, strong hands to help with the potato crop, which will eventually be turned into delicious french fries.

2) We tip cows for fun

Photo Credit: Mikel Ortega/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

No, we don’t.

Because it can’t be done.

Cows weigh a thousand pounds or more and don’t sleep standing up.

If you want a good kick to the gut and risk death, go ahead and stand behind or next to a cow while trying to tip it over.

3) We are uneducated

Photo Credit: JACK SPARKS/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Just because the mainstream media attributed Trump’s presidential win to ‘uneducated rural America’ (the people who came out in droves to vote), doesn’t mean it’s true.

Rural areas are filled with all types of yahoos – from Harvard-educated yoga instructors, to small business owners and blue-collar workers, to freelance writers and tech gurus.

4) We are racist rednecks

Photo Credit: Joe Sepielli/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Here’s a stereotype that runs deep and can’t be summed up in one paragraph.

Let’s just say we don’t all accuse Mexico of sending rapists and criminals over the border, or call for a complete halt to Muslims entering the country.

We have been known to drive out white supremacist colonies, however.

5) We don’t know how to use the internet

Photo Credit: Toms Baugis/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

For eight years, I worked for a thriving e-commerce company that is well-known nationwide for its booklets of admission tickets to the most iconic attractions in big cities.

It was/is a highly coveted place of employment in a town of 3,000 people.

Because millions of ticket booklets are sold online, it’s kind of mandatory to know how to use the internets to be employed there.

6) We are survivalist nuts

Photo Credit: ▓▒░ TORLEY ░▒▓/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

While possessing canning and freezing techniques are great skills to have, not everyone is that resourceful.

Not everyone stocks their basements with bottled water, cans of beans, Spam, fruit cocktail and powdered Tang.

Maybe we should, though, with the way the world is heading.

7) We all shoot guns

Photo Credit: Peretz Partensky/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

We don’t all shoot and kill animals in the woods for meat.

The hunters I know are very respectful of the animal and the land.

Poachers are considered bad people.

The gun menacingly placed on the rack in the back of the pickup always intimidated me.

Can’t they just buy a handgun and put it in the glove box like everyone else?

8) We don’t have indoor plumbing

Photo Credit: Bill/ Flickr (CC by 2.0)

This is actually partially true.

It’s crazy to think that nearly 63,000 households in this country do not have complete plumbing.

This means 1.6 million people are living without indoor plumbing, including toilet, tub or shower, or running water.

Many Americans can still remember what it’s like to use an outhouse.

Relics of the past, outhouses are now cute little storage sheds with the crescent moon carved neatly into the door.

9) We use to find dates

Photo Credit: Joey Harrison/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

We find our mates like everyone else – in bars, at the gym, and on the internet.

What’s funny is I’ve seen people on Tinder making the joke that they thought they were joining

The joke is on them: They are on Tinder.

10) We ride our horses to the bars

Photo Credit: Jean van der Sluijs/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Ok, this is true.

I’ve seen it in remote, rural towns, places where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid used to raise hell.

Although a horse probably isn’t the best designated driver, cowboys have been known to tie their horses to the hitching post in front of the bar.

Why else would a hitching post exist in front of a bar?

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Robb North/Flickr (CC By 2.0)

What Does It Mean To Be A Black Woman? A Poem.

I am often judged before a crowd

my clothes make me a target

mama says I have to be careful

my color makes me a target

because I am black


I cannot walk the streets alone at night

because I am black and am woman


they tell me to show emotion but

not too much because I am a black woman


they say the most powerful thing I have

is between my legs because I am woman


I, they tell me, am usually

from a broken home because I’m black


I’ll never be as good as my male

counterparts because I am woman


I am often judged before a crowd

my body is a public temple repairable

by man I am to be seen like decoration

because I am woman


I am the unwanted immigrant

my contributions mean nothing

because I am black


I have to aspire to perfection.

I have to realize rarely I am

good enough because I am woman


I am the style that everyone has

everyone wants the benefits without

having to be me- cultural appropriation

they tell me, is not real


I am the minority that produces the majority

I am the flower that suffers in the winter

gallantly swaying in the wind. my history is not told

in truth I am the minority they wish was quiet I am

the roll of thunder at the crack of injustice


I am Sybrina Fulton


I stand in the puddle of my son’s blood

gazing at an unreal sight


I am the double minority, the unappreciated.

I am the black woman.


More Poems:

“Peace”: You Have To Read This Powerful Poem About Police Violence

Young Politician: A Poem


RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Boston Public Library/ Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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