Courtney Martin

Courtney E. Martin is a Prospect senior correspondent. She is the author of Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists (Beacon Press). You can read more about her work at

Recent Articles

Oprah's Stale Definition of Charity

Her new show may promote creative philanthropy, but in the end "Oprah's Big Give" only underscores the dated view that everyone is either a giver or a receiver, a have or a have-not.

As the Oprah empire started rolling out advertisements for her latest adventure -- a reality television show called "Oprah's Big Give" -- my inbox and voicemail were flooded by friends and family claiming indignantly, "Oprah stole your idea!" They were referring to Oprah's new show, in which participants compete every week to give away large amounts of her money in a short amount of time -- and in a way that will please a team of judges. I wasn't that mad. After all, it's not the worst thing to be ripped off by the most successful communicator in the universe and, let's face it, Oprah's "idea people" probably weren't lurking at KGB Bar listening to my friends and I tell stories about slipping $20 bills in young adult fiction books at the Brooklyn Public Library. You see, two years ago, I started The Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy. Not so secret, but indeed creative, the project consisted of me giving ten of my friends one hundred dollars and inviting them to, in turn, give...

A Real Dialogue on Race

Obama's speech rose above the rush to label anyone and everyone a racist, and instilled hope for a more productive national conversation about race, gender, and class.

As the Democratic primary drags on, the media has increasingly made a habit of taking misguided one-liners from campaign advisers and turning those molehills into mountains. I have a feeling I'm not the only one tempted to mute the television and crank that brilliant Avenue Q song, "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist." The song goes, "If we all could just admit that we are racist a little bit even though we all know that it's wrong, maybe it would help us get along." The hysteria over recent comments says more about our own inner demons than it does about these campaign advisers. We live in a half-changed nation with respect to race. Many of us still possess half-changed hearts. It is unproductive to kill the messengers of that hard truth, because avoiding the conversation doesn't reduce racism, sexism, or classism. Our country's secret desire to cling to these "–isms" won't loosen until we turn the light on, coax the monsters out from under the bed, and have a down-and-dirty conversation...

Taping Over Old Ideas of Community

Michel Gondry's Be Kind, Rewind celebrates ordinary people and the extraordinary power of creativity and community.

Jack Black and Mos Def star in Be Kind, Rewind
"It comes from a utopia I had -- do you say 'having a utopia?' -- a belief I have that people can create their own entertainment. I always wanted to create this community that would come and tell their own story, shoot it -- and watch them. The idea is to not have one entity who creates the work, the project, and another entity who consumes it; the idea is people create their own work, like somebody cultivating his garden." --Michel Gondry Be Kind, Rewind , French director Michel Gondry's latest film, is a contemporary fable about the transcendent power of playful creativity within communities, and the modern-day dark forces (greedy corporations, real estate developers, lawsuit-happy lawyers) who threaten to take that power away from us, ordinary people. And what better trio of messengers of this neglected, contemporary truth than Michel Gondry, Mos Def, and Jack Black? In the bleak Hollywood landscape of cookie-cutter movies and blockbuster dynasties, Gondry has established himself...

Toward a More Enlightened Security Policy

If he's so concerned about terrorism, why has Bush shown so little compassion toward the meek in the most dangerous parts of the world? A prestigious group of female national-security experts wants to know.

The presidential primaries have made for great sound bites and controversies; no doubt, the mainstream media are like pigs in mud. But let's not lose sight of the golden opportunity for all of us. This election presents an opportunity to rethink some of our stale approaches to governance and invigorate the national discourse on evergreen issues. Security should be at the top of that list. With yet another African country flirting with civil collapse and no end in sight to the unrest in Iraq and Pakistan, it is crucial that we move beyond the Bush-era rhetoric of "evil" and "war on terror" -- all trappings and spin -- and get underneath the issue. We need to start talking about the beating, bleeding heart of security: economic and environmental justice and a fundamental belief in our increasing interdependence. Much has been written about the profile of a terrorist -- so often young, male, and economically disadvantaged. Why is it that al-Qaeda is hip to what these passionate young men...

Misunderstanding "Generation Me"

Research on whether young people today are more self-involved than previous generations confuses narcissism with disillusionment.

A new study out this month in the journal Psychological Science aims to debunk the popular opinion that our generation -- those of us born in the 80s -- is narcissistic. The study, authored by Kali H. Trzesniewski, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario and colleagues at the University of California, Davis, and Michigan State University, finds that youth haven't changed their thoughts, feelings, or behaviors drastically over the last 30 years. The study was done, in part, as a response to the work of psychologist Jean M. Twenge, who wrote Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and More Miserable Than Ever Before . In the book she argues that, largely because of the boom in self-esteem education in the '80s and '90s, young people today "speak the language of the self as their native tongue." Twenge is already at work on another book, this one with an even more damning title, The Narcissism Epidemic ...