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Three Flags, a 1958 painting by Jasper Johns, which currently resides at the Whitney Museum of American Art
For a while now I've wanted to write a column about American pop culture, soft power and global influence. But the problem I usually run into is that "American culture" is not exactly easy to define, since to be an American can mean a great many things. We are a pluralistic society, and not a single monolithic culture. We are an amalgam of many, many different cultures that come together, whether in a melting pot or salad bowl, to form a diverse collective identity. It's a collective identity that is constantly changing, evolving and growing. And while that has caused misunderstandings, prejudices and resentments over the years, it's also the source of our strength and appeal.

Our pop culture has been sent out to the rest of the world for the better part of a century through films, television and music. Each one of those products carries with it, at the very least, the possibility to color perceptions about the United States and its people either positively or negatively. Hundreds of millions of people around this planet wear, listen, eat, drink, watch and dance to something produced or promoted by the American entertainment industry. Our culture is being assimilated into others, and it didn't take a drone strike or the barrel of a gun to do it.

When you see a Super Bowl commercial with people of all colors, creeds and religions singing "America the Beautiful" in different languages, that's shouldn't make you pissed at Coca-Cola. And when people crawl across borders so they can have a better life and their children might be "Americans," that should make people proud. It shouldn't make you want to stand in the middle of the freeway like dipshits blocking buses full of immigrant children.

So tonight I thought it would be interesting to just throw the question of "What is American Culture?" on the table, and let everyone give their own opinion as a sort of Rorschach test. Jump below the fold for discussion.

Over the weekend, Americans celebrated the 4th of July. For a lot of people, it was nothing more than an excuse to barbecue and get shitfaced. However, it can also be a time to reflect on what it means to be an American. Dinesh D'Souza decided to add his commentary with the release of the film America last week, which posits that the United States and its culture proceed from a fundamentally Christian ethos and is responsible for every good thing that's happened in the world over the past two hundred years. In his own way, D'Souza is just as blind as Alex Jones and the tinfoil hat crowd that put out documentaries of lies that see every aspect of American culture with suspicion, and as an inherently malignant entity responsible for every bad thing that's happened over the past two hundred years. The truth is that American culture is responsible for some great things, and some not-so great things.

From David Ehrlich at the A.V. Club:

D’Souza’s film is cut off at the knees because he fundamentally fails to understand that being an American isn’t about bowing to the ideas upon which this country was founded. It’s about protecting them, nurturing them, and applying them to the modern world, even (or especially) when it’s inconvenient to do so.
Given the superpower position of the United States during the 20th century and the start of the 21st, as well as the popularity of American movies, music, TV shows, consumer products, etc. during that time, things like Mickey Mouse, McDonald's and Coca-Cola became global symbols of Americana and spread with other American trends, memes and tropes throughout the world. Remember all of those stereotypes and plot structures related to race, gender and genre that I've mentioned in past diaries? Well, they also spread around the world too.

When I was a kid, my knowledge of Australia was limited. All I knew was that it began as a prison colony, and Crocodile Dundee and Mad Max live there. So my view of Australians was probably a bit skewed. (Aren't all Australians criminals that drink Foster's and carry around big knives in a desert wasteland?) And that opens up the question of whether perceptions of the United States are skewed by foreign consumption of our pop culture?

Ever notice if there are any consistent traits to how Americans are depicted in a foreign films and television shows? Because don't we all either talk like we're from Texas or act like cowboys?

From Newsweek: America Should Export More than Pop Culture
"People who watch U.S. television shows, attend Hollywood movies and listen to pop music can't help but believe that we are a nation in which we have sex with strangers regularly, where we wander the streets well armed and prepared to shoot our neighbors at any provocation, and where the lifestyle to which we aspire is one of rich, cocaine-snorting, decadent sybarites," writes Jerrold Keilson, the author of a State Department study of international visitors.
It's always interesting to see how these things are assimilated. And sometimes the most perceptions about culture can are made by outsiders and how those outsiders use elements from that culture. Korean K-pop and Japanese J-pop are heavily influenced by American pop music. And the exchange of ideas and music can come full circle too (e.g. "Oppa Gangnam Style").

brooklynbadboy had a diary about the spread of American hip hop culture throughout the world. He made the point that "hip hop has even touched the hearts of youth in corners of the world where America the military power is hated." But it goes beyond music and hip hop.

Just last week, Iran's Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) was caught ripping off ABC's Modern Family. The Iranian show, Haft Sang, mirrors Modern Family almost frame by frame. The only difference is that the gay couple of Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) have been replaced by a straight couple.

