American Culture’s Vague Identity

June 19, 2014 by  


Fine art, great literature, and junk food

By Courtney Pennington-Krygier

hot_dog_american_flag_mesh_hat-rddc226c2b5c040e7ace093a2b11db94d_v9wfy_8byvr_512A few months ago I was sitting with my Sudanese friend, watching our Pakistani buddy putting on a fashion show of different culture’s costumes.  Zimbabwe put on an amazing show, and the Thai model was adorable.  Of course the Sudanese and Pakistani outfits were stunning as well!  Most of the models read a tidbit about their culture as they strutted down the catwalk.
My friend and I were trying to pick a favorite.  It was impossible.  At some point I think we started discussing how Zoya, my other friend, had mentioned putting me in the show with American cultural dress.

“What?!” I said.  “What culture?  I don’t think they make pizza dresses.”

American culture can be generalized thusly: white, fat, fanatical about religion and guns, and very pushy about both.  We don’t have anything as beautiful as a tea ceremony.  Our historical clothes are mostly just derivations of English fashion.  For heaven’s sake, our defining moments were probably the Boston Tea Party and the Declaration of Independence.  And those defining moments were both about rejecting something else, not celebrating ourselves.

I suppose our holidays tell you something.  Food.  If there is a way to make a day revolve around food, we’ll do it.  Thanksgiving? Turkey day.  Halloween? Candy gorge-fest.  Valentine’s Day? Forget true love, we’re just interested in cupcakes.

Allow me the liberty of quoting a noted expert in the field of American anthropology, RJ the raccoon from Over the Hedge: “We eat to live.  These guys live to eat!… Humans bring the food, take the food, ship the food; they drive food; they wear the food.”  No wonder we face a staggering obesity epidemic.  Birthdays even revolve around birthday cake.  We have a problem.  Thank goodness it is a delicious problem, because there is no way I’m giving up cake.

If we aren’t fixated on food, we’re blowing something up. Example: fourth of July.  Don’t even get me started on Christmas.  Why we feel the need to bring a tree inside, I don’t know.  It’s lovely, but undeniably strange.

But let’s not forget our other American trait: undeniable hunger to grab dirt.  For some reason we are just mad about exploring and claiming territory.  We rampaged through most of North America, and yet we still can’t resist poking our noses into everyone else’s front yard.  Uh-oh, the Middle East is getting noisy!  Guess we better investigate.  Oops, we somehow became a hostile invading force.  How did that happen?  Oh well, guess we’d better investigate North Korea.  They can’t launch a missile farther than a bottle rocket, but we’ll consider them a threat just in case it gives us an excuse to poke around Kim Jong’s house.

We don’t even have nice cultural dress.  What is the most characteristic American outfit you can think of?  Probably a t-shirt and jeans.  Our national outfit is sit-around-the-house gear.  It doesn’t even require you to match anything.  You could put it on in the dark, and the worst that would happen is maybe the shirt would be on backwards.  This outfit is what you wear to go to the store and can’t be bothered with anything better.

We invented one clothing item, though.  The Snuggie.  This wondrous garb allows you freedom of the arms while enjoying otherwise immobile couch potato activities.  If that doesn’t tell you about our lifestyle I don’t know what does.

Music and literature do redeem us.  Robert Frost’s work is simple and beautiful, and Mark Twain’s work can hardly be undervalued.  We have Elvis, Madonna, Johnny Cash, Josh Groban, and Britney Spears, although we’d deny Brit if we could.  We appreciate music enough that we have started a petition to deport Justin Bieber.  Our artists captured the adventure-hungry spirit of the expansion west, and the longing for identity as we separated ourselves from Britain.

So, in sum, we have a lot of food, explosions, and a wave of pop fads.  And pop tarts.  If there is something unhealthy we probably invented it.  At least we can appreciate other cultures.  Sometimes.  Unless the Westboro Baptist Church catches wind of it.  Oh no, I forgot about them… never mind, America’s a lost cause!

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