Is Pop Culture American Culture?

So while having dinner with my family, and discussing our usual hog-pog of intellectual crap, the following was discussed. Do we, as Americans, have a culture? My theory is that because we feel that we, as a society, lack the common bond of a culture, we turn to pop culture to substitute. Instead of royalty, we have celebrities. I also think this is why Americans are so into geneology. My great-grandfathers were both Irish immigrants, but does that REALLY make me Irish at all?

My mother’s argument was that when you go to another country, there is a concept of what an American is. Therefore, we DO have a culture, because there are cultural stereotypes. I say those stereotypes are purely socioeconomic.

Even Canadians, whose country is comparable in age, seem to have a pretty strong feeling of what being Canadian is. (excepting of course, the French-Canadians, who think they’re all French immigrants.)

Talk amoungst yourselves. Do Americans have a binding cultural heritage? Do you, yourself, as an American, buy into that heritage?

Well, i’m not sure this is an appropriate answer, but there are some uniquely american forms of High Culture.

Off the top of my head, we’ve got:
Abstract Expressionism
Pop Art

Now, I wouldn’t say that anything there actually makes the average american feel more bonded to other americans, but its a start.

And whats wrong with pop culture being american culture? It serves it purpose of bringing us together, forming a group identity and giving us some common ground. Seems like knowing the Wheres the Beef commercials do that just fine.

Aah, but then you ask about cultural heritage. Well, public schools go to great lengths to give us a sense of cultural heritage, and so does the media to some extent. We’ve got the lionizing of our founding fathers, all the Old West myths, etc. These are celebrated and reinforced enough to [i think] create a cultural heritage.
And sure, I buy into it. Going into, say, Frontierland just somehow feels familiar and American to me. And I probably give our founding fathers more credit and respect than the average non-american.

Candians have a culture??? And what, pray tell, would THAT be?

Canadians have NOTHING that resembles a culture. The only thing that unites them at all is disdain for the United States! But apart from disliking their neighbor to the South, Canadians have nothing that holds them together.

If the truth be known, in the 21st century, hardly any country has anything worth calling “a culture.” Oh, intellectual elites in many countries want to pretend there is, but there isn’t. Like it or not, America’s “junk” culture has become, pretty much, the world’s culture.

DO you really think French teenagers want to watch Racine plays oe experimental Godard films? Hell no, they want to watch “Jurassic Park.” You think English teens want to watch Peter Greenaway films? Get real- they want to see “The Matrix.” You think Russian kids want to listen to Stravinsky? Please! They want to listen to Kid ROck and Limp Bizkit!

Don’t shoot the messenger here- I don’t say American pop culture SHOULD be dominating the world. But it is- and those cultural elites who want to fight it are spitting into the wind.

I say we do have a culture. One that is reshaped each and every day. We are bound together by the trends that run along the country. Trends of Fashion, intellectual ideas, foods (yum!), stories, etc etc. Our culture is based upon whatever is popular. We are a shallow nation indeed, but hey, I like it ^_~

The way the conversation started was that I am taking a media psychology course that scares the hell out of me. My argument was that:

A.) Pop Culture IS American Culture

B.) Media controls pop culture

C.) People are extrodinarily vulnerable to symbolic suggestion.

D.) Therefore, the media, by controlling popular culture, controls AMERICAN culture, which in turn, controls the world.

Because we don’t have a common culture (and culture is defined by Merriam Webster as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group”) media is able to substitute TV and Film as our binding culture, and able to subtly alter our ways of looking at things through advertising and content in that media.

Eh, I don’t know.

I think you need to define your terms. All societies have at least one (dominant) culture. Some, like the USA, have several viable co-cultures. And each person within a society may belong to several sub-cultures.

My dominant culture is American–somewhat based on rule of law, ideas of freedom, free market, scientific method in epistemology, importance of money, a dichotomy between individualism and collectivism, etc.

My co-culture is Midwestern–strong work ethic, indulgence in buffets and such, a reluctance (especially among men) to talk very much about personal issues, etc.

My sub-cultures include–theatre people, night people, teachers, etc.

A culture, as I’m using it, is a way of viewing the world (and acting in/upon it) that is knowingly shared by a group of people.


