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: U.S. Culture


THE U.S. CULTURE
American culture is rich, complex, and unique. It emerged from the short and rapid European conquest of an enormous landmass sparsely settled by diverse indigenous peoples. Although European cultural patterns predominated, especially in language, the arts, and political institutions, peoples from Africa, Asia, and North America also contributed to American culture. All of these groups influenced popular tastes in music, dress, entertainment, and cuisine. As a result, American culture possesses an unusual mixture of patterns and forms forged from among its diverse peoples. The many melodies of American culture have not always been harmonious, but its complexity has created a society that struggles to achieve tolerance and produces a uniquely casual personal style that identifies Americans everywhere. The country is strongly committed to democracy, in which views of the majority prevail, and strives for equality in law and institutions.
Characteristics such as democracy and equality flourished in the American environment long before taking firm root in European societies, where the ideals originated. As early as the 1780s, Michel Guillaume Jean de
Crvecoeur, a French writer living in Pennsylvania who wrote under the pseudonym J. Hector St. John, was impressed by the democratic nature of early American society. It was not until the 19th century that these tendencies in America were most fully expressed. When French political writer Alexis de Tocqueville, an acute social observer, traveled through the United States in the 1830s, he provided an unusually penetrating portrait of the nature of democracy in America and its cultural consequences. He commented that in all areas of culturefamily life, law, arts, philosophy, and dressAmericans were inclined to emphasize the ordinary and easily accessible, rather than the unique and complex. His insight is as relevant today as it was when de Tocqueville visited the
United States. As a result, American culture is more often defined by its popular and democratically inclusive features, such as blockbuster movies, television comedies, sports stars, and fast food, than by its more cultivated aspects as performed in theaters, published in books, or viewed in museums and galleries. Even the fine arts in modern America often partake of the energy and forms of popular culture, and modern arts are often a product of the fusion of fine and popular arts.
While America is probably most well known for its popular arts, Americans partake in an enormous range of cultural activities. Besides being avid readers of a great variety of books and magazines catering to differing tastes and interests, Americans also attend museums, operas, and ballets in large numbers. They listen to country and classical music, jazz and folk music, as well as classic rock-and-roll and new wave. Americans attend and participate in basketball, football, baseball, and soccer games. They enjoy food from a wide range of foreign cuisines, such as
Chinese, Thai, Greek, French, Indian, Mexican, Italian, Ethiopian, and
Cuban. They have also developed their own regional foods, such as
California cuisine and Southwestern, Creole, and Southern cooking. Still evolving and drawing upon its ever more diverse population, American culture has come to symbolize what is most up-to-date and modern. American culture has also become increasingly international and is imported by countries around the world.
FORCES THAT SHAPED AMERICAN CULTURE
Imported Traditions
Today American culture often sets the pace in modern style. For much of its early history, however, the United States was considered culturally provincial and its arts second-rate, especially in painting and literature, where European artists defined quality and form. American artists often took their cues from European literary salons and art schools, and cultured Americans traveled to Europe to become educated. In the late 18th century, some American artists produced high-quality art, such as the paintings of John Singleton Copley and Gilbert Charles Stuart and the silver work of Paul Revere. However, wealthy Americans who collected art in the 19th century still bought works by European masters and acquired European decorative artsporcelain, silver, and antique furniture. They then ventured further afield seeking more exotic decor, especially items from China and Japan. By acquiring foreign works, wealthy
Americans were able to obtain the status inherent in a long historical tradition, which the United States lacked. Americans such as Isabella
Stewart Gardner and Henry Clay Frick amassed extensive personal collections, which overwhelmingly emphasized non-American arts.
In literature, some 19th-century American writers believed that only the refined manners and perceptions associated with the European upper classes could produce truly great literary themes. These writers, notably Henry
James and Edith Wharton, often set their novels in the crosswinds of
European and American cultural contact. Britain especially served as the touchstone for culture and quality because of its role in America*s history and the links of language and political institutions. Throughout the 19th century, Americans read and imitated British poetry and novels, such as those written by Sir Walter Scott and Charles Dickens.
The Emergence of an American Voice
American culture first developed a unique American voice during the 19th century. This voice included a cultural identity that was strongly connected to nature and to a divine mission. The new American voice had liberating effects on how the culture was perceived, by Americans and by others. Writers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau proposed that the American character was deeply individualistic and connected to natural and spiritual sources rather than to the conventions of social life. Many of the 19th centurys most notable figures of American literatureHerman
Melville, Emily Dickinson, and Mark Twainalso influenced this tradition.
