The culture of the United States of America is primarily Western, but is influenced by African, Native American, Asian, Polynesian, and Latin American cultures. A strand of what may be described as American culture started its formation over 10,000 years ago with the migration of Paleo-Indians from Asia, Oceania, and Europe, into the region that is today the continental United States. The United States of America has its own unique social and cultural characteristics such as dialect, music, arts, social habits, cuisine, and folklore. The United States of America is an ethnically and racially diverse country as a result of large-scale migration from many ethnically and racially different countries throughout its history. Differing birth and death rates among natives, settlers, and immigrants are also a factor.
Its chief early European influences came from English settlers of colonial America during British rule. Due to colonial ties with Britain that spread the English language, British culture, legal system and other cultural inheritances, had a formative influence. Other important influences came from other parts of Europe, especially Germany.
Original elements also play a strong role, such as Jeffersonian democracy.Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia was perhaps the first influential domestic cultural critique by an American and a reactionary piece to the prevailing European consensus that America’s domestic originality was degenerate.
American culture includes both conservative and liberal elements, scientific and religious competitiveness, political structures, risk taking and free expression, materialist and moral elements. Despite certain consistent ideological principles (e.g. individualism, egalitarianism, and faith in freedom and democracy), American culture has a variety of expressions due to its geographical scale and demographic diversity. The flexibility of U.S. culture and its highly symbolic nature lead some researchers to categorize American culture as a mythic identity; others see it as American exceptionalism .
It also includes elements that evolved from Indigenous Americans, and other ethnic cultures—most prominently the culture of African Americans, cultures from Latin America, and Asian American cultures. Many American cultural elements, especially from popular culture, have spread across the globe through modern mass media.
The United States has traditionally been thought of as a melting pot. However, beginning in the 1960s and continuing on in the present day, the country trends towards cultural diversity, pluralism, and the image of a salad bowl instead. Due to the extent of American culture, there are many integrated but unique social subcultures within the United States. The cultural affiliations an individual in the United States may have commonly depend on social class, political orientation and a multitude of demographic characteristics such as religious background, occupation and ethnic group membership.
Semi-distinct cultural regions of the United States include New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, the Southern United States, the Midwestern United States and the Western United States—an area that can be further subdivided, on the basis of the local culture into the Pacific States and the Mountain States.
The western coast of the continental United States consisting of California, Oregon, and the state of Washington is also sometimes referred to as the Left Coast, indicating its left-leaning political orientation and tendency towards social liberalism.
David Hackett Fischer theorizes that the United States is made up today of four distinct regional cultures. The book’s focus is on the folkways of four groups of settlers from the British Isles that emigrated from distinct regions of Britain and Ireland to the British American colonies during the 17th and 18th centuries. Fischer’s thesis is that the culture and folkways of each of these groups persisted, albeit with some modification over time, providing the basis for the four modern regional cultures of the United States.
Continuing the work of Fischer, Colin Woodard, in his book American Nations, claims an existence of eleven rival regional cultures in North America, based on the cultural characteristics of the original settlers of these regions. These regions are: Yankeedom, New Netherland, The Midlands, Tidewater, Greater Appalachia, The Deep South, New France, El Norte, The Left Coast, The Far West and First Nation (a region in parts of northern Canada and Alaska, and Greenland).
According to Woodard, these regions cross and disregard formal state or even country borders. For example, he compares the Mexican border with the Berlin wall, saying that “El Norte in some ways resembles Germany during the Cold War: two peoples with a common culture separated by a large wall.”
Although the United States has no official language at the federal level, 28 states have passed legislation making English the official language and it is considered to be the de facto national language. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, more than 97% of Americans can speak English well, and for 81% it is the only language spoken at home. More than 300 languages besides English have native speakers in the United States—some of which are spoken by the indigenous peoples (about 150 living languages) and others imported by immigrants.
The right to freedom of expression in the American constitution can be traced to German immigrant John Peter Zenger and his legal fight to make truthful publications in the Colonies a protected legal right, ultimately paving the way for the protected rights of American authors.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, American artists primarily painted landscapes and portraits in a realistic style. A parallel development taking shape in rural America was the American craft movement, which began as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution. Developments in modern art in Europe came to America from exhibitions in New York City such as the Armory Show in 1913. After World War II, New York emerged as a center of the art world. Painting in the United States today covers a vast range of styles. American painting includes works by Jackson Pollock, John Singer Sargent, and Norman Rockwell, among many others.
Architecture in the United States is regionally diverse and has been shaped by many external forces, not only English. U.S. architecture can therefore be said to be eclectic, something unsurprising in such a multicultural society.In the absence of a single large-scale architectural influence from indigenous peoples such as those in Mexico or Peru, generations of designers have incorporated influences from around the world. Currently, the overriding theme of American Architecture is modernity, as manifest in the skyscrapers of the 20th century.