From Aisha Harris at Slate:
Phil and Claire are now Mohsen and Leila; children Luke and Alex are Shaahin and Shadi. (Haghighi notes that the latter actually resembles the actress who plays Alex, save for the addition of a head scarf.) Haley is now a teenaged boy named Amir. Nasir and Mehri take the place of Jay and Gloria, and Hamed is their son in place of Manny. Mitchell and Cam are now Behrooz and Elham, a husband and wife who are unable to have children due to Behrooz’s infertility. (This explains why the couple has adopted a child in the first episode, as Cam and Mitchell do on Modern Family.) Haley's dim-witted boyfriend Dylan is Anoush, a close friend of Amir's.

Alcoholic drinks cannot be depicted on these shows, nor can boy-girl friendships, “even for children of school age.” All women above the age of nine must wear a hijab on screen. “No man would ever touch a lady even if he plays her dad or brother or husband,” Haghighi tells me. “No matter what!”

Having a satellite TV signal receiver is illegal, though Haghighi [a professional video editor in Iran] says that many Iranians use them anyway. Plus, “downloading and watching American series with or without Farsi (Persian) subtitles is widely common in Iran,” he says. “So it won’t be more than a couple of hours after a show is broadcasted in the U.S. that people start downloading and sharing the show with each other back here in Iran.” Some of the biggest American imports in Iran, according to Haghighi, include Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Office, and, of course, Modern Family.

Of course, not everyone has been happy about all this. Europeans and others from time to time have bristled at American imports, seeing them as if they were Borg cubes coming in to assimilate the entire population. Critics argue the purity of their "cultural identity" is threatened, and accuse the United States of "cultural imperialism."

For example, some Brits have complained about the influence of American English. Unlike French, which has a body (L'Academie Francaise) that rules on whether specific words make the cut of officially being part of the French language, English is like Wikipedia. It takes contributions from anyone. But some people don't like this. Apparently it's very demeaning to the English language to use the word "lengthy." Why? I don't know. John Adams and Benjamin Franklin thought it was a cool new word to use back in the 18th century, but some dude over at the BBC saw it as part of the loss of British English's "integrity." However, the very concept of "purity," an idea that's historically been fraught with problems when used in the context of race, ethnicity and nationality, is spurious at best and intolerant at worst.

From Will Self at BBC News:

Ambivalence shapes our response to almost everything that comes across the pond. This ambivalence would be just comprehensible were it to follow some sort of regular pattern, with the cultural repulsion of British conservatives neatly offset by their political attraction and the British left responding contrarily by loving to rock 'n' roll, while decrying the depredations of what is now the sole global superpower.

But in fact the British conception of America remains hopelessly confused. Love and hate are intimately co-mingled, and there is no single cultural artefact or presidential utterance that doesn't set off a dissonant chain reaction in the heart and mind of the average Briton, whatever his or her political standpoint.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Protest Music.

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Comment Preferences

  •  E Pluribus Unum (38+ / 0-)
    Richard Pells argues that as a nation of immigrants from the 19th to the 21st century, the United States has been a recipient as much as an exporter of global culture. Indeed, the influence of immigrants on the United States explains why its culture has been so popular for so long in so many places. American culture has spread throughout the world because it has incorporated foreign styles and ideas. What Americans have done more successfully and creatively than their competitors overseas, is in repackaging the cultural products we received from abroad and then retransmiting them to the rest of the world. That is why a global mass culture has come to be identified, however simplistically, with the United States. This argument suggests that the United States was the first sight for cultural imperialism and is just "repackaging" all that was promoted or "artificially injected" here, and is distributing it out to other countries.

    In the end, Pells argues, American mass culture has not transformed the world into a replica of the United States, instead, America's dependence on foreign cultures has made the United States a replica of the world.

  •  American culture is a strip mall, a liquor store (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoasis, Shockwave, Galtisalie, Stripe

    and a topless club, filled with overweight white men claiming to be Christians.

    •  You need to visit the club I've been to a few (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dartagnan, Shockwave, Galtisalie

      times...plenty of black men in there too!

    •  You could say this about Chinese culture too. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shockwave, TexasTom, BriarRose

      Except the men would not be white and they would not be claiming to be Christians.
      They would be asian and claiming to be good family men of any religion.
      Damn - what a stupid post.
      You could say this about almost any culture.
      Get. A. Friggin'. Clue.

      •  Sorry you don't like my post. (0+ / 0-)

        Maybe you can point me out some American cultural wonders.

        •  Damn - this is TOO easy (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Susan from 29, 1toughlady

          Falling Waters - by Frank Lloyd Wright
          American Tune - by Paul Simon
          Barrack Hussein Obama
          Martin Luther King
          Dave Bruebeck
          Jim Morrison
          Harvey Milk
          THIS WEBSITE

          GET. A. FUCKING. CLUE.

          •  You do know that the history of Jazz and Rock is (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Susan from 29

            basically the history of the country?

            A lot of stuff coming together to make something uniquely American

            "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

            by zenbassoon on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 09:26:45 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  yup - I love how music is SO intertwined (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Susan from 29, 1toughlady

              I was reading excerpts from Rick James autobiography today. Yeah - THAT Rick James (Super Freak)
              He was great friends with Joni Mitchell, Neil Young (yes, they are Canadian) and Stephan Stills and so on.

