What actually IS American Culture?
23 July 2021
I was listening to a podcast recently which touched a bit on the modern meaning of American culture. I found it really interesting, so I have transcribed this part below.
"What is American culture? Really, what is it today, in the present tense?
The knee jerk response would say it is about liberty, justice and democracy. At the very least, that's in the past. It's over-romanticized, seen with rose-tinted glasses - idealized to the extreme.
Today... what is American culture?
It's Amazon. It's streaming services. It's sports. It's the soul crushing social media platforms. It's Marvel movies. It's mass shootings. It's working every day for shitty wages living in a constant state of precarity with no real communal bonds. It's going out on the weekends and getting trashed so as to forget the emptiness and acuity of your normal week life. It's the idea that you're forced to live life in service of somebody you probably don't even know, somebody who makes money off your labor - and you have little to no control over that. You're propagandized, constantly told that you're the freest person that's ever existed in human history, when everything about your daily life is the exact opposite.
Capitalism goes out and it settles over the whole globe, destroying and pulverizing all forms of cultures and traditions which can't be reduced to mere marketization and commercialization.
There is nothing to any town. What are you going to find? A McDonald's, an IHOP, a Walmart. Go to the next town, what are you gonna find? A McDonald's, an IHOP, and Walmart. It is a spiritual and existential graveyard. Then we wonder why people suffer with anxiety and depression and OCD and addiction all over this fucking country. Of course people suffer. It is anathema to our human nature as social beings to live this way. Communal ties, community get-togethers - those simply don't exist for the vast majority.
We see this even in the context of church. Look at the mega churches. The white evangelical mega churches have figured out how to strip community out of religion, the one thing that it really offers people. Now you're just another anonymous face in the mega-church crowd listening to some rich fuckin' asshole who lies to you about how he lives, his actual personal life, and presents this false persona to make millions of dollars off of your desperation. And you are again just another lost face in the crowd. In this context, even religion is stripped of even being able to provide people with community."
Hearing this got me thinking... what is American culture? I decided to look around. My search led me to articles that were written in an attempt to educate or warn non-Americans about the staples of American culture which might provide a culture shock.
Below are some of the things I found, along with a translation that attempts to unveil a deeper meaning behind the cornerstones of American culture.
"To-Go" Concept - Eating on the Run
Most Americans are always on the go. It seems they are often running from one appointment to the next, going to and from work, picking up kids, running errands, and going to business meetings and social outings. Because Americans are regularly on the move, there is often not enough time to have a formal, sit-down meal. A common expression you’ll hear is, “24 hours in a day is not enough!”
You’ll notice that drive-thru windows are common at fast-food restaurants around the country; according to DoSomething.org, 20% of all American meals are eaten in the car. For many Americans, there isn’t enough time to sit down in a café and enjoy a cup of coffee, or relax for a few minutes and eat a snack, so you’ll often hear them order their food and drinks “to go.”
Translation: Americans are often overworked and stretched thin - sometimes to the point where they don't have the time or energy to cook or prepare their own meals, even at the expense of their own health. This is framed by the 'there's not enough time in the day' mentality - even though there has always been the same amount of hours in one day and nobody expects this to change anytime soon.
Individuality is highly valued in American culture. Americans often identify themselves as separate individuals before identifying with their family, a group, or the nation. American children are often taught that understanding and relying on oneself is crucial to success in adult life.
Translation: Americans are strongly urged to rely on themselves and practice resilience. Those who are unable to, for whatever reason, are framed as lazy and selfish, and are encouraged to just work harder.
Americans thrive on competition. From a young age, children are encouraged to work hard and try their best to succeed at a task, particularly in academics, sports, and other hobbies. Universities tend to be very competitive, so parents prepare their kids early for the admissions process. Some high schools and even pre-schools have competitive admission, and even Girl Scouts vie to sell the most cookies during fundraising drives to earn great prizes. You will see that many Americans are ambitious as well. They are proactive and if they want to accomplish something, they go for it. They don’t tend to sit back and wait for others to catch up.
Translation: American society promotes a me-first mentality. Instead of individuals working together to achieve a common goal, it is necessary to pit individuals against each other in the name of competition, even when others get left behind as a result.
Interestingly, it proved difficult to find any information on what constitutes American community life. Specifically, I was looking for what brings people together, what people do in their spare time to feel like a part of something bigger.
I intend on tackling this in more detail in the future, because I'm sure there is a lot to uncover. As an American living in American suburbs, I simply don't know what's left of community here.
Instead, I'll leave you with this.