All across the world, people admire American culture and technology. It’s no wonder why. America, with its ideals of individual sovereignty, democracy, and self-reliance, is the perfect breeding ground for creativity and a flourishing culture.
But if you live in America, it can be hard to tell what exactly constitutes American culture. You’re steeped in the culture itself, so it’s tough to determine what makes the culture unique.
If you’re wondering how to tell if a piece of culture is “American,” you’ve come to the right place. This article will walk you through some of the tenants of our great way of life.
The American culture of today is derived from the American folklore of the days of yore. Unlike Asian and African folktales, which are often worship-based nad religions, unlike European folktales, which are strict and moral, American folktales often have a dynamic, humanist quality. This makes sense since America was born out of opposition to Brittain.
One of the key American folk tales is the story of John Henry.
John Henry was a mythical black steel driver in the mid 19th century when much of our country was being formed. Already, you can see that our folklore isn’t based on fairies, dragons, princesses, or kings — it’s based on the working man.
As the story goes, many of the American workers began to be replaced by the steam drill, a machine that could work harder than any man. John Henry, not to be outdone, challenged the operator of the steam drill to a race to see who could drive the most steel.
John Henry out-performed the steam-drill in the race but refused to rest after winning, soon took sick, and died.
John Henry represents the ability of man to triumph against machines. He also represents America’s devotion to work, brotherhood, and a job well done.
Another of the most important tenets of American culture is national pride. While the country has had ups and downs (the Great Depression and Vietnam War come to mind), America always bounces back.
America is able to bounce back because of the strength of its constitution. The genius of the American constitution is the amendment. The founding fathers understood that perspectives change over time, and so they made it possible for future citizens to change the constitution.
Black people and women did not have many right back in the days the constitution was developed. These are unsightly blights on America’s reputation.
However, it is the triumph of America that these wrongs could be amended without the changing of the government. No one has gone far in the attempts to overthrow the American government. It’s simply a more effective solution to use the American government — which is designed for change — and to vote for what you want.
Americas know that the government is a strong and flexible one. This bleeds over into American culture. Americans are afraid to express their individuality and take risks because they know that if they speak loud enough, change will come.
The national anthem is an important part of American culture. It represents poetry and beauty in the face of bloodshed and destruction. It’s a testament to the American spirit of freedom.
One of the biggest cultural wars in American culture over the past 10 years has been the debate over whether or not people need to stand during the national anthem. The anthem might not matter quite as much to other cultures, but to Americans, it’s a sensitive issue.
For more information about why we stand for the national anthem, click here.
American music is also extremely important to American culture.
When one thinks of “American music,” the mind immediately goes to jazz. Jazz is a complex type of music that traditionally involves playing an old song and adding your own improvised solos — sometimes for long periods of time.
There are American genres of popular music. However, jazz serves as “American classical music.” The best recordings of Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Bill Evans, etc., demonstrate a level of musical depth and complexity only rivaled by classical composers.
Jazz represents the American constitutional idea that we’re making it up as we go along. Though a song might be old school, we can always make it sound contemporary and new by adding our own personal touches.
While all countries have their own individual “folk music,” America established the genre of music we now associate with “folk.” American musical acts such as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan stripped the music back down to the source — you can still hear their influences in American music today.
There’s no doubt that American cinema has vastly influenced the world. Jaws is widely considered the first blockbuster film, followed quickly by Star Wars. After this, a new standard of the film was set — one that focused less on artsy experimentation and more on providing a satisfying experience for the audience.
American cinema still operates on this model. Franchises — such as marvel — have swept the world. You can see these movies in any country you go to.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and American cinema certainly has its imitators. Bollywood is the most notorious example, a mashup of Indian culture styles and American cinematic aesthetics.
There’s no doubt that the American style has taken over the world.
Understand American Culture
If you live in America, it can be hard to tell what exactly is “American” about our American culture. However, understanding what makes us us is key to improving your patriotism.
Understand American folklore and American national pride, and note how it ties into American music and American cinema, and you’re far more likely to understand American culture.