              Rick James was crashing on Stephen Stills’ couch sometime in the late ’60s when he “awoke to see a young dude sitting on the floor in the lotus position, stoned as a motherf–ker,” with “blood dripping from his wrist. He seemed hypnotized by the flow of his own blood, saying things like, ‘Isn’t the blood beautiful? Isn’t that the deepest red you’ve ever seen?’”
              James, fearing the mystery man would bleed to death, woke Stills, who responded, “Oh, f–k. He’s doing it again.”
              Stills “gathered up bandages and gauze and took care of the guy, who remained passive throughout the ordeal. When he was through,” James recalled, “he said to me, ‘Ricky, meet Jim Morrison.’”
              Ya know - Rick James crashing on Stephan Stills couch and being freaked out by Jim Morrison.
              THAT"S American culture.
        •  To continue the list: (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Capt Crunch

          Aretha Franklin
          Sam Cooke
          Marvin Gaye
          Ruth Brown
          Mary Lou Williams
          Fred Ho
          Anthony Braxton
          Sun Ra (well, technically, not from here...)
          Allen Toussaint
          Louis Armstrong
          Miles Davis
          Juan Atkins
          Derrick May
          Grandmaster Flash
          Bikini Kill
          Lydia Lunch
          Laurie Anderson
          Aaron Copland
          Charles Ives
          George Carlin
          Dave Chappelle
          Martin Scorcese

          ...too easy, indeed.

          Of course, you probably meant the initial post as an exaggeration. But it's really easy to get sucked into kind of pessimism about American culture, when the vast majority of the good things fly beneath the radar of corporate media coverage.

          Nothing requires a greater effort of thought than arguments to justify the rule of non-thought. -- Milan Kundera

          by Dale on Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 08:16:22 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Agree! (0+ / 0-)

        Human nature has no national identity.  What is French culture?  What is African culture?

    •  You're wrong (8+ / 0-)

      Yes, that's a part of American culture, but only a small part.

      American culture is also Broadway, Star Trek, I Love Lucy, the Star Wars movies, Godfather, but its also wrestling and Gilligan's Island.  American culture is celebrating the Stonewall riots during Gay Pride month, but it's also scared white people running around in white sheets and pointy hoods.  American culture is Robert Heinlein and Stephen King.  It's Elvis Presley, and the B-52s, as well as the Starland Vocal Band.  It's the Peanuts...but it's also Curtis.

      The list is virtually endless...and it ranges from impressive (MASH and Mary Tyler Moore) to the godawful dreadful (Here Comes Honey Boo Boo).  Sometimes it is both ubiquitous and bland ("Just sit right back and you'll hear a tail, a tail of a fateful trip...").

      But to dismiss our culture as just being topless clubs and overweight white Christians is, well, asinine and simple minded.

      If Democrats proclaim the the Earth is round and Republicans insist it is flat, we will shortly see a column in the Washington Post claiming the the earth is really a semi-circle.

      by TexasTom on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:51:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Funny, the British don't mind mangling the (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Elizaveta, Shockwave, Aunt Pat, jds1978

    French words in their vocabulary.

    It is a shame that the American culture seems to consist of little more than what people in other lands see on their televisions and movie screens. So they miss our unique music, like jazz, and our literature. They miss out on our art, and yes, we have some, including that which is spray painted on freeway overpasses.

    That said, I am not sure it would change the impression that we create in the rest of the world anyway.

    Oh oh, I hope THAT doesn't end up in someone's sig line! :) - kos

    by Susan Grigsby on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:10:21 PM PDT

  •  Sounds bad, but when I think of (7+ / 0-)

    "American Culture," I think of a bunch of rednecks drinking pisswater beer while complaining about minorities and their "bitchy" wives.

    Or maybe one of Hollywood's summer blockbuster turds by Jerry Bruckheimer - now that is American!

    Cuisine?  American cuisine is marked by size, like contests for who can make the biggest piece of cheese.  Nevermind how it tastes, it's really BIG!  New and improved, EVEN BIGGER!  Supersized!

    Once in a while something special catches fire in American culture, but it's soon smothered by corporations in the name of making a buck.  Maybe that's the soul of American culture:  making a quick buck.  

    "When I was an alien, cultures weren't opinions" ~ Kurt Cobain, Territorial Pissings

    by Subterranean on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:14:47 PM PDT

  •  The strength of our culture is the ability (10+ / 0-)

    to reinvent oneself, to start anew, to redefine ourselves.  We can move to a new town, start a new career or a new business, change our name, pick another religion…. and so on.  The strength of the English language is that it reflects all of this.  It willingly contorts words and re-invents them and welcomes technical jargon or foreign words as if they were old friends. It is always on the move, always re-inventing itself.  

