You Must Remember This; What's Right with American Culture

By Medved, Michael | Policy Review, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview

You Must Remember This; What's Right with American Culture


Medved, Michael, Policy Review


When The Heritage Foundation asked me to address the subject, "What's Right About American Culture," I was particularly challenged by the idea. My wife, Diane, immediately commented "That will probably be a very short speech." Praising the current state of our national culture does not come naturally to me. I talk much more frequently about "What's Wrong with American Popular Culture."

But recently, I had the great privilege of giving a lecture in Warsaw. And what struck me there--as I think it strikes any Americans who travel in Eastern Europe--is the absolute fascination with all things American, the tremendous eagerness to learn about American culture.

And after all, let's understand that our popular culture, including many aspects of that popular culture that conservatives disdain, is hugely accepted, in fact enthusiastically accepted, around the world.

EXPORTING AMERICA

In every country on earth, the most popular form of movies is American movies. The most popular form of music is American music. And even when it comes to television, American television shows are disproportionately popular. Now, clearly, something is right about American culture, not only because of its popularity abroad but because of its impact on the wider world.

This is a point that Ben Wattenberg makes, with great glee, as a rebuke to those of us who criticize American popular culture. He offers a challenge: If this popular culture is so terrible, then why is it that the liberating force of American music, movies, and television helped to inspire, by all accounts, the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe?

We all remember the inspiring example of the "Velvet Revolution" in Czechoslovakia. Would that those young people in the streets who helped to bring that about were singing Dvorak or Smetana or Janacek, their great national composers.

But they weren't. They were singing American rock music. They were craving American jeans. They were interested in, God help us, Madonna and the rest of what we would call American trash culture. Somehow this popular entertainment, which seems to have such a negative and devastating impact here at home, has exerted liberating influence abroad.

So, how can that be? What, after all, is right about American culture?

There are three underlying themes that have always been part of the American experience, of our national culture, of that unique outlook that we would describe as American, and those elements are still palpably present in American popular culture:

First, an overriding and transcendent belief in self-improvement, in the ability of the individual to transform himself into virtually anything he wishes;

Second, a great emphasis on tolerance and diversity.

Finally, an underlying rude, rowdy, and very consistent disrespect for all established authority.

All of these tendencies have been present in this country and played a role in our national consciousness since colonial days. And all of them are still there, even in the sometimes frightening and barren worlds of popular music, television, and motion pictures. After sketching out how these cultural themes have helped to shape the country for the last 350 years, we also have to ask why their influence has become somewhat problematic for our society today.

ONE BY ONE

The idea of self-improvement, the ability to transform oneself into something new, is almost a direct product of our unique geographical circumstances.

To get here, everybody had to cross an ocean at one time or another. That necessary voyage has always represented a defining experience. That act of crossing an ocean meant that you left your old world behind and came to a new world.

This inevitably conveys the idea of a fresh start, becoming a new person. Perhaps this nowhere is more dramatically illustrated than in the instance of Georgia, which, of course, a lot of us think of as the home of Scarlett O'Hara and Tara.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

You Must Remember This; What's Right with American Culture
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.