The poetry of Walt Whitman, perhaps above all, spoke in a distinctly
American voice about peoples relation to one another, and described
American freedom, diversity, and equality with fervor.
Landscape painting in the United States during the 19th century vividly captured the unique American cultural identity with its emphasis on the natural environment. This was evident in the huge canvases set in the West by Albert Bierstadt and the more intimate paintings of Thomas Cole. These paintings, which were part of the Hudson River School, were often enveloped in a radiant light suggesting a special connection to spiritual sources. But very little of this American culture moved beyond the United
States to influence art trends elsewhere. American popular culture, including craft traditions such as quilting or local folk music forged by
Appalachian farmers or former African slaves, remained largely local.
This sense of the special importance of nature for American identity led
Americans in the late 19th century to become increasingly concerned that urban life and industrial products were overwhelming the natural environment. Their concern led for calls to preserve areas that had not been developed. Naturalists such as John Muir were pivotal in establishing the first national parks and preserving scenic areas of the American West.
By the early 20th century, many Americans supported the drive to preserve wilderness and the desire to make the great outdoors available to everyone.
Immigration and Diversity
By the early 20th century, as the United States became an international power, its cultural self-identity became more complex. The United States was becoming more diverse as immigrants streamed into the country, settling especially in Americas growing urban areas. At this time,
America*s social diversity began to find significant expression in the arts and culture. American writers of German, Irish, Jewish, and
Scandinavian ancestry began to find an audience, although some of the cultural elite resisted the works, considering them crude and unrefined.
Many of these writers focused on 20th-century city life and themes, such as poverty, efforts to assimilate into the United States, and family life in the new country. These ethnically diverse writers included Theodore
Dreiser, of German ancestry; Henry Roth, a Jewish writer; and Eugene
O*Neill and James Farrell, of Irish background. European influence now meant something very different than it once had: Artists changed the core of American experience by incorporating their various immigrant origins into its cultural vision. During the 1920s and 1930s, a host of African
American poets and novelists added their voices to this new American vision. Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Countee Cullen, among others, gathered in New York Citys Harlem district. They began to write about their unique experiences, creating a movement called the Harlem
Renaissance.
Visual artists of the early 20th century also began incorporating the many new sights and colors of the multiethnic America visible in these new city settings. Painters associated with a group known as The Eight (also called the Ashcan school), such as Robert Henri and John Sloan, portrayed the picturesque sights of the city. Later painters and photographers focused on the citys squalid and seamier aspects. Although nature remained a significant dimension of American cultural self-expression, as the paintings of Georgia O*Keeffe demonstrated, it was no longer at the heart of American culture. By the 1920s and 1930s few artists or writers considered nature the singular basis of American cultural identity.
In popular music too, the songs of many nations became American songs. Tin
Pan Alley (Union Square in New York City, the center of music publishing at the turn of the 20th century) was full of immigrant talents who helped define American music, especially in the form of the Broadway musical.
Some songwriters, such as Irving Berlin and George M. Cohan, used their music to help define American patriotic songs and holiday traditions.
During the 1920s musical forms such as the blues and jazz began to dominate the rhythms of American popular music. These forms had their roots in Africa as adapted in the American South and then in cities such as New Orleans, Louisiana; Kansas City, Missouri; Detroit, Michigan; and
Chicago, Illinois. Black artists and musicians such as Louis Armstrong,
Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Count Basie became the instruments of a classic American sound. White composers such as George Gershwin and performers such as Bix Beiderbecke also incorporated jazz rhythms into their music, while instrumentalists such as Benny Goodman adopted jazzs improvisational style to forge a racially blended American form called swing music.
Development of Mass Media
In the late 19th century, Americans who enjoyed the arts usually lived in big cities or had the money to attend live performances. People who were poor or distant from cultural centers settled for second-rate productions mounted by local theater troupes or touring groups. New technologies, such as the motion-picture camera and the phonograph, revolutionized the arts by making them available to the masses. The movies, the phonograph, and, somewhat later, the radio made entertainment available daily and allowed
Americans to experience elaborately produced dramas and all types of music.
While mass media made entertainment available to more people, it also began to homogenize tastes, styles, and points of view among different groups in the United States. Class and ethnic distinctions in American culture began to fade as mass media transmitted movies and music to people throughout the United States. Some people criticized the growing uniformity of mass culture for lowering the general standard of taste, since mass media sought to please the largest number of people by appealing to simpler rather than more complex tastes. However, culture became more democratic as modern technology and mass media allowed it to reach more people.