    It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

    by Radiowalla on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:20:30 PM PDT

    •  I think "reinvention" is a bit of American myth (0+ / 0-)

      I don't necessarily believe the barriers to "reinventing" oneself in plenty of other western countries are so insurmountable to render that a real cultural accomplishment.

      If we were as much of classless society as we pretend we are  I'd probably feel differently.

  •  The problem is that (0+ / 0-)

    culture use to define politics, now a days, politics defines culture.

    •  No, culture still defines politics. (0+ / 0-)

      There's just more fluidity about adopting a culture you weren't born into.

      "The great lie of democracy, its essential paradox, is that democracy is the first to be sacrificed when its security is at risk. Every state is totalitarian at heart; there are no ends to the cruelty it will go to to protect itself." -- Ian McDonald

      by Geenius at Wrok on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:59:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  American cultures, please (14+ / 0-)

    I've taught the cultural history of the United States, and I find it impossible to do without distinguishing between a dominant culture and several subordinate cultures with a very permeable membrane separating them. In essence, British culture pretty much into the nineteenth century, with a lot of handwringing when the immigrants arrived from Southern and Eastern Europe at the end of that century. Now, it's complicated. Benjamin Barber at Duke called it McWorld and I think I'm staying with that.

    All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:21:30 PM PDT

    •  American culture (8+ / 0-)

      I so often see "American Culture" used as a club to beat other Americans with; it's often used proscriptively to tell people how they ought to live rather than describing how they actually do live. We see pundits shaking their fists at "San Fransisco Values" and "New England Liberals" and calling them unamerican.

      I live in Minneapolis. The culture of Minneapolis is different from that of the rest of the state and the culture of Minnesota is different than that of the other states. But it is no less American. I have no apologies for not having Tea Party culture.

      The wolfpack eats venison. The lone wolf eats mice.

      by A Citizen on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:40:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Had it not been for the French and Spanish (15+ / 0-)

    governors of New Orleans permitting slaves in the city to retain their native instruments and gather every Sunday at Congo Square to trade riffs and rhythms, American culture would be pretty much English culture and, with the Puritans and other Protestants in charge in the other colonies/states, about the damned dullest of English culture at that.

    Some nice I/IV/V melodic ideas from the Celts up the hills in the Carolinas, but without them polyrhythms (and even the banjo), that would've been about as exotic as we got.


    Add the frenetic experimentation of the piano professors of Storyville, the endless improvisation of the parade bands downtown, the arrangers of the society orchestras uptown and something else happened.

    Meanwhile, those rhythms wandered up river and met those Scots Irish I/IV/V ballads and something else happened.

    And, as hard as the arbiters of "culture" tried, they just couldn't keep those something elses down the bottoms where they came from. Good boys and girls fell in love with those rhythms, too.

    So much so that a sharp white feller from Alabama, making a small living recording black artists, often would remark, "If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars."

    And, while he himself never made quite that much, he sure proved the point.

    Oh, there's a lot of variatin' and bifurcatin', but that's the story, pretty much.

    I live under the bridge to the 21st Century.

    by Crashing Vor on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:22:36 PM PDT

  •  Whatever else it was, it's now two things for sure (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoasis, Galtisalie, Alhambra

    Everybody's pissed off.
    We're all heavily armed.

  •  You do realize this is a trick question. (20+ / 0-)

    I have a Ph.D. in American Culture (no, really), and for several years I taught an introductory course entitled "What Is an American?" I considered it to be a success (in part) if by the end of the semester my students were thinking about the question in a far more complicated and informed way than they had when they started.

    Endlessly fascinating topic. My own partial answer is that it is protean, if not by design than certainly by result. The more one tries to pin one aspect down as definitive, the more contrary pieces of evidence emerge.

    I did, by the way, strive to disabuse my students of the notion of American Exceptionalism. I consider it pernicious to the well-being of the country and the culture(s).

    Thanks for putting it out there with the pop culture slant.

    Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

    by peregrine kate on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:27:20 PM PDT

  •  Liberté, égalité, fraternité! Oops, that's (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoasis, Shockwave, Galtisalie, Alhambra

    somewhere else. We're the home of freedom fries and plutocrats.

    The frog jumped/ into the old pond/ plop! (Basho)

    by Wolf10 on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:28:02 PM PDT

  •  according to my conversations with people in (6+ / 0-)

    Costa Rica, England, Norway and South Africa, "American Culture" seems to consist of:

    1. guns
    2. beer
    3. gas-guzzling trucks
    4. brainless nationalism

    In the end, reality always wins.

    by Lenny Flank on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:29:40 PM PDT

  •  When I watch movies from the '30s and '40s, (7+ / 0-)

    Depression Era flicks, I imagine people in the rest of the world thought all Americans dressed in suits during the day and tuxes and evening gowns at every club they go to later.

