American Dreams: Consumer Culture

American Dreams sitting on an American flag.

So it’s Independence Day for Americans on Wednesday, and knowing that I myself, and probably this blog, have both enjoyed insulting Americans for sport, I thought it would be a good idea to celebrate all the good things that America has given us.

After an extended period of trying to remember all the good things that America has given us, I am proud to present this blog’s first mini-series: American Dreams.  I hope you enjoy.


A shopping trolley in a river.

This is probably symbolic. I’m not sure what it’s symbolic of, but it’s important that it’s symbolic.

I could not be considered a true player of the NationStates game if I did not mention Max Barry’s favourite American Export: the power of consumerism.  It’s an old chestnut, which may or may not actually exist, but certainly has been invented by that lovable entity we know as America.

The concept behind a consumer culture is simple, and it is what drives any Capitalist society.  Essentially, the whole of such a society is geared towards the consumer, and his or her needs and wishes.  It drives the whole culture and economic system from top to bottom, regulating quality and effectively making everything tick.

Of course there are some – Mr. Barry, for example – who might be tempted to argue that we are merely presented with the illusion of choice.  Does consumerism really exist, or do corporations tells us what we want, and then proceed to sell it to us at their own prices?  However, regardless of which side has the power, the culture that surrounds consumerism is real. massive, and a major export of the United States.  We see it in the concept of branded clothing, in fast food on demand, even in the number of channels we have on our television.  If someone wants it, they can have it.  For a price, of course.

It is very easy to consult consumerism, but we take a lot of the benefits it brings for granted.  Cost wars drive down food prices when we go out shopping.  Companies today struggle to sell shoddy products in the face of damning reviews on the internet.  Even having Fair Trade products on our shelves is a result of consumer pressure in some form or other.

Much of this is, admittedly, connected to modern forms of communication, particularly the internet, which allows anybody to have a voice.  However, even with these many mechanisms, it is doubtful whether we would have had a such an impact as consumers had America’s culture not been so prevalent in our daily lives.

American Dreams: Freedom

American Dreams sitting on an American flag.

So it’s Independence Day for Americans on Wednesday, and knowing that I myself, and probably this blog, have both enjoyed insulting Americans for sport, I thought it would be a good idea to celebrate all the good things that America has given us.

After an extended period of trying to remember all the good things that America has given us, I am proud to present this blog’s first mini-series: American Dreams.  I hope you enjoy.


Today’s Great American Export is particularly hard to describe.  It’s that concept or ideal that seems hard-wired into Americans, often from birth, of individualism and independence, where everyone can escape from oppression and exploitation.  It’s sometimes called the American Dream, but being as this mini-series is called the American Dream, it would be a bit weird if I used that phrase again.  So I’ll term it ‘freedom’.

There are many examples of this freedom at work in American culture, from the early silicon valley-style startups such as Apple, to the lawless adventures in the Wild West, that were about making a new life for oneself.  Indeed, the concept probably stems all the way from the stories of the founding fathers escaping persecution in Britain for a brighter future, and of course for freedom.

What is harder to point out is where in history this freedom – or rather the concept of it – began to be exported.  It’s there in Woodrow Wilson’s repeated calls for self-determination and public referendums during the post-WWI treaties, but perhaps a more obvious export would be the way America encouraged the other western powers to fight against the USSR-led expansion of Communism with the rallying cry of liberty.

Certainly bad things have happened in the name of this freedom.  Vietnam and Afghanistan may well be considered cases where it was realised that freedom itself means more than simple liberation by a greater power.  However, freedom is something that has often been championed by America, and certainly has found its way into many other people’s lives.  So here’s to freedom as America’s second greatest export.  I can only wonder what will be exported tomorrow.

American Dreams: Friends

American Dreams sitting on an American flag.

So it’s Independence Day for Americans on Wednesday, and knowing that I myself, and probably this blog, have both enjoyed insulting Americans for sport, I thought it would be a good idea to celebrate all the good things that America has given us.

After an extended period of trying to remember all the good things that America has given us, I am proud to present this blog’s first mini-series: American Dreams.  I hope you enjoy.


Friends

Friends (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought we should begin with the basics.  What gift has America exported that has most affected your average 18-21 slob, sitting around on the sofa all day, watching daytime television?  That’s right, Friends.  Not real friends, of course, which are way out of the league for our poor slob here, but Friends, the television sitcom about a group of American 20-somethings in Manhattan.

Friends, undeniably, was a classic.  Talk about the best American sitcoms in the UK (and we have whole channels devoted to them) and you might get some sort of recognition with classics such as ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’, or a current series such as ‘How I Met Your Mother’.  You might even hear some mention of ‘The Big Bang Theory’, albeit usually coupled with an explanation of “That show is so weird, I don’t understand most of what they’re saying”.*

Yet none of these match up to the instant recognition of Friends.  Not only that, but the Friends theme tune (“I’ll be there for you…”), the Friends opening sequence (where they jump into the fountain), and any of the Friends actors are instantly recognisable as part of the Friends brand.

But why was Friends such a successful show?  The trite thing to say here would be that the show represents our own lives, but this is actually (and sometimes worryingly) true.  Even for British audiences, most of whom have never been anywhere near America, the situations that characters fall into, and indeed the characters themselves, all ring surprisingly true.

The stuff on top of this basic recipe, however, is just as important.  The show would not be the same without impeccable timing, well-written scripts, and a perfect balance of humour and emotion.

Is this the greatest American export?  That’s for you to decide.  But the popularity and strength of the show cannot be denied, which is why it deserves a place in this hall of fame.

*As an aside, if you don’t understand a joke in The Big Bang Theory, just laugh anyway.  It would have been hilarious.