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Globalizing Americana: Part 1

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The term ‘Americana’ refers to the essential characteristics of American culture and the assimilation of particularly American ideals, especially for foreign immigrants and resident aliens eager to become American. Americana refers to the movies we watch, the foods we eat, the music we love and the act of being American. It is decisively and uniquely an American phenomenon.

Being American, though, isn’t a fixed state of affairs. It is an active process, and like all aspects of culture, how one defines what it means to be American is contingent on any number of factors.

Throughout this analysis, then, I will investigate a number of contingencies that I believe serve as a foundation in constructing the notion of Americana. Thus, to understand what it means to be American, one must understand Americana.

If it is agreed that American culture (Americana) is malleable, and the meaning of what it is to be American is contingent on American culture (Americana), then the meaning of what it is to be American changes as our culture changes.

Culture, generally defined, pertains to the shared sense of aesthetic tastes and sensibilities throughout a population or — within the information age — a shared sense of communal tastes across the World Wide Web.

The absolute genius of the Internet is its inherent interconnectivity. The Internet is arguably the perfection of social connectivity. It is the vehicle wherein an ever-expanding global community shares information – instantly.

The immediacy with which information is accessed has revolutionized academia. Scholars no longer have to commit formulas and speeches, theories and theorems to memory. The information is out there, suspended in cyberspace. Information is immediately accessible, but the quality of available information is certainly dubious.

Since the Internet presupposes both the sharing of information and the confluence of geographical dispersion, all information shared is immediately and necessarily global. That which was limited by geography and was decisively and uniquely American — when coupled with the shared global ability of the Internet — becomes global. Though the conception of globalizing Americana may seem contradictory, I intend to argue both for its benefits and disadvantages.

Though there are many dangers presented by the notion of globalization, there are also many benefits. Despite attempts to assume an isolationist stance of political and socio-cultural autonomy, I am patently arguing that those relic ideas of the past no longer have any merit or serve any use in an era of globalization. Thus, to understand the meaning of globalizing Americana, one must understand both the process of globalization and American culture.

Forks, Standards, Norms, and Quesadillas

A norm may be described as a standard with which actions or tastes of a particular kind can be referenced against. Norms, in a sense, govern actions. They inform interested parties as to the way in which actions of a particular type are typically performed.

For example, in discussing etiquette, the norm is — at least within the United States — to use a knife and fork when eating. There is a shared understanding within American culture as to the functions of each utensil. The fork serves a particular function and so does the knife.

The function that each utensil serves is contingent, meaning it is dependent, on a perceived need. Someone invented the fork to satisfy a very specific function. Once the function was satisfied and it was demonstrated that the fork was a good utensil for securing food, a standard governing that function emerges.

The emergence of a standard governing cultural norms and instances of etiquette emerges from the standard governing actions of a particular type. This standard is also known as a norm and as such prescribes proper action.

In the case of the fork, the action is its proper use; that is, the fork is used to secure and transfer food from the plate to one’s mouth. This process, then, is standardized, such that one may say, “This is a good fork.” To say that the fork is “good” necessitates a reference to the standard with which this judgment is made.

The judgment of being good suggests that there is a potential for failing to meet this standard of goodness. The alternative judgment of being a bad fork would suggest a failure to meet the prescribed standard.

But what does the standard prescribe?

In the example of the fork, the standard prescribes proper function of the fork based on the fork’s design. Thus, to say, “This is a good fork” means that it serves the function of securing and transferring food to one’s mouth well. Conversely, to say, “This is a bad fork,” suggests that it fails to perform this function well.

You can imagine that you have gone to a fast food restaurant and used a plastic fork to eat your quesadillas. When attempting to secure your food onto the fork, it breaks. The function of securing food and transferring it to one’s mouth has failed. Thus, one would be justified in saying, “This is a bad fork,” as this utensil cannot perform that function.

More importantly, however, by breaking and failing to secure your food, it is debatable whether the broken utensil is even a fork. The utensil can no longer perform the function for which it was created and, therefore, fails to be a fork. One would not be justified in calling this “thing” a fork after breaking and failing to perform the function that forks should perform.

Therefore, an action is governed by norms – and judgments are based on the ability or failure of those actions to conform to the norm. Assessments of goodness necessitate conformity of the action to the norm. Assessments of badness or failure necessitate nonconformity between the action and the norm. Thus, judgments are ultimately based on the relationship between the norm and the corresponding action.

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About Jason J. Campbell

  • j.Ramsay Sutherland

    As an Australian I see and hear all the time American influence, the TV and movies depicting a lifestyle which seems to have no reality outside fiction; the slang and the vernacular is being cultivated here by our media. Our own is being subsumed by it all.
    If it comes from the US it must be OK in some peoples eyes. Our late Prime Minister took that view and tumbled us into war in Iraq.
    Historically we have had Pax Romana and Pax Britannica. Now we have ‘Pax Americana’. However by virtue of the world-wide web we are more cogniscent of the consequences of these catch phrases and what they eventually became.