    Arizona meet-up, July 27 in Phoenix. Meet Navajo! Send me Kosmail.

    by Mother Mags on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:30:48 PM PDT

  •  I love visiting my local dry cleaning store (7+ / 0-)

    and hearing the story of this family who came from India to better themselves. They proudly show pics of their two children. The son is proudly wearing his Army uniform. His father beams with pride when I asked about his children.

    I have traveled overseas to Africa a few times for humanitarian work. What I learned from the people I met is that they love the generous American people, but do not care for the government. Regarding culture...I stayed with a family in a small Moroccan village a few days a few years back. Their houses were made from what it looked like clay/mud, but I'll be if they didn't have old VHS copies of various movies from America. The one movie I saw them playing one day was Rambo. I couldn't believe it. Anyway, they were some of the nicest people I have ever met.  

    I love the multi-culturalism of this nation and, and like the author states, one shouldn't be mad at Coke for the multi-language commercial.

    Sorry if I got off-topic, but the article got me thinking of my interaction with the different cultures I have had the opportunity to be a part of. :)

  •  the effect of 1200 coordinated radio stations (4+ / 0-)

    many of them the loudest in their states

    coordinated and fed by think tanks trying to intercept distract and distort real expressions of popular democracy

    and they have been doing it very effectively

    This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

    by certainot on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:33:49 PM PDT

    •  interrupted, so (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Larsstephens, Alhambra

      i have to say i grew up overseas, when blond haired kids were safe in the poorest places on earth, because america didn't have that evil smell yet - we americans were doing shitty things with the good things, but the bush/reagan coup really sucked things down, and their talk radio monopoly cover it up and helped them get away, and now continues excite the murrietas in the quest to destroy this democracy

      and they might because the left still has no organized response to their best weapon

      This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

      by certainot on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:43:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  the number of occasions 'popular' sentiment (0+ / 0-)

      over the last 20 years appeared to me to be directly related to those radio stations being used to create and stimulate that 'popularity' is significant

      This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

      by certainot on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 08:06:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Huffing, the patriotic young consumer's choice. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It allows the U.S. to declare peace with honor in the Drug War and hopeless youth to completely avoid the illicit drug economy. It even allows meth labs to be avoided and Sam's Club to keep its cold remedy stock on the shelves. It takes our brains and our guts and treats us with all the value that the marketplace places on our brains and our guts, which is to say nothing. We can know that we are loved as we place the plastic bags to our faces. It makes the homeland safe.

    garden variety democratic socialist: accepting life's complexity|striving for global stewardship of our soil and other resources to meet everyone's basic needs|being a friend to the weak

    by Galtisalie on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:35:19 PM PDT

  •  "The pure products of America go crazy," (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    peregrine kate, certainot

    wrote the late American poet William Carlos Williams.

    If you're American, and lack a hyphenated identity, e.g., "Chinese-American," you don't have much going for you, observed Williams. Worse than your being bland, there's nothing about your identity to sustain you, to invigorate your character or make it hardy. For that reason, you're subject to disease.

    Supple and turbulent, a ring of men/ Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn...

    by karmsy on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:39:24 PM PDT

  •  Living in Los Angeles I get both metaphors (7+ / 0-)

    The melting pot and the salad bowl.  Then again, some of the rural parts are neither.  As America becomes more urban the metaphors will gain.  

    The other metaphor that was and may still be applicable but is IMO fading is the quartz crystal.  Mike Davis' City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles foresaw the Los Angeles riots.  He described a city where the different communities lived on the same base but, like quartz crystals, were entirely separate.  I have seen Los Angeles evolve since then.

    The more rural parts and some suburbs are more stuck in the past and look at urban America increasingly as a different country.  The political polarization if you look at America by counties that go red and blue is stunning. I bet you that D'Souza's fans come from red and more rural counties.

    In urban areas you learn to coexist and work together and creativity and art flourish.

    Of course there are exceptions.

    One aspect of American culture that is unique is it's music.  I consider New Orleans the world capital of music.  Everything from blues to jazz and from rock to tango emerged from there.  To understan why I recommend reading The Worlds That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square.  Hint, it has to do with a different slavery law than the rest of America.

    The only country where music plays such an integral part of the culture is Brazil.

    And finally, I believe that what is unique about America is its instinctive pragmatism.  Actually "pragmatism" was proposed by the only American philosopher that has stood the test of time, William James.  De Tocqueville hinted at it;

    At that time Americans had not yet developed a distinct and formal philosophy of their own (such as Pragmatism, the theory that emerged toward the end of the 19th century as a peculiarly American philosophy), but in practice, according to de Tocqueville, they all employed the same “method” in their deliberations and conduct:

    I think that in no other country in the civilized world is less attention paid to philosophy than in the United States. The Americans have no philosophical school of their own; and they care but little for all the schools into which Europe is divided, the very names of which are scarcely known to them.

