Typical American Stuff: What the U.S. Is Best Known for Today
The cultural heritage of American past-times generally revolves around food and comradery; coming together to celebrate and eat. American celebrations take many forms — from music to athletics, to holidays and parades — and when it comes to all of these celebrations, it isn’t uncommon to gather around the grill surrounded by family and friends.
Americans are known for their large portions of food, and this is mirrored in other aspects of American culture as well. There is a traditional focus on the big and beautiful, and it’s no doubt that the grandioseness of American pop culture is not only how the U.S. sees itself, but also, how the world sees us. In fact, according to the United States Census Bureau, the U.S is the third-largest country by population with an estimated 330 million residents. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the American media and entertainment industry is the largest in the world, representing a third of the global industry. It’s no wonder that sensationalized American symbols, icons, and cultural relics have splashed across the global scene to become identifiers and cliches. As the media often reflects the changing of the times, some things never change, like patriotism, bald eagles, blue jeans, cowboy boots, and, of course, baseball.
Baseball, Hot Dogs, and Apple Pie
These iconic American symbols were regenerated in the ’70s in the most American way possible: a car commercial. What better vehicle to set the stage for marketing with “America’s Pastime” than one of the largest historical industries. While continuing to situate their branding in American culture, Chevy rode the bandwagon of iconic things that represent America with the famous jingle linking baseball, hotdogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.
Apple pie, the American symbol of prosperity, wholesomeness, and comfort — dubbed the “great American pie” by The New York Times in 1902, shared plate space with the next iconic food. The hot dog is one product arising from America’s salad bowl (previously known as the melting pot) of diversity and innovation. The American version of the hot dog (not yet coined “hot dog”) was created by a German baker immigrant in 1867 who blended the cultural frankfurter with a self-designed bun, and served them from a cart along the street in Coney Island, New York. This readily available fast food took off in popularity, and in 1893 the hot dog was a prominent baseball staple.
The United States is known for patriotism, competitiveness, and the spirit to cheer on the home team. Baseball, a game grown organically in the soils of the American people, played with products made by the American people, is nearly the pantheon of American things, and is now played across the globe. The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) calculates that 65 million people play baseball and softball in the world, in over 140 countries.
The rough and tumble games of the National League in the late 1800s evolved into the American League in the early 1900s. This united not just whole cities to join together in
comradery, but also families and friends. Baseball players in America became a symbol of decency and hard work, the ballpark itself became a playground of celebration, and American companies such as Nokona began to hand-craft baseball gloves that represented American values of quality, confidence, and pride.
Pickup Trucks and Blue Jeans
Every nation has a rich history of music that blends experience and culture with a sound that transcends time — but have they done it from the back of a pickup truck donning skinny blue jeans, a wide-brimmed hat, and cowboy boots?
Country music in its earliest forms has existed since the 1700s in Bristol Tennessee, but meandered into the mainstream in the late 1920s with the first country record, “Blue Yodel,” which went on to sell a million copies.
Since this time, country music has exploded into sub-genres and traditions, and that has evolved alongside the American people. The popular images of American life, open landscapes, and the beauty of the ballad is resonating outside of the old home on the range. Though a majority of country music listening takes place in the United States, Spotify has seen a 21 percent increase in American country music streaming outside of the U.S. since 2015, and it is only projected to increase. Whether cherished or reviled, no other genre can simmer the American experience down into a love ballad for a truck like Glen Campbell. No other culture could make a top ten list of country songs about trucks that live right alongside a list of the top 26 patriotic songs.
Comfort Food (or Junk Food)
According to a document produced by Boston University, important American perspectives and behaviors can be boiled down to:
- Decisions: practicality and efficiency over the subjective or aesthetic.
- Material Acquisition: the just reward of hard work.
- Time and its Importance: an efficient and progressive society.
These typical American preferences provide an illuminating yellow brick road that leads to the success of the golden arches — the world’s second-largest fast-food chain with 37,200 locations, available in 119 countries, McDonald’s.
Fast food is efficient — there is no trip to the store, nor any time spent cooking. Its cheap, and you can maximize (or supersize) a lot for food very little money. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that from 2013 to 2016, 36.6% of Amerian adults consume fast food on a given day.
The book Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, listed a few interesting survey results. A survey by an independent research firm found that 80% of children surveyed from nine foreign countries could recognize Ronald Mcdonald. A different survey by Sponsorship Research International polled 7,000 people across six countries (the U.S., U.K., Germany, Australia, India, and Japan) and found that 88% could identify the golden arches, and 54% could identify the Christian Cross.
Stepping away from fast food to consider the salad bowl of the American population can also shed light on the Americanization of regional foods. Foods commonly known as “American” are often actually products of immigrant heritage and roots. Many foods have been invented or reinvented in a new Americana way. Food items reinvented in the U.S. may have a drastically different taste, or perhaps even different ingredients than in their traditional countries, including pizza and spaghetti, nachos and burritos, and General’s Tso’s Chicken and Moo Shu pork.
Television and Movies
As a leader in mass media production, creating the largest majority of motion pictures, television, video, book publishing, and video games, America has the ability to cross-pollinate its culture across the globe. American mythos, centered in the telling of stories that represent the times, has been present in the comic book universes since the early 1900s. In 2019, the Marvel Cinematic Universe passed $5 billion worldwide.
The telling of fantastic stories is a way to reflect the temperature of society; its thoughts, hopes, and fears, but it is not only the most recent telling of the story that communicates these feelings. The nostalgia that earlier generations carry as a sieve, as if to sift through the stories and protect the rights of the original comics and characters, continues to interpret how the stories are told and who holds ownership of the narratives. These and more projected images of America’s self are viewed and revered as a global phenomenon in contemporary movies.