There are some ideals and values rooted in the country’s history and spread by media (films, TV) that many Americans share.
Individualism – has strong roots in America. Individualism is understood not only as self reliance but also as economic self-sufficiency. It has been a central theme in American history. Many years ago most Americans were farmers whose success depended not on cooperation with others but on their ability to confront the hardships of land and climate on their own. Success was measured by individual resourcefulness. The idealization of the self-reliant individual translated itself into the celebration of the small businessman who became a financial success on his own.
Volunteerism – means helping people through privately-initiated or government-sponsored agencies. Volunteers are highly motivated workers who organize themselves to solve a particular problem or meet some social need. Volunteer fund-raising groups step in to help the needy in all spheres: there are groups that hold clothing drives for the poor and homeless as well as groups that organize car washes and bake sales to raise money for school. Volunteerism reflects Americans’ optimistic pride in their ability to work out practical solutions themselves.
Progress – is very important to the Americans. In this immigrant society progress is measured as family progress over generations. Many Americans can boast that with each succeeding generation since their first ancestors arrived the family’s status has improved. The classic American family saga is all about progress: the great grand parents arrived from Europe or Asia with nothing, worked hard, gave their children good education and so on ….. The idea of progress is an important part of the American Dream
The American Dream – this term is used to describe “the life that is better, richer and fuller” as American writer T.J.Adams put it in 1931. The American Dream is popularized in countless rags-to-riches stories and in the portrayal of the good life in films and on TV. It teaches Americans to believe that success can be achieved through hard work, family loyalty and faith in the free enterprise system. However throughout America’s history reality has taught its citizens that the American Dream is not open to all. Although the media has always popularized the success stories like one of Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) who became a millionaire in his 20s, most people understand that there is no use trying to be like him. One succeeded, the millions failed. The Family background also matters a lot. The rich people have much more opportunity, the poor can succeed but they need luck and there is no guarantee that goes with it. The rich start out a step up. Many young Americans actually feel deceived and as a result….
The Downshifting Movement was born. The Downshifting is a social trend in which a person lives a simple life to escape from the stress and overtime. We are surrounded by the BUY NOW culture. There are slogans like MAKE LOTS OF MONEY, BUY A BIG HOUSE everywhere. But once you get in it, there is no way out. With the cost of living constantly rising you will have to work harder and harder just to stay in place. As American philosopher Tracy Smith put it: it is a rat race of obsessive materialism. You just don’t have time to enjoy life. The Downshifting is very popular among young people in their 20s and 30s. It implies staying at your parents’ after college, finding a 9am-5pm 5 day a week job not far from home and spending free time watching TV or surfing the Net. Some say that working part time would be even better. American writer Susan Faludi who explored the Downshifting in her books put it in this way: young men feel disenfranchised because they do not belong to the world of 25-year old Internet millionaires with whom the media are so enthralled. In reality the average income for men 25 – 35 in decreasing according to the US Census Bureau. If you don’t have a lot of money you are a loser. That is what America has taught young men. Growing up is getting difficult, finding a lucrative job is difficult, may be there is comfort in believing that it is OK to remain a kid with a baseball cap turned backwards forever. Many people see the Downshifting as a threat since it undermines the American society traditionally based on the preaching hard work, winning and achieving.
In the 21st century the mainstream values which had held the society together seems to be collapsing and no unifying system of belief emerged as an alternative.
Questions for discussing
To what extent can the values presented in the text also be found in your country ?
What is your personal attitude towards them ?
EXPORTING AMERICAN CULTURE
American popular culture is dominant in the world – it is a fact. You man easily find a person who has never heard about Shakespeare but you will have difficulty finding a person who’s not heard about Batman or Spider Man. American pop-culture is so powerful, intrusive and attractive ! Around the world people hum American tunes, line up for American films and enjoy American TV shows. The latest Hollywood action flick make them pack the movie-theatres to the capacity in France, American rock bands or rap singers bring them to their feet in Japan and kids from England to South Africa love characters from the Disney TV series and films.
The statistics make it clear: 8 out of 10 films currently playing in the world are from the USA, 7 out of 10 songs on the playlist of your local FM station are American.
Having produced 2 highest grossing films in history – The Titanic and Avatar – Hollywood has much to be proud of. Whose childhood would have been complete without Star Wars or Star Trek? And we would have never learned that being scared could be so pleasing if there had not been films like Halloween or Friday the 13th.
One of the latest phenomenon America produced is the adult – oriented animated series that enjoy high ratings around the globe. The shows like South Park, Family Guy, Futurama or American Dad (to say nothing about The Simpsons – America’s longest and most successful animated comedy) became very famous for their irreverent humour often bordering on profanity and ability to handle serious issues like the same sex marriages or the Civil War in Afghanistan in a bizarre way.