    Nevertheless it is easy to perceive that almost all the inhabitants of the United States conduct their understanding in the same manner, and govern it by the same rules, that is to say, that without ever taking the trouble to define the rules of a philosophical method, they are in possession of one, common to the whole people.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:41:02 PM PDT

    •  Nice answer, Shockwave. (4+ / 0-)

      I find it's often helpful for native-born U.S.ians to hear with non-native-born U.S.ians take away from the whole debate. And I agree with you about James and pragmatism. That is indeed a characteristic approach to life and thought.

      Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

      by peregrine kate on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:47:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  nice- (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shockwave, Nautical Knots
      I think that in no other country in the civilized world is less attention paid to philosophy than in the United States.

      still instinctive as a new country, as opposed to the old country where all inevitably (with the intelligencia separated and cultivated) was to be interpreted and analyzed.

      and in the same sense, some aussie wrote in an editorial letter re the bush admin- something like "bloody fantastic that we got the convicts and they got the puritans"

      now a BIG part of the analysis is done on radio.

      i wish the pollsters would get their ass in gear on this:

      The more rural parts and some suburbs are more stuck in the past and look at urban America increasingly as a different country.
      and figure it just might have something to do with the radio

      This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

      by certainot on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 08:31:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  we do export more than pop culture (4+ / 0-)

    we export war.

    i really came to appreciate the power of american pop culture when i spent the bulk of 2004 and 2005 in europe- the nadir of the bush era. and everywhere, kids were wearing hats and tee-shirts of american sports teams, even of teams and schools that don't exist, but had the names of american cities. and of course, popular music and movies and television. everywhere.

    american culture is marketing.

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:48:12 PM PDT

  •  Americans are not producing much new art (0+ / 0-)

    I have heard critics say that all the new innovative music and art and literature is coming from other countries in this century.  Movies used to be the number one US art form but  the quality of  films has fallen here while the industry has taken off in India and the Middle east.  
    Maybe the best days of the USA  are behind us now...

  •  My thoughts on this (3+ / 0-)

    I have been teaching ESL for over 32 years.  My spouse for those 32 years is not American, but German.  I think about what it means to be American all the time.  As someone who grew up in Peoria, Illinois, I feel myself profoundly American.

    I have had the good fortune of living over 2 years in France and about 8 months in Germany.  I can speak and read both well enough so that French and Germans switch to English.

    Of course, what is uniquely American in our culture come from people of color.  Du Bois in the Soul of Black Folks is very good on that.  And, if one group appreciates those words in the Declaration of Independence, as he notes, it is people of color.

    However, it is interesting to read how political debates go in the US as opposed to France or Germany.  

    The self-evident truth that we all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness leads what is both good and bad about American culture.  

    The good is that we feel as individuals we can remake ourselves and do better.  (My own example is at the age of 40 after spending 6 years driving a taxi in Chicago I became a college professor.). That is very hard to achieve in most parts of the world (and is becoming harder here).  

    The bad is that the sense of individualism means appeals to what is best for the community gets trumped by one's individual right.  Consider how the debate about cigarettes went.  MY right to not smell your smoke trumps YOUR right to smoke wherever you want.  That it is good for the entire community to have fewer people smoking was not an important part of the argument.

    Look at the attraction for guns.  One has the right to defend oneself at all time in all places.  Your right to see guns as a threat is not important.  Nor, the argument that arming everyone makes the entire community unsafe just doesn't convince enough people yet.

    Consider the funding of higher education.  If it benefits the one getting an education, then that person must pay for it.  (Thank you, Ronald Reagan.). The argument that our communities are better when the population is educated loses out to the notion that education benefits only the individual.

    The need to value community and make community an important value in decisions about public policy is seen by the Right as un-American.  And, they are in some ways right.

    [Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security] do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.

    by MoDem on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:53:27 PM PDT

  •  American Culture is an oxymoron. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Or maybe it's Sarah Palin that's the Oxy Moron.

    But seriously folks, so called American culture (e.g., jazz, our gift to the universe) is at this point just one more thing that the 1% will exploit - and remake and repackage and bastardize to get the best profits for them and theirs.

    In other words, American culture is whatever can be profitably packaged and sold as American culture.

  •  There is not one "American culture" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    peregrine kate, Nautical Knots

    There are American cultures, many of them. They overlap in some ways. They're distinct in many ways. Some are geographic (Deep South, Borderlander, Left Coast, New England, Midland, Far West), some are ethnic (African American, Jewish, Pennsylvania Dutch), some are both (Norteño, Hawai'ian), and some are neither (military, hipster, bobo). But there's not much that's common to all of them, except for our shared civic traditions—and even those are apt to vary in their interpretation.

