I cringe a little when I’m told Americans don’t have a culture or worse yet our culture is Consumerism. Yes, modern mainstream American culture holds plenty of consumerism and plasticity, but you guys… We have culture. Historically as a melting pot, we have lots of culture. We may not have quite as long a history as our European brothers and sisters as a nation, but those of us with European ancestry do, in fact, share parts of their culture with them. But as Americans, we do have a distinct identity, and you can either spend your time being apologetic about the not so great things about it (Hopefully keeping in mind there’s no such thing as a perfect history or culture) or you can decide to embrace the good parts of it and actively work to help change the things that you don’t care for.
It’s easy to assume by looking at history that every single person in an era subscribed to the culture of their time. We assume that all of Victorian England was sexually repressed, for instance, when actually looking at the history of the era tells us otherwise. Rome gets written off as decadent despite quite a bit of historical literature giving us the story of the people believing in a modest life. Writing off Americans then as consuming, shallow a-holes is right in the same vein of thinking. But personally I think it’s a little lazy and close-minded to simply make that sort blanket statement.
I am a Midwesterner. I come from a tiny part of the country called Little Dixie, historically it was overrun by Southerners who brought their culture with them, and so I’ve got this weird mishmash of Northern/Southern cultural identity that leaves no one wanting to claim me. My mother also claims that I’m a throw-back to the way older generations think and do things – Something practical, frugal, and modest. But the number of simple living, homesteading, homemaking, and DIY blogs out there tell me that I’m not the only one.
All of these things are part of our culture as Americans. Being from the Midwest, the vast majority of my ancestors were farmers. The first thing most of them did when getting to the Midwest was start a farm – Some which were held for generations. Up until my generation, everyone in my family lived on a farm. While things like churning butter have gone by the wayside, the food has stayed the same – A proper breakfast is so hearty that half the time after eating it you just want to go back to bed, which comes from needing the energy to be out working your butt off all day on the farm.
Our summer festivals, our regional food dishes, our reaching out to help our neighbors… All part of our culture. State fairs. Soda pop (be it for better or worse). Pop culture (once again for better or worse). This is all culture. All cultures have these things, it’s just that a country based on religious freedom (and sometimes floundering at it) has put a very secular spin on it… But then again, history tends to ignore the mainstream movement of societies to focus on big events, movers and shakers, and larger trends.
Pompeii had food buffets sort of like our American Chinese buffets, but you don’t read about that in a general history book. Well, sort of like ours… We are a bit puritanical, so murals of Priapus simply wouldn’t fly. And yet the vast majority (at least in the Midwest) probably wouldn’t blink at a picture of Jesus hanging on the wall near the salad bar.
I’m not all about consumerism either, but I feel like if we just use it as a cop out and excuse as to why Americans are lacking culture, we’re letting consumerism win. Maybe my domestic, practicality-based belief system has forced me to understand that there are good things about us Americans both historically and presently. Save for what seems to be a generational sense of entitlement and a disturbing trend of narcissism that’s actually showing up in psychological studies, for the most part I think we’re alright folk. And I think that these stereotypes we don’t like can be changed – That change starts with working on ourselves.
Most people hate stereotypes, so quit stereotyping your own people. Live within your ethical convictions and others will take notice. Discuss things with them, and you may just help the change along. Look around and realize that Americans are not all bad, and the culture we have exists if you’re willing to look for it while standing in the middle of it.
Note: I guess I’m apparently a little bit more patriotic than I realized… Weird. I’ll wave my hand around dismissively and say something about loving the people of my country but not the government since I’m so left that I feel liberal is too conservative at times.