America the Pervert: Why Our Promotion of Sex Leaves the World Scratching its Head

* This piece was written with Nick Pulgine for http://www.millennialinflux.com. The original piece can be found here

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We are a culture obsessed with celebrities. A glance at the most digested news of many Americans would not show The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, but rather People Magazine or Sports Illustrated. Furthermore, the power of Americans to create celebrities is revealing towards the people that we choose to elevate to “super star” status. This kind of infatuation leads the rest of the world to believe that our capitol is Hollywood, not Washington D.C.

What are the consequences of a society like our own where the likes of Miley Cyrus and the Kardashian circus are the most celebrated and publicized figures in the United States?

We would argue that the consequences are grave, indeed: not only are we perverting our culture with the glamorization of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but we are also forming a negative world perception of the United States based on the things (and people) that we are endorsing and supporting.

In an article for The Wall Street Journal, Lee Siegel spoke to the increased vulgarity in American celebrity culture. Referring specifically to language used by the musicians that we elevate to hero status (think Madonna, Jay Z, Beyoncé). “Making public the permanent and leveling truths of our animal nature, through obscenity or evocations of sex, is one of democracy’s sacred energies… But we’ve lost the cleansing quality of “dirty” speech. Now it’s casual, boorish, smooth and corporate,” said Siegel.

What kind of message is the promotion of this kind of vulgar and immoral activity suggesting to our allies and enemies abroad?

When our only public portrayal of a “real” American family is the voyeuristic Kardashians or the dysfunctional Real Housewives franchise, we send a message to the world that this minority of ostentatious wealth and bad behavior is the norm in America.

And it does not stop there. Sexuality in America has become synonymous with identity – a value that is made evident to the world by the lack of censorship we demand from those in the public eye. In addition, we send a message to the world about what we value based on the emphasis that we place on exploiting both women and men in increasingly lewd displays of sex as entertainment.

From its (fairly) modest beginnings in 1964 to its raunchy release in 2013, Sports Illustrated’s “Swimsuit Issue” has become one of Time Warner’s top sellers, according to Forbes. The issue alone accounts for 7 percent of Sports Illustrated’s annual revenue. Likewise, the now-infamous graphic video for Miley Cryus’ “Wrecking Ball” has been viewed almost 400 million times, breaking VEVO’s 24-hour record, a feat that she also accomplished with her equally salacious “We Can’t Stop.”

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These videos are accessible all over the world. When the only messages that we are sending to citizens across the globe are the ones that we publicize through the media, we are degrading our reputation, not only as a country, but also as a culture.

Unless we learn to promote the Steve Jobs instead of the Kanye Wests and the Condoleeza Rices instead of the Kate Uptons, we will continue to fail in representing America to the world.

Our public perception needs to change, and that will only result from an internal shift – one that demands an upheaval of values and the development of a moral calculus that, currently, America lacks.

More of Nick Pulgine’s writing on entertainment can be found here.

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Uprooted: One girl’s journey from The U.S. to Taiwan and back again

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            When you pull a plant from the ground and put it into a pot, you leave remnants of its roots– of itself –in the place from which you took it. Likewise, when you uproot a tree and replant it elsewhere, you never fully remove it from the space it once resided. This process is taxing, it is challenging, and it is seldom performed without a great deal of mess along the way. Like a tree or a plant pulled from the ground, Alexandria Kuo knows what it is like to uproot.

            A self-professed “third culture kid” who moved from New Jersey to Taiwan when she was 11 and from Taiwan to Wheaton, Il. when she was eighteen, she has uprooted and replanted in ways that many of her peers cannot fathom. Now a college student in a city different from her native Tai Pei City, Kuo is learning how to adjust to her new environment, and how to plant roots in a place where she has no familiar soil.

            Though she is Taiwanese and identifies herself as a “third culture kid,” Kuo had previously only visited Taiwan for vacations so packing up her life in New Jersey and moving to the BUSTLING ISLAND was a frightening and daunting experience.

