American culture

When I asked my students to analyze a product of American culture, they provided me with a series of papers that conflated the product (i.e., jeans, television shows, MacDonalds, iPods) with the culture that created them.  They were further surprised when I told them that their choices were largely out of date in America. 

I am here to teach American culture via film and media. In my classes, we talk about history, theory, literature, and politics. They not only watch films but read theory and novels. It is a tricky subject, Cultural Studies. It is too easy to get absorbed by the drama of television shows, films and to learn to see the structure underlying these narratives.   If you take these cultural products out of the culture, then what meaning do they have? If people watch these cultural products, these narratives that express the very unique American culture values , without the context, then what do they truly understand or learn?  What seems to occur is that the cultural product itself replaces meaning. Then, American culture is reduced to a superficial consumption of its products.

It is also disappointing to find none of the doctoral students ( bar one) attending my courses or taking time to discuss ideas with me. Yet, if they are to teach American literature, it would be , i would think, valuable, to see and understand the links between American literature and its cultural byproducts. Perhaps, it is because it in this country film studies are not a part of English literature studies.  Perhaps, it is a long lingering feeling that television and film, like other mass media cultural products, are lightweight and don’t add to the serious conversation about culture.

Yet, film is so uniquely American, in its narrative, use of technology, and business development.  American film developed two specific narratives, the western and the film noir (and its derivatives) that connect directly to popular literature, and serious literature.  Film, too, as a cultural product to be consumed by the lower classes is also important in understanding how people in America learn the lessons that the upper classes receive from literature and theater.  While many such stories such as the western embrace American ideology, others such as soap operas, gangster films, and satire question those ideals. America is a nation composed of immigrants, a constant influx of people who arrive not fluent in English or even literate in their own. Yet, the desire to learn via stories is universal.  Film, and now television, have become democratic vehicles to educate. 

 

POSTSCRIPT: just read in the American newspaper that the one public university in my city and another in Minnesota are planning to eliminate a large number of humanities subjects, including theater and media and economics.

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