During the 20th century, mass entertainment extended the reach of American culture, reversing the direction of influence as Europe and the world became consumers of American popular culture. America became the dominant cultural source for entertainment and popular fashion, from the jeans and
T-shirts young people wear to the music groups and rock stars they listen to and the movies they see. People all over the world view American television programs, often years after the programs popularity has declined in the United States. American television has become such an international fixture that American news broadcasts help define what people in other countries know about current events and politics. American entertainment is probably one of the strongest means by which American culture influences the world, although some countries, such as France, resist this influence because they see it as a threat to their unique national culture.
The Impact of Consumerism
Popular culture is linked to the growth of consumerism, the repeated acquisition of an increasing variety of goods and services. The American lifestyle is often associated with clothing, houses, electronic gadgets, and other products, as well as with leisure time. As advertising stimulates the desire for updated or improved products, people increasingly equate their well-being with owning certain things and acquiring the latest model. Television and other mass media broadcast a portrayal of a privileged American lifestyle that many Americans hope to imitate.
Americans often seek self-fulfillment and status through gaining material items. Indeed, products consumed and owned, rather than professional accomplishments or personal ideals, are often the standard of success in
American society. The media exemplify this success with the most glamorous models of consumption: Hollywood actors, sports figures, or music celebrities. This dependence on products and on constant consumption defines modern consumer society everywhere. Americans have set the pace for this consumer ideal, especially young people, who have helped fuel this consumer culture in the United States and the world. Like the mass media with which it is so closely linked, consumption has been extensively criticized. Portrayed as a dizzy cycle of induced desire, consumerism seems to erode older values of personal taste and economy. Despite this, the mass production of goods has also allowed more people to live more comfortably and made it possible for anyone to attain a sense of style, blurring the most obvious forms of class distinction.
WAYS OF LIFE
Living Patterns
A fundamental element in the life of the American people was the enormous expanse of land available. During the colonial period, the access to open land helped scatter settlements. One effect was to make it difficult to enforce traditional European social conventions, such as primogeniture, in which the eldest son inherited the parents estate. Because the United
States had so much land, sons became less dependent on inheriting the family estate. Religious institutions were also affected, as the widely spread settlements created space for newer religious sects and revivalist practices.
In the 19th century, Americans used their land to grow crops, which helped create the dynamic agricultural economy that defined American society.
Many Americans were lured westward to obtain more land. Immigrants sought land to settle, cattle ranchers wanted land for their herds, Southerners looked to expand their slave economy into Western lands, and railroad companies acquired huge tracts of land as they bound a loose society into a coherent economic union. Although Native Americans had inhabited most of the continent, Europeans and American settlers often viewed it as empty, virgin land that they were destined to occupy. Even before the late 19th century, when the last bloody battles between U.S. troops and Native
Americans completed the white conquest of the West, the idea of possessing land was deeply etched into American cultural patterns and national consciousness.
Throughout the 19th century, agricultural settlements existed on large, separate plots of land, often occupying hundreds of acres. The Homestead
Act of 1862 promised up to 65 hectares (160 acres) of free land to anyone with enough fortitude and vision to live on or cultivate the land. As a result, many settlements in the West contained vast areas of sparsely settled land, where neighbors lived great distances from one another. The desire for residential privacy has remained a significant feature of
American culture.
This heritage continues to define patterns of life in the United States.
More than any other Western society, Americans are committed to living in private dwellings set apart from neighbors. Despite the rapid urbanization that began in the late 19th century, Americans insisted that each nuclear family (parents and their children) be privately housed and that as many families as possible own their own homes. This strong cultural standard sometimes seemed unusual to new immigrants who were used to the more crowded living conditions of Europe, but they quickly adopted this aspect of American culture.
As cities became more densely populated, Americans moved to the suburbs.
Streetcars, first used during the 1830s, opened suburban rings around city centers, where congestion was greatest. Banks offered long-term loans that allowed individuals to invest in a home. Above all, the automobile in the
1920s was instrumental in furthering the move to the suburbs.
After World War II (1939-1945), developers carved out rural tracts to build millions of single-family homes, and more Americans than ever before moved to large suburban areas that were zoned to prevent commercial and industrial activities. The federal government directly fueled this process by providing loans to war veterans as part of the Servicemens
Readjustment Act of 1944, known as the GI Bill of Rights, which provided a wide range of benefits to U.S. military personnel. In many of the new housing developments, builders constructed homes according to a single model, a process first established in Levittown, New York. These identical, partially prefabricated units were rapidly assembled, making suburban life and private land ownership available to millions of returning soldiers in search of housing for their families.
