This week UEA students have been asked to reflect on the last five weeks of the course and think about how they now understand American culture. The first section is made up of contributions made/written down in class, whilst the second section is made up of student comments on their individual project pages…
What is American Culture?
“American culture is pervasive. It is everywhere, both within the confines of the United States and throughout the world. American culture is multiple. It is produced in different locations (i.e. form State to State) and it is altered/transformed by ideas of race, class, gender and social background of individuals. The broad nature of American culture, it’s very diversity, challenges distinctions between “high” and “low” culture (F. R. Leavis) and forces us to understand American culture in a number of different ways – for example if we look at the ideas of Raymond Williams we can see that that culture grows naturally and is all around us. In fact, it is perhaps this versatility of American culture that makes it so powerful. We can access different kinds of American culture overseas, it affects our lives in a number of different ways (as cultural consumers), and it is hard to escape. From looking at the blog entries made by the TU students it is interesting to see that these posts often focus on people, whilst the UEA students seem to focus on things, in particular consumer goods. We feel that this may reflect the processes of capitalism, globalization and the commodification of culture that bring us into contact with America in our daily lives.“
Individual Student Comments:
Fintan May: My view of American culture is that, despite consisting of lots of different cultures, there are some shared aspects that makes it possible to be ‘American’ and allows people to claim an American identity. This may even just be that all the cultures are American; just by being American the different cultures can be accepted as one, unlike in Europe for instance in which each nation has its own culture and there is no one ‘European culture’. American culture is everywhere, not just in America – the ‘Americanisation’ of the world means that iconic features of American culture can be seen basically anywhere in the world, from Britain to India. I view American culture as pervasive but also relatable because we share so much of their values such as consumerism and celebrity culture (amongst other things).
Hannah Tweedie: My understanding of American culture so far is that is vast and ever changing depending on race, class, background and location and therefore hard to define. It is clear that heritage and history is an important role in American culture, which is represented by the icons of the Statue of Liberty and Route 66, and that these icons and history have different meaning for different people. I think that it is important to note that our perceptions of American culture are heavily influenced by globalization, consumerism and capitalism which means that we access their culture in different ways and surroundings that changes our perceptions and interpretations which affirms Barthes theory of myths.
Lisa MacDonald: Personally, I think American culture constitutes of the American way of life, their values, traditions and to some extent some of their beliefs about certain issues. This is evident, for example in the American Dream which is a classic example about American culture, which focuses on anyone’s ability to achieve want they want through hard work. Another inherent part of their culture is their emphasis on particular values, which I feel is due to their history, pinpointed by their Declaration of Independence, which explains the American emphasis on freedom and liberty. However, I think there are various complexities within the American culture as I feel that it is dependent on place, as the views of people in that area are subjected to their own history, societal norms, values and traditions, This is evident, within the inherent differences between, for example, Native Americans and those living in the Deep South. Also, I think American culture is viewed differently from the UK because by having an outside perspective I think it enables a more objective approach in order to define culture, than in contrast if it was defined by an American as they would be biased from their experiences and cultural beliefs. Also, I think the stark contrasts in culture between the UK and the US is another factor which enables such a blunt comparison to be made, which enables the differences to be seen more clearly.
Stephanie Tierney: there’s a lot of talk about American culture being everywhere and permeating into European culture and affecting our everyday lives. However, is this really the case? It’s sometimes forgotten that the people that are classed as Americans today are the descendants of Europeans. After over 200 years of course they have become their own nationality and are very different to those who came before them. But really, American culture is the development of small, mixed parts of European cultures. They are the children of the ones that disliked European life and wanted something new. It has changed a lot over time and has developed considerably since the days of the War of Independence, but the idea at the core of its culture is the same as that at the core of ours. We share the same origins if not the same land. This may be the reason why we accept American culture into our own far more than we would Indian culture, for example. We and our cultures are perhaps more similar than we normally think.