By Kenneth Miller
Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey.
As I sat scrolling through my daily Facebook feed a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a photo album uploaded by one of my online friends documenting her ventures through the streets of Manhattan.
One photo, in particular, intrigued me.
She had posed for the shot, after having been approached by two young men on the corner of 37th Street and 5th Avenue, with a cardboard cut-out of an Instagram border that held over a billion likes with the username on the top left reading “TheBig.Selfie.”
“Huh,” I shared with my brother. “Kind of inaccurate being that someone else took the photo, but whatever.” Quickly moving onto the countless mundane posts to follow.
But to my surprise, a few updates down, I saw “TheBig.Selfie” again–this time featuring Beyonce.
If Beyonce is joining this craze, I thought, then I must join as well–or attempt to. I stopped and stared at my phone, hoping her diva powers would somehow infiltrate my aura through the screen.
So after my feels settled, I was absorbed enough to research the Instagram account and hashtag for a more concise, quality-ridden answer.
Nothing filtered through. Nothing helpful, at least. Only a small excerpt describing how Beyonce’s seamless style refuses to be reckoned with–but, like, duh.
It wasn’t until I spoke with my online friend, who met the two, about TheBig.Selfie directly that I discovered the truth behind the mysterious falsely-advertised photo craze. Martin and Justin Gallardo are simple college-age brothers who started this campaign of sorts this past spring in order to raise money to pay off their personal tuition.
Well, that was the original concept. The men have now broadened their scope, promoting and bringing awareness to the greater scheme of student loan debt after compiling enough funds to supplement their 2014-2015 education.
“This all started when my little brother got accepted to his dream school but did not have the means to attend,” Martin Gallardo tells BTR. “I came up with the idea of ‘TheBig.Selfie’ to raise the funds. But since they’ve been met, we’re continuing to donate the excess funds to aid the tuition and fees of youth who are also financially struggling.”
In short, they are basically Elizabeth Warren’s on-the-ground soldiers fighting the unbearable rates posed by federal and private loan organizations, which escalated the collective student loan debt to over $1 trillion in the United States this past year.
After all, who wouldn’t support a campaign against the corporate giants benefitting off of our youth’s penniless future?
This past month, I had to single-handedly file for a loan of over $22,000 to compensate my public, in-state college tuition. Hell, when I was applying to university, only a year-and-a-half ago, I thought I was going down the more affordable, less risky route. But after being denied any type of financial aid support, I was narrowed into an offer through Sallie Mae at a fixed interest rate of 10.4 percent–a 2 percent increase from the package I was offered last year.
That’s what the boys are getting at with this “big selfie.” Government and/or private institutions should not be benefiting off of one’s desire to obtain a degree at such high rates. The obscene reality behind the lending industry and federal government’s crony-capitalist approach provokes rage from progressive lay people and politicians alike.
As Warren astutely noted at a recent symposium at Suffolk University Law School on the issue earlier this year, ”These students didn’t go to the mall and run up a bunch of charges on credit cards. They worked hard to learn new skills that will benefit this country… They deserve our support, not an extra tax for trying to get an education.”
Yes, a call for much needed reform. But the larger question remains: How does a selfie change any of this?
The two undergrads, prior to taking the shot, give their models a pithy insight into what a student in today’s market is subjected. They might flash some jaw-dropping statistics (such as, the US government could make tuition at American public universities free for $62.6 billion dollars, but will spend $85.4 billion in Afghanistan during a single fiscal year) or, equate how cost-effective college was back in our folk’s day in comparison to its current state.
In 1978, a student who worked a minimum wage job all summer could pay for one year of tuition and fees at a four-year public university, with enough left over to cover 50 percent of room and board. Meanwhile today, a student would have to work another 4-and-a-half months at minimum wage just to cover tuition and fees.
Afterwards, all participants are asked to make a donation of any amount to benefit struggling students–Gallardo shrugs off Beyonce as “a very generous woman.”
The attraction is the photo. Being that over a million selfies are taken daily, it’s clear people enjoy the art of photography, especially when it includes themselves. The boys behind TheBig.Selfie feed off of this societal guilty-pleasure, by taking a photo, and in return, giving the gift of knowledge. Apparently, our narcissistic traits need affirmation prior to gaining any type of valuable knowledge on the streets nowadays.
There’s no happy ending to any of this–at least, not yet.
A selfie can only do so much. In order for we as a people to unite and create reform ourselves, we must first spread awareness, which, like the (arguably silly) ALS Ice Bucket Challenge all over Facebook right now, TheBig.Selfie accomplishes in spades. With the 2016 election nearing, and politicians like Sen. Warren allegedly in the running, it’s our opportunity to elect officials who will bring about that reform.