American families still choose to live in either suburbs or the sprawling suburban cities that have grown up in newer regions of the country. Vast areas of the West, such as the Los Angeles metropolitan region in
California, the area around Phoenix, Arizona, and the Puget Sound area of
Washington state, became rapidly populated with new housing because of the
American desire to own a home on a private plot of land. In much of this suburban sprawl, the central city has become largely indistinct. These suburban areas almost invariably reflect Americans dependence on automobiles and on government-supported highway systems.
As a result of Americans choosing to live in the suburbs, a distinctly
American phenomenon developed in the form of the shopping mall. The shopping mall has increasingly replaced the old-fashioned urban downtown, where local shops, restaurants, and cultural attractions were located.
Modern malls emphasize consumption as an exclusive activity. The shopping mall, filled with department stores, specialty shops, fast-food franchises, and movie multiplexes, has come to dominate retailing, making suburban areas across America more and more alike. In malls, Americans purchase food, clothing, and entertainment in an isolated environment surrounded by parking lots.
The American preference for living in the suburbs has also affected other living experiences. Because suburbs emphasize family life, suburban areas also place a greater emphasis on school and other family-oriented political issues than more demographically diverse cities. At their most intense levels, desire for privacy and fear of crime have led to the development of gated suburban communities that keep out those who are not wanted.
Despite the growth of suburbs, American cities have maintained their status as cultural centers for theaters, museums, concert halls, art galleries, and more upscale restaurants, shops, and bookstores. In the past several decades, city populations grew as young and trendy professionals with few or no children sought out the cultural possibilities and the diversity not available in the suburbs. Housing can be expensive and difficult to find in older cities such as New York;
Boston, Massachusetts; and San Francisco, California. To cope, many city dwellers restored older apartment buildings and houses. This process, called gentrification, combines the American desire for the latest technology with a newer appreciation for the classic and vintage.
Many poorer Americans cannot afford homes in the suburbs or apartments in the gentrified areas of cities. They often rely upon federal housing subsidies to pay for apartments in less-desirable areas of the city or in public housing projects. Poorer people often live crowded together in large apartment complexes in congested inner-city areas. Federal public housing began when President Franklin Roosevelt sought to relieve the worst conditions associated with poverty in the 1930s. It accelerated during the 1950s and 1960s, as the government subsidized the renewal of urban areas by replacing slums with either new or refurbished housing. In the late 20th century, many people criticized public housing because it was often the site for crime, drug deals, gangs, and other social ills.
Nevertheless, given the expensive nature of rental housing in cities, public housing is often the only option available to those who cannot afford to buy their own home. Private efforts, such as Habitat for
Humanity, have been organized to help the urban poor move from crowded, high-rise apartments. These organizations help construct low-cost homes in places such as the South Bronx in New York City, and they emphasize the pride and autonomy of home ownership.
In recent years, the importance of home ownership has increased as higher real estate prices have made the house a valuable investment. The newest home construction has made standard the comforts of large kitchens, luxurious bathrooms, and small gardens. In line with the rising cost of land, these houses often stand on smaller lots than those constructed in the period following World War II, when one-story ranch houses and large lawns were the predominant style. At the same time, many suburban areas have added other kinds of housing in response to the needs of single people and people without children. As a result, apartments and townhousesavailable as rentals and as condominiumshave become familiar parts of suburban life. For more information on urbanization and suburbanization.
Food and Cuisine
The United States has rich and productive land that has provided Americans with plentiful resources for a healthy diet. Despite this, Americans did not begin to pay close attention to the variety and quality of the food they ate until the 20th century, when they became concerned about eating too much and becoming overweight. American food also grew more similar around the country as American malls and fast-food outlets tended to standardize eating patterns throughout the nation, especially among young people. Nevertheless, American food has become more complex as it draws from the diverse cuisines that immigrants have brought with them.
Historically, the rest of the world has envied the good, wholesome food available in the United States. In the 18th and 19th centuries, fertile soil and widespread land ownership made grains, meats, and vegetables widely available, and famine that was common elsewhere was unknown in the
United States. Some immigrants, such as the Irish, moved to the United
States to escape famine, while others saw the bounty of food as one of the advantages of immigration. By the late 19th century, Americas food surplus was beginning to feed the world. After World War I (1914-1918) and
World War II, the United States distributed food in Europe to help countries severely damaged by the wars. Throughout the 20th century,
American food exports have helped compensate for inadequate harvests in other parts of the world. Although hunger does exist in the United States, it results more from food being poorly distributed rather than from food being unavailable.