            “When I first got there, it was a culture shock,” said Kuo. “I felt not at home, like a stranger in a different world…I had already made a circle of friends back in New Jersey, and it was so hard to just be torn away from that friendship and everything that I had gotten used to. “

            A sixth grader at the time, Kuo had to adjust to new friends, a new school system much more rigorous than the one she had encountered in the states, a new culture and a new city.

            “The city is very different from America, and as a suburban kid, moving to the city was like, ‘oh my goodness, it is so messed up and all the streets are dirty,’” said Kuo. “There are some traditions in Taiwan that I have grown used to, and I have actually made my own, so when I first came to Wheaton, I was kind of like, ‘oh, I kind of miss it back home.’ I didn’t know that I would miss it [Taiwan] until I came here, so it is a broadening of perspectives, I guess.”

            Though she learned to love- and even miss- Taiwan, Kuo returned to the United States after graduating high school because she feels that this is home- or at least one of them.

            “I have always thought of coming back home, because, after all, Taiwan is not really my home, because although I call it home, it is not where I want to stay for the rest of my life because I feel like it is still a narrow bubble on this one little island, and so coming back home has always been in my mind,” said Kuo.

            Specifically, Kuo chose to plant her roots in a part of the United States that was new to her, settling at Wheaton College, a private Christian university just outside of another big city, Chicago.

            “For a really long time, I was in a secular bubble, so I though that I should come back and re-focus my real mission here on earth that God called me to do, and so I just hope that coming to Wheaton and coming back to America can help me just re-center what I want to do, and what I want to do in Him.”

            Kuo’s aspirations for the future include working in broadcast journalism and media, specifically, working as a news anchor. She credits this vocational decision in part to her life in Taiwan and to the global perspective she gained while living there.

            “Understanding global perspectives has made me more interested in this path, and being able to communicate with other cultures and understand what their life is like and what their news is like has really helped me figure out that I actually do want to take this path, because I have both the American and Taiwanese worlds to figure out and understand both worlds.”

            Kuo feels that spending a part of her childhood in Taiwan has also given her another advantage: that of language. Kuo speaks both English and Mandarin Chinese, a skill she feels will aid her in communicating with people from cultures other than her own.

            ““If I stayed here in America for all of my life, language-wise I couldn’t be good in Mandarin Chinese and I wouldn’t be able to communicate in that language, and slowly that part of me would fade away, but back in Taiwan, I was able to communicate with people in that language and see the world differently through a global lens,“ said Kuo.

            Though she said that she felt she has gained a global perspective from living in both suburban American and metropolitan Taiwan, Kuo noted that living in two worlds so opposite from one another has caused her to separate her two lives, something she is still working to overcome.

            “When I land on American ground, I communicate in a different way than when I am in Taiwan. My mind would automatically switch to the American mindset, and in Taiwan I would switch to a Taiwanese mindset, based on the environment I am in, so I haven’t found common ground on that yet, although it is really easy for me to switch back and forth,” said Kuo.  “I still need to work on how to combine both of them together.”

            As Kuo once again replants her roots in Wheaton, it seems that this third culture kid’s life is looking more like a field of trees, spread across the world, than just one plant being transported from place to place. Roots in New Jersey, in Taiwan and now in Wheaton, Kuo continues to seek to find the place she can call her own, never forgetting the places she once called home.

 

           

 

 

 

 

The First Time I Got a Brother

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I’ve never wanted a brother. I haven’t blown out candles for a football-tossing, video gaming big guy, or gotten down on my knees for a bookish, intellectual little boy to join the ranks of the four powerful women and one resilient man who make up my family. Rather, I have basked in a childhood of shared emotions, shopping trips, movie nights, and aerosol hair spray. My father, bless his heart, has been enough “guy” to suffice for my family. I saw what my friends had with their brothers, and I didn’t envy it.

