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Interestingly enough, one of the themes in the post-modernism period of American history has been the reexamination of the "real America," particularly the moral, ethical and sexual changes that have evolved since the turn of the century. This has not been a new theme, nor has it been relegated to non-fiction. At the beginning of the 20th century, American novelists were expanding the role fiction took by examining high and low life in society. Edith Wharton, for instance, found tremendous hypocrisy within the ranks of the Eastern elite in terms of morality and sexuality and in Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser portrayed a country girl who moved to the big city of Chicago to become a "kept woman," relinquishing her American morals for the pleasures of the flesh. Similarly, even in the stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, and Ernest Hemingway there are notions and reexaminations of the role of sexuality within the dichotomy of the morals and philosophies from the Founding Fathers to the modern age (Trask, 2003).
The issue of sex in contemporary culture is a varied and difficult topic to generalize. Just as there seems to be far more promiscuity and adolescent sexuality, there are also trends towards celibacy before marriage, the juxtaposition of Christian values on alternative sexual preferences, and a strong sense of teaching children about sexuality in a way that encourages safe sex practices as well as informed choice. What then is the "state of human sexuality in America?" Some would argue that it is no different in contemporary America than it was in the 1950s, 1920s, 1800s, and so on. Instead, there are differences in attitudes, permissions, and above all, like so much in advancing technological cultures -- the influence of the media on attitudes and normative behavior. Five decades ago, for example, individuals were limited on what they could view on television, what was permissible in the movie theater, and what access they had to sexual issues, violence, news, other cultures, and more. The age of the Internet has changed the way the world works -- not just American society, but the entire world.
The question then becomes, is there more sexual activity in contemporary society? Are there more instances of sexual deviation or alternate sexual lifestyles? The scholarly answer is: likely no -- in proportion to the population, there are likely similar amounts and behaviors that make up the sexual continuum. What is, however, clearly different, is the manner in which these differences are expressed, viewed in the media, and accessed by children. Premarital sexual exploration, homosexuality, adultery, and sexual proclivities are not new -- history is rife with examples from the Ancient Civilizations, through the Medieval and Renaissance Courts, the Papacy, and in just about every society anthropologically studied. One academic remarked that the generalized view of sex in the Christian perspective was quite simple, "don't -- but if you do, don't enjoy it" (Berthrong, 2004). This rather tongue-and-cheek generalization does take into account a more conservative tradition, not just regarding sexuality activity, but the manner in which many more conservative traditions interpret physical and emotional pleasure -- in some ways rejecting the very nature of God's creation of humans as multidimensional and capable, indeed needing, a large range of stimuli (Smith, 1996).
The bibliographic venue of works on American Human Sexuality, particularly since World War II is vast. From the controversial studies of the Kinsey Institute to the open and alternative press and many volumes in-between, modern American academia and popular press alike are abuzz about morality, sexuality, and the changes wrought in America. Now we have another opinion that takes on a huge task -- the question of Whatever Happened to the Real America? This is a huge topic, and deals with sociology, history, political culture, politics, and really every aspect of American culture. In many ways, the tome asks us what many conservative platforms do -- fill the reader with valid nostalgia about the way things were before factory farming, too many hormones in the food, rampant crime and pollution -- and, a different and more moralistic and private look at sexuality and sexual practices. The challenge therein, though is often seen in historical materials -- what is left out about the nostalgia from the past that has changed for the positive? Written by Professor of Political Science, Dr. Mahine Gosine of St. Joseph's College, Whatever Happened to the Real America is thought provoking, certainly opinionated, but challenging nonetheless (Gosine, 2010).
Chapter 1 -- This introductory chapter focuses on interaction theory and gives an overview of the comparison of what Dr. Gosine views as traditional America with contemporary American society, what went wrong, and what the current standards of living may say about American culture, morality, social standing, and opportunity. In essence, the Chapter asks us to consider the "American Dream," what that mean, and whether the belief system established by the Founding Fathers is in evidence. Gosine sees class struggle in America as moving backwards, not forwards -- evident in the gap between the rich and the poor. Indeed, whale he sees that we as a nation have, on many occasions, bounced back from adversity (war, Depression, etc.), we are struggling now with a culture of narcissism and hedonism. Of course, these two isms are reflective in the culture of sexuality -- so permeating in almost every aspect of modern marketing culture.
Chapter 2 -- "The Lessons of History," challenges the reader to look at conflict theory to explain how some of the so-called great cultures and societies of history "fell" due to some of the similarities they have with America of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Gosine focuses more on the Euro-Centric model (Greece and Rome), to ask will America, like almost all of the other great civilizations from Mesopotamia onward, fall from within? Second, are there similarities and commonalities in the socio-economic and moral health of these civilizations that may also bring down contemporary America? Certainly, in terms of sexuality and morality, Gosine sees a trend in the Ancient World that when there was an ebb in moral thought and culture, the overall nature of the society was hampered as well. Interestingly, it is a decline in legal, ethical, judicial, and even political standards that acts in juxtaposition with a decline in a moral center that Gosine believes causes a relative moral vacuum within a society, making it vulnerable from within. The breakdown of morality, then, becomes historically linked with a relative sexual permissiveness within these great societies.
Chapter 3 -- In "Money, Sex, and the American Media," we see Gosine's full realization that with the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of capitalism, we find that sex, like other goods, becomes commodified. Sexual behavior then, is seen not as a sacrosanct gift between two committed individuals, but something to be objectified, sold, marketed, and pined for without thought for any psycho-social ramifications. In a way, Gosine sees the American paradigm of sexual permissiveness as being let loose from Puritanism in a pendulum swing -- from severe regulation and privacy to the exact opposite. Pre-marital and extra-marital sex are glorified with the media; the sex industry is rampant, and the media messages given to all are surrounded by the allure and the promise that sexuality is the answer to being happy.
Chapter 4- "Materialism, Toys, and Keeping Up with the Jones," takes us on a tour of greed in modern American life. The accumulation of things is more important than emotion or feelings, and as America has de-emphasized labor and focused on service, the idea of being hip, new, popular, and sexy is the idea of the moment. America is not only materialistic, it is wasteful, and in its waste we find not only goods being wasted and tossed (e.g. watches, clothing, food, etc.) but the very nature of the personality being wasted for a quick fix through shopping, purchasing power, and the sexual allure one must pine for because one is never good enough -- at least according to the American marketing machine.
Chapter 5- What was it that made America so attractive to the millions of immigrants from all over the world throughout most of the 19th and early 20th centuries? In a word, according to Gosine, altruism. Altruism as one of the primary American traditions has gone to the point of now culminating in a hyper sense of egoism and self-serving behavior. Quality of life is seen as a right as opposed to a privilege, and America is now facing the very real possibility that the current generation will be the first generation in over a century that will have less wealth and a harder time in retirement than the previous generation. What does altruism have to do with sexuality and sexual behavior in America, one might ask? It is easy, according to Gosine, to see that at the individual, group, and even political levels, the transfer of egotism to…[continue]
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