Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Does the World Still Care About American Culture?

In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Richard Pells, a professor at the University of Texas-Austin, considers whether the world still cares about American culture (here too as an op-ed piece to the Dallas Morning News)-- which is part (but only part!!) of what we're exploring here.

Of American writers and artists, Pells writes, "Today they are for the most part unnoticed, or regarded as ordinary mortals, participants in a global rather than a distinctively American culture."

It is interesting to note, I think, that Pells goes on to talk of how various nations are increasingly turning to their own cultural production while Americans are increasingly looking outwards (his example of the movies is particularly striking in this regard). Though might this also be because of a more general American turn away from "culture"? I mean, how well known are any American writers and artists in the United States today?

What's prompting this?, Pells asks. "The main answer is that globalization has subverted America's influence." It has meant that the United States competes, rather than dominates. Though why American culture now competes instead of dominates is a bit unclear to this reader.

He concludes that "it is doubtful that America will ever again be the world's pre-eminent culture, as it was in the 20th century. That is not a cause for regret. Perhaps we are all better off in a world of cultural pluralism than in a world made in America."

"Perhaps"?!? Yes, perhaps. Or perhaps not? Or maybe? Pells' is a view from the inside, from the United States (though he has traveled, taught, and spoken around the world). What have been your experiences with the spread of American culture? Is it a cultural competition now? Are we increasingly nationalistic in our cultural consumption? Or are we just increasingly uncaring? Or cheap -- are we consuming what is least expensive? Or ready-made? Or...??

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