I don’t understand the distinction between pop culture and culture. It suggests a disdain for the ‘lower-class’ culture which is frankly elitist.

As for Canadian culture, astorian, it ill behooves someone from Pittsburgh to go talking about Canadians. Suppose you let us do that.

Our culture, as John Ralston Saul explains at length in “Reflections of a Siamese Twin”, and which is shared by everyone except those Quebecois who are sovereignist, is based on not having a national dogma; therefore, we analyze ourselves constantly to see if we are doing the right thing. Culture isn’t just art; it’s ethos.

…Canadian culture, eh?
as I recall McLeans (sp?) or some media entity up there ran a slogan contest where entrants were to complete the phrase " As Canadian as…" They had ,I’m sure < envisioned such entries as " As Canadian as the maple leaf" or " as Canadian as the snow capped Rockies" or some such…the winning entry? “As Canadian as possible under the circumstances”

 disrespect intended, my girlfriend is from B.C.

Excuse me, but aren’t you applying a rather narrow definition of culture here ? There’s more to culture than just the arts. And yes, I’ve taken the liberty of including rap music, bellbottom pants and Jurassic Park under the arts, live with it.

What about the attitudes, values and habits shared by (most) Americans ?

Miss Riddle’s mother has a point: When a furriner like yours truly looks at USA, there are certainly some attitudes and values that come through as definitely American. Call them cultural stereotypes if you want, but they are there, and at least some of them are unique for the USA. Watching USA through the SDMB, magazines, CNN etc. you get to see some issues that definitely wouldn’t have happened in Scandinavia: The gun control debate, the American political process or for that matter the Church/State debate are American phenomena. (I’m sorry if that list comes out as anti-American, that’s not my intention). I’ve yet to visit USA, but I’m convinced I’d come across many more differences in everyday life, based on nothing more than “That’s how we do things around here”. That’s culture, like it or not.

As for American pop culture being the worlds pop culture, I have to disagree: There’s American dominance over the international segment of pop culture, sure, but Pokemon (Yecch!), Abba, Björk, Aqua or Eifel 65 aren’t American. Neither are TV-2 or Gnags - you’ve probably never heard of them, as they are only part of the Danish pop culture. In other words, pop culture is not as homogenous (sp?) as one might think - pop music that failed utterly in Europe might find a great following in Asia, for instance.

Another popular cultural aspect, sports: American sports like baseball, american football or Indianapolis-type autoracing has never caught on in Europe. Likewise, I don’t think soccer is ever going to be popular in USA. If that’s not a cultural difference, what is ?

All in all, astorian, I think you’re wrong in dismissing the idea of national cultures - they’re definitely there, and they are alive and well. Cross a couple of European borders in a day, and you will see marked differences from country to country in most aspects of life. (And I really do hope a Canadian comes by to comment on your somewhat flippant dismissal of Candian culture.)

The traditional “fine arts” (painting, classical music, ballet, opera, even some litterature) have always been the territory of the “intellectual elite”, and most healthy teenagers wouldn’t go see an opera unless somebody held a pistol to their head. Some will want to later in life, most won’t. Some of the “elite” are trying to convince people - even young people - that classical culture offers more quality than most pop culture, and while they will never get the majority vote, they do win some over. I have yet to see the “cultural elites” fighting American influence over pop culture (except of course for the French, but there’s no understanding some people).

OK, back to the OP: Yes, there’s definitely a unique American culture - hard to define exactly, the size of your country makes for a lot of fractions, and your relatively short history as a nation deprives you of some of the myths that help many other nations define a national identity.

Just my 0.02 Euro (not a lot, these days…)

I think a big problem people have with it is that non-pop culture often has the weight of hundreds of years of history behind it, and it thus specific to the groups who participated in those hundreds of years of history. Pop culture can too easily be co-opted by outsiders. So it doesn’t do as good of a job of defining What-It-Means-To-Be-American, when a forigner just has to watch a few episodes of 90210 and hes up to speed.

Which, IMO, we have all this myth making like the Old West, and the Pilgrims, and all that. A manufactured cultural heritage is better than none, I guess.

You clicked the wrong profile button, methinks.
Astorian’s says he’s from Texas, and I’m from Pittsburgh, and believe me, considering that, I got no room to spout off about canadians.