“America has no culture,”
sounds the shrill cry of the modern crypto-Marxists. A boring and low-effort criticism, to be sure, but not one that has yet managed to be totally rejected, debunked, or stomped out. While variations on the same theme have widely been refuted in discussions of ‘White’ culture, ‘European’ culture, and so on, the ephemeral nature of American culture increasingly seems to be self-affirming; at least, that is, within the sphere of standard Capitalist/Marxist discourse. The Marxist who proclaims the nonexistence of American culture is of course met as a matter of principal by the ideological Baby-Boomer Capitalist touting the products of Ford Motor Company, Harley-Davidson, McDonald’s and Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company as the pillars of American haute couture.
This rebuttal is self-evidently ridiculous, as even the most amateur cultural critic will readily point out. The products of international megacorporations, whose chief goals are to influence consumer spending through media manipulation in order to bend customers to their will, being held as deeply culturally significant is not only logically recursive (X is valuable because the producer of X says so), but deeply enervating. Most distressing is the fact that this very logical failing of the Capitalist ideologue is in truth the very response intended by the Marxist agitator in the first place. The self-glorifying Capitalist is as pliant to the demoralization of insidious agitprop as he is to the advertising campaign of those same corporate entities he now defends. By willfully entrenching himself in consumerist and materialist ignorance in response to the self-styled academic intellectualism of Marxism, the Capitalist allows himself to become controlled opposition. The Fords and Harleys and McDonalds and Colts he imagines himself fighting for his right to own in fact fund the very institutions that tear away his true cultural roots and burn the evidence – then turn on their heels to tell him, bold-faced, that such things never existed.
The result of this demoralization and cultural revisionism resembles more than passingly the dystopic “modernized” communities of Soviet Russia; rows of cheaply built homes and restaurants, repeating unevolved aesthetics from the 1950s, line superhighways built in the same era. Fathers teach sons to care for tessellating postage-stamp lawns in which naught but turf and crabgrass has ever grown, with a deep respect for the roaring gospel of John Deere. As the Marxists tear away at the foundations of American culture and the Boomer Capitalists repeat their materialist lies in increasingly religious displays, the younger generation finds itself lost amid the ruins of developmentally retarded Americana. The immediate impulse of the youth is no doubt to abuse and degrade the detritus of the past generation and dance in the reverie as it rots out from under them, but the scrap heap only oxidizes and yields no fresh earth.
If Capitalist Americana truly does not make up the entire set of American cultural expression, then whence can the root of true American culture be found? The obvious answer is to look at the relics of America’s Founding. That America is a young country with scarcely a few centuries of history to sift through should not be taken so readily as an excuse to restrict the excavation to only the last five decades, as many across the political and cultural spectrum might prefer. Moreover, one must be careful to avoid the pitfalls of historical discussion and representation lest they end up in the same Marxists’ web from which we sat out to escape. Discussions of American history are taken as invitations to exhume tired talking points on race, sex and identity, from which nothing positive can be construed – these intersectional topics are intended to subvert the very structure of a society’s foundations with the inevitable goal of proposing new, prescriptive values, which presumes before demonstration that the historical values to be replaced are inherently unfit for purpose.
Though there is much room for exploration and discussion of traditional, pre-Marshall Plan American cultural ideals, it seems prudent to name at least a few which have become sadly buried under the dreg heaps of neon signs and scrapped station wagons. Intergenerational land ownership was once considered the hallmark of the proper citizen, and a prerequisite of the vote in pre-Revolutionary times and in some post-Revolution States. The settlement of the Western frontier, too, was predicated largely on the guarantee of land ownership under the Homestead Act. The depopularization of land ownership and subsequent mass-development of cheap housing following WWII has made the American population easy to herd like cattle into matchboxes whose pricing is regulated by the banks. Firearm ownership and expertise has been similarly debased in modern times, eliminating for many the most truly unique element of American identity; that of a country whose independence was won and is guaranteed solely by the citizen’s taking up of arms. Today the community of firearms enthusiasts is sadly overwhelmed by mindless consumers who believe the very act of legal firearm ownership is itself a revolutionary stance, and whose appreciation for the rifle is expressed only in the hoarding of them.
Perhaps most disheartening is the attachment of undue cultural value to the most duplicitous element of Americana iconography: the motor vehicle. What has been taken and interpreted at face value by some critics as the ultimate symbol of American financial and spatial freedom is in fact the heaviest material ball and chain restricting the American individual today. The delivery of the financial burden for freedom of movement about the country onto the back of every individual adult, and many children, was surely a masterstroke of insidious cooperation between Eisenhower’s wartime cabinet and the loansharks.
In every developed nation in the world save ours, it is expected that one be able to travel safely and expediently across the width of the land at modest cost by some means acceptably maintained by the government’s tax collection. Instead, in the United States one is expected to take on debt (or else splurge for a rundown secondhand machine) and accept the risks of travelling by the deadliest known form of locomotion. Even worse, the cultural willingness to accept, and even extol the virtues of, individual vehicle ownership and the interstate highway system has led to the comparative diminishing of interest in national mass-transit.
Finally, an analysis of American culture would be incomplete if we were to totally disregard post-War developments which transcend ugly Capitalist materialism. Such topics have become increasingly taboo in the modern day, as they represent a thread of American exceptionalism which has been deemed heretical through some imperceivable connection to European fascism. While the full scope of these cultural milestones is too broad to be covered in full detail here, a few of the usual suspects rear their head and demand consideration. The legacy of nuclear energy, bastardized by the Soviets, should have rightfully been America’s contribution to the 21st century in place of the hamburger. All the same for spaceflight, though our tenuous grasp on that field has been serendipitously maintained by the recent revitalization of industrial showmanship.
Regardless of these great historical and contemporary developments, nothing will be gained in the spirit of the American people as a whole if we are not able to first and foremost divest the identity of the American population from the consumption of iconic Capitalist products. Until we can climb out of the junkyard of Americana and find new transcendent values on which to base our identities, the achievements of the greatest nation on Earth today will continue to be fodder for the ravenous swarms of destabilizing ideologues who build nothing and are content only when we all live like them among the wreckage.
We must safeguard our minds from rejecting Marxist thought only to backslide into a sinkhole of materialism, and use our rejection of this false dichotomy as the foothold by which to propel ourselves into new, constructive means of ordering our society.