    "The great lie of democracy, its essential paradox, is that democracy is the first to be sacrificed when its security is at risk. Every state is totalitarian at heart; there are no ends to the cruelty it will go to to protect itself." -- Ian McDonald

    by Geenius at Wrok on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:57:51 PM PDT

  •  In a nutshell (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    What is American culture?  That's easy:

    Fuck thy neighbour: survival of the fittest

  •  Here's a part of American Culture - THIS WEBSITE (0+ / 0-)

    Fuck - I'm soooo tired of the "America is shit" that I see so often on the left.
    You wanna know why American culture is all over the world? Because people love it.
    It might pain you to hear it - but it's the truth.
    And no, you can't force it on people because of distribution.
    People all over the world LOVE American culture.
    I love it too. And I'm proud f it. You should be too.
    Everything from Britney Spears to Dave Brubeck.
    Everything from Elvis to Little Richard to Aaron Copland.
    Everything from J-Lo to Keith Jarrett.
    You'll see that in other cultures too.
    The high and low cultures side by side - sometimes in the same person.
    I can tell you some things non-Americans like about our culture:
    Point A to Point B in a laser-like straight line.
    Instant, decisive action.
    Sexiness that is at once Puritanical and "in your face".
    And the things that scare non-Americans?
    All of the above.

  •  Culture (8+ / 0-)

    I happen to be descended from immigrants who arrived sooner than some of the other immigrants.  I didn't have ancestors on the Mayflower, but on boats that came in only a few years later, and as luck would have it they were lily-white English people, too.  So presumably my family ought to know a thing or two about American Culture.

    I was born before microprocessors, the internet, or cell phones.

    My parents were born before antibiotics, nuclear energy, jet engines, talking pictures, television, or satellites.

    My grandparents were born before airplanes, radio, moving pictures, or washing machines.

    My great grandparents were born before automobiles, phonograph records, light bulbs, telephones, or the germ theory of disease.

    When I was born, Japanese immigrants weren't allowed to become naturalized American citizens. When I was born, it was still legal to use deed covenants to prevent black people from living in white neighborhoods. The Supreme Court legalized mixed-race marriage while I was in the womb. They hadn't yet gotten around to legalizing birth control.

    I hear nativist yahoos going on about how they want to keep American culture pristine, and I don't know what the fuck they're talking about.  Culture is a thing that takes itself apart and puts itself back together in a different shape every couple of decades.  Whatever they're talking about was several cultures ago, if it even existed in the first place (and it probably didn't).

    Protecting a culture from change is like protecting the ocean from waves.

    We Democrats are deciduous. We fade, lose heart, become torpid, languish, then the sap rises again, and we are passionate. -- Garrison Keillor

    by Evan on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 08:27:30 PM PDT

  •  My impression (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    peregrine kate, Hiranyagarbha

    of current American culture is often mystifying. I am both from and apart from this country, having been born and raised in America, but living for the past 25 years outside of America, in cultures that function very differently. As a result I have become more admittedly critical. Even though I know it is an infinitely multifaceted culture, it often looks to me from the outside like a society that is fraught with the alienation that polarity and contradiction brings.

    'A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under whose shade they will never sit' Greek Proverb

    by janis b on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 08:37:37 PM PDT

  •  civilizations in decline, again, as usual (0+ / 0-)

    when we became civilized and needed to delay the age of reproduction the authoritarian power systems were born- always prohibiting sex education.

    democracy is one of the few things that could derail the inevitable slide but we are losing that to the rw media monopolies, which, if you notice, sell their lies with certitude.

    alien sex ed for humans:

    This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

    by certainot on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 08:40:12 PM PDT

  •  $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ (0+ / 0-)

    May you always find water and shade.

    by Whimsical Rapscallion on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 08:53:59 PM PDT

  •  Rec'd for the most apropos term "dipshit." nt (0+ / 0-)
  •  Jeremy Bentham did more to mangle English than (0+ / 0-)

    238 years of the Ugly American ever could.

    Although the teabaggers to come close...

    "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 09:24:45 PM PDT

  •  American culture continually evolves. (0+ / 0-)

    For some reason, that fact drives conservatives nuts.

  •  A historian had this to say in a documentary: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Matt Z, jds1978

    "In years to come, this culture will be known for three things: The Constitution, Jazz Music, and Baseball. They're the three most perfect things this culture has developed"

    "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 09:30:49 PM PDT

  •  American TV and movies may have permeated huts ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nautical Knots

    American TV and movies may have permeated huts and castles across the globe, but not gotten into the head of everyone here. My husband grew up in a northern state with the Mississippi right outside his front window. He went to college and graduate school in the Midwest. He's worked with many people daily for 40 years, always lived in a home with a TV, but he wouldn't get any of the references to TV shows in many of the above comments. I was glad to see that later comments acknowledged so many other aspects of our culture. Many of us read, sing, play music, not just listen, and VOLUNTEER in our communities. Supposedly that is an American trait. And supposedly more common among those with less wealth.

  •  I prefer the images that Firesign Theater drew (0+ / 0-)

    @SONG: I was American!
    I was American!
    I was American!
    And I'll American!
    In America,with Armenians!

