Reflections on the New Miss America

Full disclosure: I have never watched the full Miss America pageant. I actually didn’t even know it was still televised until this year. It’s been a few weeks now since Nina Davuluri made headlines as the first woman of Indian descent to be crowned Miss America. Honestly, I was a little torn between my urge to cheer her on as a fellow Asian-American and my urge to scoff at the existence of the pageant altogether.

Miss America has long been one of critics’ favorite examples of the ongoing objectification of women in American culture. I, myself, have never really thought of it as much more than a parade of bathing suits. Seriously, the only televised portion of the pageant that requires the women to speak lasts all of 6 minutes.

But winner Nina Davuluri has turned much of the discussion surrounding the pageant to a more positive note. Actually, not since Sandra Bullock as Miss Congeniality (in a thinly-veiled imitation, the Miss United States pageant) has a person helped the pageant world receive such good publicity. Almost everyone praised the Miss AmNina Davulurierica pageant for its pick of a winner that accurately represented this country’s diversity.

Something else that has been largely overshadowed by her descent is the fact that Nina Davuluri is also an aspiring medical school student. She also hopes to serve as a spokesperson for STEM education. As such, Nina Davuluri seemingly breaks the stereotype that Miss America is selected only on the basis of a pretty face and reminds the public that the Miss America pageant is technically a scholarship program, a fact also conveniently highlighted in Miss Congeniality (seriously, that movie was like a Miss America 101 course).

But since we can’t seem to have nice things, much of the reported controversy following Nina Davuluri’s win also came from the slew of racist comments about her descent. The racism that followed failed to show much beyond maybe the apparent need for more education in geography (c’mon guys, India and Iraq aren’t remotely the same place). Although the negative comments found its way to various corners of social media, the general response were words of encouragement and approval.

Personally, I’m starting to come around a little on Miss America. When I was living in Europe as a kid, my family was pretty consistently the only Asian one in the neighborhood. So when we first settled down in the States, I liked being able to see women who looked like me in movies and on TV. Watching Lucy Liu kick butt in Charlie’s Angels was actually pretty important to me and my feeling of belonging. In that sense, I think Nina Davuluri serves a similar purpose: she is someone who showcases the country’s cultural diversity, appropriately one of the issues she hopes to promote in the upcoming year. I, for one, look forward to Nina Davuluri’s reign as the new Miss America.

Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.

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How to Organize a Global Protest

The pace of change is picking up.

Last week I wrote about the power of youth and social media in shaping protest and instigating change. It seems today as though the move to protest is gathering steam. In Brazil, Chile, and Bulgaria, long-running protests have continued (and in some instances escalated); and in Egypt these past weeks, mass protests eventually led to a military imposition and the removal of Mohamed Morsi from power.

In all cases, different events and different grievances led to the protests. The Brazilian demonstrations began as a protest against increased bus fares, in Bulgaria it was government corruption, and in Chile demands for improved education. What they all have in common is that the protests expand and become general calls to action, a grocery list of changes and demands for a better world.

Trouble is, nobody quite knows how to satiate those generalized demands. Occupy Wall Street died with a whimper at some point in the last year (do you remember exactly when?) because an undefined call for change was never followed up with an actual procedure for it. And in 2011, protestors in Egypt began the Arab Spring and called for the removal of Hosni Mubarak from power—two years later, an eerie scene of déjà-vu plays out on the streets of Cairo.

Protest

It’s easier than ever to organize mass rallies. I mean, the protests in Chile are being largely coordinated by teenagers! Thank Facebook and more than that, Twitter, the great faceless equalizer. We can be anybody we want to be in 140 characters or less. Wanna motivate the masses? Pick a hashtag, any hashtag. And simultaneously a wave of discontentment seems to be sweeping the world. We were promised great things but they have yet to arrive. Mid-twenties crises are tough.

This isn’t me condemning or praising these ongoing global protests—just musing on a continuing theme. What I do know, though, is that change is the one constant we can all cling to. And given the choice, I’ll take the better half of change: the positive one.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Protest Lessons from the Band Pussy Riot

[Editor’s note: While we realize that Pussy Riot is all-around controversial, we’re also curious about the band’s ideology and protest methods.  Please leave a comment after reading and get the discussion going.]

Last month Maria Alyokhina, a member of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, embarked on a hunger strike that lasted 11 days before, remarkably, her demands were met.

Alyokhina is ten months into a two-year prison sentence for “breach of public order motivated by religious hatred.” In reality, the breach was a brief performance in a Moscow cathedral of the song “Punk Prayer- Virgin Mary, Drive Putin Out.”

Religious hatred or political dissent: take your pick.

The hunger strike of Alyokhina began when she alleged that prison officials were attempting to turn the other inmates against her by cracking down on security in advance of her parole hearing. She claimed inmates were denied permission to enter workplaces without escort, whereas before they had been allowed to enter freely. This requirement left inmates locked into their workplaces for hours at a time. Alyokhina was moved to a prison hospital, but ended her hunger strike when officials were able to show her that the security restrictions had been removed and returned to normal.

Pussy Riot was only formed in August 2011, but has had a significant impact on various social justice movements globally. Their manifesto claims: “We are open-source-extremists, the feminist virus infecting your thoughts.” And this idea of “open-source” movements is becoming the modern approach. There was mutual influence between Pussy Riot and Occupy Wall Street in New York, and similarities can be seen between other recent movements, like the Arab Spring. Social media is becoming the platform for protest, and youth are mobilizing it.

PRiot

While it is always hard to gauge the impact that youth movements can have, it is undeniable that the actions of Pussy Riot, and notably their arrest and subsequent trial, have called attention to the Russia of Vladimir Putin. And since their trial, a glut of new legislation has been passed, clamping down on multiple forms of protest and criticism of the government. These laws are informally known as the Pussy Riot laws, and make illegal the discussion of Pussy Riot protests, distribution of footage of them, and covering one’s face in public, in emulation of the balaclavas worn by band members.

The irony though of clamping down on social protest is that, with modern media, the act of repression only serves to send the message out all the louder. And while perhaps in Russia the group is being somewhat censored, internationally their protest is sparking and leading to a much wider movement.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.