Here’s the thing about having beautiful, intelligent, charismatic, caring sisters: you aren’t the only one who finds them to be incredible.  I am not referring to their friends, or even their boyfriends, who may discover some of their magic and, if they’re smart, embrace it. I am talking about the one man who discovers them and is utterly enchanted. This happened to me. Twice. My sisters’ charm wasn’t lost on two lucky men, and so they got married. They are living happily ever after. As for me, I got exactly what I had never wanted: not one, but two brothers.

They’re not really your brothers, I can practically hear you smirking as you read my ironic disappointment through your computer screen. You’re wrong, though. They are as much a part of my family as my own kin, because, like it or not, when they married my sisters, they became a part of my sanctum. My family is my safe place, my place of fervent trust and vulnerability, of relaxation and utter reality. They are my toughest critics, and my biggest supporters. On my best day and my worst day, they treat me with love. My sisters invited two new people into that.

The day that Peter proposed to my sister Amy was like a turning point in a novel, the top of a roller coaster, the chase scene in a good spy film: I knew something big was happening. I was hyper aware of the change this presented in my family, and I felt an invasion on my sanctum taking place. My family reality had shifted, and I found, under anger and frustration at the present of a brother that I didn’t want, and at the prospect of a separation from my sister that I didn’t desire, fear. Fear that having a boy in my family would change how I acted, how my sister acted, how my parents acted, how my family acted. I was scared that I would lose my confidant and my friend to a man who had a warm smile and my sister’s affections.

The wedding planning ensued and I, with bitter acceptance, threw myself into being a supporter sister, helpful maid of honor, cooperative daughter and kind soon-to-be sister-in-law. I hate that title. It’s as if it’s mocking those of us who never asked for a brother, and emphasizing that whether or not you like it, BY LAW he is your brother. Thanks for that. A supportive, kind, funny, and genuine man who loves my sister and respects her deeply, I couldn’t dislike Peter, because I saw how happy he made Amy. I saw how much my parents cared for him (though I knew they felt the same way I did- wary of bringing someone new into the equation) and I saw how my middle sister, Allison, seemed to yearn for what Amy had found with Peter. The marriage went off without a hitch, and I could say without growing a nose that I liked Peter. He didn’t push me too hard, he didn’t interfere with my business, and he treated my sister well. Okay. Maybe I could handle the brother thing, if this was what it entailed.

In the weeks, months, and now years that followed my sister becoming Mrs. Peter Williams, I have ever so slowly opened the door to my family sanctum. Don’t misunderstand me – I still feel uncomfortable letting loose in front of my brothers in the same way that I do with my parents and sisters, and my sister’s name is still Amy Morris is my phone, but I have warmed up to the idea of having a brother. I don’t mind the addition of another body on the couch, or the difference in opinion that a male perspective brings. I think it’s endearing that Peter feels the need to protect me, and I desire a relationship with him that isn’t founded because we are bound “in law,” but that stems from a mutual respect and love for one another and for my family, and forming a relationship that looks more like that of two siblings from birth and less like one of two strangers brought together just mere years ago.

I’ve never wanted a brother. I was happy to remain steadfast in my family structure, to protect my sanctum, to push away new people. I think that’s exactly why it’s great that I got two. I am learning, often with much humility, pushback, and grace, that family is about more than what it gives to YOU, because it’s about what you give to IT. It’s about evolving and adjusting so that the things- the people- that bring your family joy and who show them love are welcomed with open arms. It’s about accepting the people who they present to you and giving them your best, but also giving them your real: your honest and raw portrayal of who you are, what you’re about, and what your family means to you. For me, that meant accepting that I got Peter and Mike as brothers. It means loving them and getting to know them and working with them to form a relationship that strengthens and compliments my relationship with my sisters and with my family. It means learning to love having brothers, and accepting that this change is one that will further strengthen my sanctum, not destroy it.

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My new family- BROTHERS and all!