    @SONG: A little song I learned upstream in prison one day
       This land is made of mountains,
       This land is made of mud,
       This land has lots of everything
          For me and Elmer Fudd.
       This land has lots of trouser,
       This land has lots of mausers,
       And pussy cats to eat them
           when the sun goes down!

    @SONG: What makes America Great?
    It's candied apples and ponies with dapples
       you can ride all day!
    It's girls with pimples
    And cripples with dimples
       that just wont go away !
    Its spics and wops and niggers and kikes
       with noses as long as your arm!
    Its micks and chinks and gooks and geeks
       and honkies
       (Honk! Honk!)
       who never left the farm !

    All of that and maybe more.

    Or less.

    "There are many truths of which the full meaning cannot be realized until personal experience has brought it home." John Stuart Mill

    by kuvasz on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 09:42:59 PM PDT

  •  I know it is late, but I simply couldn't resist (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nerafinator, shaso

    this youtube video of Swedish Marines performing Greased Lightning. In Afghanistan.

    Oh oh, I hope THAT doesn't end up in someone's sig line! :) - kos

    by Susan Grigsby on Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 10:45:34 PM PDT

  •  consumerism, exceptionalism, willful ignorance, (0+ / 0-)

    selfishness, and short attention span

  •  American Culture... (0+ / 0-)

    is whatever you want it to be.
    It is all-embracing, cannot be pigeon-holed.
    It is fluid, cannot be pinned down.
    I am always amused by many European's love/hate relationship with America.
    I chalk it up to the idea of "familiarity breeds contempt".

  •  Jazz, Blues & Baseball (0+ / 0-)
    What is American culture?

    This space for rent -- Cheap!

    by jds1978 on Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 05:22:45 AM PDT

  •  The Borg (0+ / 0-)

    Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility. uid 52583 lol

    by terrypinder on Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 07:52:05 AM PDT

    •  and I don't mean this negatively (0+ / 0-)

      but the Borg (originally, before Voyager ruined them) were magpies.

      Americans are magpies. Assimilation into a big amorphous conglomeration is American culture. In 75 years, maybe less, I half expect American English to sound like the current Miami accent, which is waaay different now than the one I grew up hearing just 25 years ago.

      Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility. uid 52583 lol

      by terrypinder on Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 10:14:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The best summary (0+ / 0-)

    of what defines an American I heard from an Irishman in Dublin in 1998:

    "A person is Irish, or Turkish, or Brazilian by virtue of ethnicity, but a person is American by virtue of the Constitution."

    Self-governance, the rule of law, the right (and responsibility) to vote; this American experiment forms our cultural milieu in the broadest sense. Within this cultural milieu of self-determination, our nation of multi-ethnic citizens and communities flourishes, or not.  

  •  I don't necessarily know....... (0+ / 0-)

    To be honest, we have culture, but it exists in an island. After the Reagan and Thatcher and Friedman revolution, people felt justified living an atomized existence. Most true culture therefore largely exists through the nexus of the workplace and religion, which is far from being homogeneous. "We are a family nation," said Friedman, which is why we have many family businesses and love practicing nepotism in the workplace. Therefore, capitalism is actually better thought of as shrines and temples to individuals and families, rather than some other kind of thing.
    If you want to count what we do, without explaining how we interact, sometimes there is no true signs of American social life beyond close-knit friends and family. We drive too much, consume and work for happiness and meaning, and try to live out frustrations occasionally through haphazard activities that have little meaning. Thus, most true culture is packaged into a product and sold to us, without us ever really being such and the world is told what we are through this as well. This is my personal view where I live, at least.
    Most people who come to America find it to be a desolate and lonely wasteland. Just read some comment blogs out there.
    We are, however, a very proud and independent people, by and large, and we show it by our riches and self-effacement. Giving money is preferred many times to actually helping people, and we feel justified by it.
    People are defined by owning, so I guess to be an American, you also own your own tv and you hopefully own your own house. Definitely American to own your own house.
    Beyond that, America is a giant clusterf*ck because of capitalism and neo-liberalism.
    I don't mean to be negative, because I love the American invention, Jazz, and I play it, but even that can't necessarily be bundled into a culture. Culture is what habits we have and how we interact. And that's why I feel that other countries actually have true culture compared to us, mainly because of the lack of a true public sphere.
    Whatever kinds of habits people develop on their own, (and it's often on their own), it's often a reflection of a cultural emptiness and lack of belonging, which is our culture - the absence of culture is also culture.

    Strange country.

    •  so...... (0+ / 0-)

      So......I guess, overall, you could say that our nation is a measurement of our spending habits.

      •  ........ (0+ / 0-)

        Lastly, to drive it home, our public sphere is the market, so our culture is largely displayed on any given day on the electronic boards and computer displays of Wall Street. Our 'society' is an illusion of consumption statistics.

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