At the same time American pop-culture has constantly been criticized for what some critics call “spreading the distorted image of reality”. There are stories about American films and TV series being banned in countries like China or Egypt for “sending the wrong message to the audience”.
American popular culture spreads a very clear idea of how the world is supposed to work: there is trouble but it will be OK in the end. There is action but there is a solution leading to calm. The people who believe in goodness and act honestly will triumph.
In the Disney produced TV series no one is lonely, no one is neglected, that is the way life should be.
But it is not.
The world view America produces has little in common with observable reality. The American shows tend to be overoptimistic in their tone and that is the principal accusation America has to face.
Which aspects of American culture can you find in your own city, country ?
What do your friends and you think about the American cultural influence ?
Over the past 60 years American popular culture has produced several phenomenon that make a lasting impact on America itself and the world, although viewed sometimes as “artificial” and created in absence of a “true” culture, these phenomenon should not be ignored when talking about the USA
San Diego Comic-Con International is a multigenre convention held annually in San Diego, California, United States. It was founded in 1970. It is a four-day event (Thursday-Sunday) held during the summer in San Diego. Originally showcasing comic books, science fiction/fantasy and film/television, and related popular arts, the convention also includes a larger range of pop culture elements, such as horror, animation, anime, manga, toys, collectible card games, video games, webcomics, and fantasy novels. The convention is the largest event of this sort in the USA. In 2010, it filled the San Diego Convention Center to capacity with over 400,000 attendees. Along with panels, seminars, and workshops with comic book professionals, there are previews of upcoming feature films, interview sessions with top comic book and video game companies, and such evening events as awards ceremonies and the Masquerade, a costume contest, as well as the Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival. In 2010 the Comic-Con entered the Guinness Book of Records as the event with the biggest number of people dresses as characters from the Star Wars films in the world.
Elvis Presley (1935 – 1977) was one of the most popular American singers of the 20th century. A cultural icon, he is commonly known by the single nameElvis. He is often referred to as the "King of Rock and Roll" or simply "the King". Presley is regarded as one of the most important figures of 20th-century popular culture. He had a versatile voice and unusually wide success. He is the best-selling solo artist in the history of popular music. Nominated for 14 competitive Grammys, he won three, and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at the age 36. Presley’s mansion in Memphis, Tennessee is now a museum. It was opened to the public in 1982. Presley’s Museum has become one of the most-visited buildings in America with nearly a million visitors a year. There are many Elvis contests, festivals and other events held across the USA celebrating Elvis and his many impersonators. Events tend to attract large numbers of amateur Elvis impersonators and fans. The Michigan ElvisFest is an annual two-day festival occurring each July in Michigan, celebrating the life and fans of Elvis Presley
James Dean (1931 – 1955) was an American film actor. He is a cultural icon, best remembered for his most celebrated film Rebel Without a Cause (1955), in which he starred as troubled Los Angeles teenager. The other two roles that defined his stardom were East of Eden (1955) and Giant (1956). Dean's enduring fame and popularity rests on his performances in only these three films, all leading roles. His premature death in a car crash cemented his legendary status. Dean was the first actor to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and remains the only actor to have had two posthumous acting nominations. The Highway 41 and 46 junction where the accident occured in which Dean died is now the James Dean Memorial Junction. WikiMiniAtlasAs one of the cultural symbols of America Dean is often mentioned in various songs, television shows, films, books. In his native city of Fairmount, Indiana James Dean is honored by a special museum, dedicated to his memory, and with the annual festival, Fairmount James Dean Day. Each year, thousands visit the annual festival and the James Dean Exhibit. The museum also has a theater with screenings of Dean's films. In 2005 in the USA survey entitled The Big Star carried out by the Times Magazine in order to find the "nation's best loved actor" of all time, James Dean, 50 years after his death, was named in the Top 5. He is also regarded as one of the first male sex symbols in the history of American cinema.
FilmFest (or BookFest)– an event held in a city connected with a particular film or book. With Americans taking special pride in their cinema the FilmFests are very common and popular in the States. For example, in Brownsville, Oregon an annual celebration of the film Stand by me attracts thousands of visitors. Stand by me, which tells a story of 3 boys and can be summarized as a story about growing up and what a struggle it can be, was shot in Brownsville in 1985. Although the film was not a great success, it has gained a cult status over the years. A 2 day festival is full of events including contests, concerts, autograph sessions with the film cast and crew members and an open air screening of the film, which is now considered classic.
There are many other FilmFests across the USA. The celebration of the filming of the Back to the Future is held in Burbank, California. The latest addition to the list is The Twilight Fest in Forks, Washington – a city where Stephenie Meyer’s books are set. Up to 100 000 tourists come to visit locations that resemble the places described in Meyer's books.