Letters of Life

How To Get On To The Cover Of Time Magazine

Ok, being on the cover of Time magazine isn’t the definitive measure of success, but it sure beats 15 minutes of shallow fame on Youtube. Anybody can get onto Youtube. All you need is an email account and a digital video camera.

My question is, how did a smug, self-righteous someone propel herself from a byline of a Wall Street Journal excerpt of her book onto the cover of Time magazine in a matter of, oh, two weeks?

The now famously-in Amy Chua, author of the controversial Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, has seen the WSJ online excerpt (provocatively titled Why Chinese Mothers are Superior) go viral, which in turn created a lot of (good) buzz for her book. The buzz catapulted her book onto the bestseller list on Amazon, she’s guested on American talk-shows and fended off thousands of comments about her Draconian parenting style.

This is how it works:
1. Play on the sterotype of the driven Asian woman who grew up in a culture where academic acheivement is highly prized.
2. Pick a universal theme. Unrequited love has been flogged to death, but parenting–which is all purely anecdotal in its success stories–has so many facets to it that it’s a motherlode of ideas worth exploring. The more provocative the methods, the better.
3. The story appeared at the right place at the right time. The WSJ excerpt hit the newsfeeds on what was a relatively slow news day: no new natural disasters, the Dow Jones was well-behaved, and online users had the time to read the excerpt and get justifiably riled up, post comment upon comment and stoke the fires of indignation and discomfort.

Let me clarify. I’m not saying she shouldn’t be on Time magazine, or on talk shows. I’m just observing that all it takes to get onto the cover of an American news weekly is to be a controversial figure for all of two weeks. It should definitely help its circulation figures. Me, I’m not buying.

This is my take on what I’ve read of Amy Chua. I did not read the entire book, so I’m basing my comments on the overall theme of the excerpt as published online by the Wall Street Journal.

Yes, her methods are extreme. Four hours in a battle of wills getting a child to master a tune (and we’re not talking Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) with no breaks, no dinner, is not what I could call good parenting. A more accurate term would be good punishing. The reason why it is not good parenting is because the punishment does not fit the crime. Wait a minute, not mastering a tune in one sitting is not a crime, is it? For a 7-year-old?

It appears that in the same way the author was brought up, her children must suffer the same fate, the 21st century notwithstanding. Yet every generation is different. We dress differently from our parents, listen to different music, enjoy different food. So they don’t go online, or have sleepovers or playdates, which is the hallmark of an American childhood. I should know, because we do it differently in Southeast Asia.

I can’t help but think that the author has issues with her own mother and that her daughters might have them also. The biggest joke is that her story hinges on the fact that she’s Chinese.

I’d say only pigment-wise. As an Asian brought up in Southeast Asia, I don’t identify with her at all. It is a widespread and fairly accurate perception that most American-born Chinese are ironically more American than American Caucasians themselves.

That’s why when I first read the headline, I took it with a big pinch of salt. The word “Chinese” is just so politically-correct right now.

Her definition of success is so narrowly defined that the world forgets there is another ruler by which success can and should be measured. And that is having compassion toward others, exhibiting kindness, faithfulness, loyalty, and in an increasingly-violent world, gentleness (not the same as doormat-ness). It means losing that sense of entitlement, putting the interests of others you love ahead of your own, wanting to make the world, at least your little corner, a better place.

Yes, globalization looks like a daunting Cerberus or Hydra and you only have one sword. But people forget that globalization is also the Korean girl next door, the Indian couple across the street. You don’t have to fight it or viciously compete against it, and think you’re merely a boat borne ceaselessly back against the current of progress and competition.

You can befriend it, customize and hone your craft, know what makes you unique, and create the niche that only you can in this whole wide world. It is, and will always be, our oyster.

I’m sure there’s more ways one can get onto the cover of Time magazine. If you can think of others, please leave a comment.


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