Theater of the United States is based in the Western tradition and did not take on a unique dramatic identity until the emergence of Eugene O’Neill in the early twentieth century, now considered by many to be the father of American drama. O’Neill is a four-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the only American playwright to win the Nobel Prize for literature. After O’Neill, American drama came of age and flourished with the likes of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Lillian Hellman, William Inge, and Clifford Odets during the first half of the twentieth century. After this fertile period, American theater broke new ground, artistically, with the absurdist forms of Edward Albee in the 1960s.
The United States is represented by various genres of dance, from ballet to hip-hop and folk.
Main articles: Music of the United States and Music history of the United States
American music styles and influences (such as rock and roll, jazz, rock, techno, country, hip-hop, rap) and music based on them can be heard all over the world. Music in the U.S. is diverse. It includes African-American influence in the 20th century. The first half of this century is famous for jazz, introduced by African-Americans in the south. In the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, rock was prevalent.
The cinema of the United States, often generally referred to as Hollywood, has had a profound effect on cinema across the world since the early twentieth century. While the Lumiere Brothers are generally credited with the birth of modern cinema, it is American cinema that has emerged as the most dominant force in the industry. Its history can be separated into four main periods: the silent film era, classical Hollywood cinema, New Hollywood, and the contemporary period. Actor James Dean, who appeared in films during the classical Hollywood era until his untimely death, is widely regarded as an American cultural icon of teenage disillusionment.
Television is a major mass media of the United States. Household ownership of television sets in the country is 96.7%, and the majority of households have more than one set. The peak ownership percentage of households with at least one television set occurred during the 1996–97 season, with 98.4% ownership. As a whole, the television networks of the United States are the largest and most syndicated in the world.
Science and technology
There is a regard for scientific advancement and technological innovation in American culture, resulting in the flow of many modern innovations. The great American inventors include Robert Fulton (the steamboat); Samuel Morse (the telegraph); Eli Whitney (the cotton gin, interchangeable parts); Cyrus McCormick (the reaper); and Thomas Edison (with more than a thousand inventions credited to his name). Most of the new technological innovations over the 20th and 21st centuries were either first invented in the United States, first widely adopted by Americans, or both. Examples include the lightbulb, the airplane, the transistor, the atomic bomb, nuclear power, the personal computer, the iPod, video games, online shopping, and the development of the Internet.
Education in the United States is and has historically been provided mainly by government. Control and funding come from three levels: federal, state, and local. School attendance is mandatory and nearly universal at the elementary and high school levels (often known outside the United States as the primary and secondary levels).
Among developed countries, the U.S. is one of the most religious in terms of its demographics. According to a 2002 study by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, the U.S. was the only developed nation in the survey where a majority of citizens reported that religion played a “very important” role in their lives, an opinion similar to that found in Latin America. Today, governments at the national, state, and local levels are a secular institution, with what is often called the “separation of church and state”.
Since 1820, American schools focused on gymnastics, hygiene training, and care and development of the human body. In the 1800s, colleges were encouraged to focus on intramural sports, particularly track, field, and, in the late 1800s, American football. Physical education was incorporated into primary school curriculums in the 20th century.
Baseball is the oldest of the major American team sports. Professional baseball dates from 1869 and had no close rivals in popularity until the 1960s. Though baseball is no longer the most popular sport, it is still referred to as “the national sport”. Also unlike the professional levels of the other popular spectator sports in the U.S., Major League Baseball teams play almost every day. The Major League Baseball regular season consists of each of the 30 teams playing 162 games from April to September. The season ends with the postseason and World Series in October.
Death and funerals
It is customary for Americans to hold a wake in a funeral home within a couple days of the death of a loved one. The body of the deceased may be embalmed and dressed in fine clothing if there will be an open-casket viewing. Traditional Jewish and Muslim practice include a ritual bath and no embalming. Friends, relatives and acquaintances gather, often from distant parts of the country, to “pay their last respects” to the deceased. Flowers are brought to the coffin and sometimes eulogies, elegies, personal anecdotes or group prayers are recited. Otherwise, the attendees sit, stand or kneel in quiet contemplation or prayer. Kissing the corpse on the forehead is typical among Italian Americans and others. Condolences are also offered to the widow or widower and other close relatives.
De Tocqueville first noted, in 1835, the American attitude towards helping others in need. A 2011 Charities Aid Foundation study found that Americans were the first most willing to help a stranger and donate time and money in the world at 60%. Many low-level crimes are punished by assigning hours of “community service”, a requirement that the offender perform volunteer work; some high schools also require community service to graduate. Since US citizens are required to attend jury duty, they can be jurors in legal proceedings.
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