Traditional American cuisine has included conventional European foodstuffs such as wheat, dairy products, pork, beef, and poultry. It has also incorporated products that were either known only in the New World or that were grown there first and then introduced to Europe. Such foods include potatoes, corn, codfish, molasses, pumpkin and other squashes, sweet potatoes, and peanuts. American cuisine also varies by region. Southern cooking was often different from cooking in New England and its upper
Midwest offshoots. Doughnuts, for example, were a New England staple, while Southerners preferred corn bread. The availability of foods also affected regional diets, such as the different kinds of fish eaten in New
England and the Gulf Coast. For instance, Boston clam chowder and
Louisiana gumbo are widely different versions of fish soup. Other variations often depended on the contributions of indigenous peoples. In the Southwest, for example, Mexican and Native Americans made hot peppers a staple and helped define the spicy hot barbecues and chili dishes of the area. In Louisiana, Cajun influence similarly created spicy dishes as a local variation of Southern cuisine, and African slaves throughout the
South introduced foods such as okra and yams
By the late 19th century, immigrants from Europe and Asia were introducing even more variations into the American diet. American cuisine began to reflect these foreign cuisines, not only in their original forms but in
Americanized versions as well. Immigrants from Japan and Italy introduced a range of fresh vegetables that added important nutrients as well as variety to the protein-heavy American diet. Germans and Italians contributed new skills and refinements to the production of alcoholic beverages, especially beer and wine, which supplemented the more customary hard cider and indigenous corn-mash whiskeys. Some imports became distinctly American products, such as hot dogs, which are descended from
German wurst, or sausage. Spaghetti and pizza from Italy, especially, grew increasingly more American and developed many regional spin-offs.
Americans even adapted chow mein from China into a simple American dish.
Not until the late 20th century did Americans rediscover these cuisines, and many others, paying far more attention to their original forms and cooking styles.
Until the early 20th century, the federal government did not regulate food for consumers, and food was sometimes dangerous and impure. During the
Progressive period in the early 20th century, the federal government intervened to protect consumers against the worst kinds of food adulterations and diseases by passing legislation such as the Pure Food and Drug Acts. As a result, American food became safer. By the early 20th century, Americans began to consume convenient, packaged foods such as breads and cookies, preserved fruits, and pickles. By the mid-20th century, packaged products had expanded greatly to include canned soups, noodles, processed breakfast cereals, preserved meats, frozen vegetables, instant puddings, and gelatins. These prepackaged foods became staples used in recipes contained in popular cookbooks, while peanut butter sandwiches and packaged cupcakes became standard lunchbox fare. As a result, the American diet became noteworthy for its blandness rather than its flavors, and for its wholesomeness rather than its subtlety.
Americans were proud of their technology in food production and processing. They used fertilizers, hybridization (genetically combining two varieties), and other technologies to increase crop yields and consumer selection, making foods cheaper if not always better tasting.
Additionally, by the 1950s, the refrigerator had replaced the old- fashioned icebox and the cold cellar as a place to store food.
Refrigeration, because it allowed food to last longer, made the American kitchen a convenient place to maintain readily available food stocks.
However, plentiful wholesome food, when combined with the sedentary 20th- century lifestyle and work habits, brought its own unpleasant consequencesovereating and excess weight. During the 1970s, 25 percent of
Americans were overweight; by the 1990s that had increased to 35 percent.
Americas foods began to affect the rest of the worldnot only raw staples such as wheat and corn, but a new American cuisine that spread throughout the world. American emphasis on convenience and rapid consumption is best represented in fast foods such as hamburgers, french fries, and soft drinks, which almost all Americans have eaten. By the 1960s and 1970s fast foods became one of America*s strongest exports as franchises for
McDonalds and Burger King spread through Europe and other parts of the world, including the former Soviet Union and Communist China. Traditional meals cooked at home and consumed at a leisurely pacecommon in the rest of the world, and once common in the United Statesgave way to quick lunches and dinners eaten on the run as other countries mimicked American cultural patterns.
By the late 20th century, Americans had become more conscious of their diets, eating more poultry, fish, and fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer eggs and less beef. They also began appreciating fresh ingredients and livelier flavors, and cooks began to rediscover many world cuisines in forms closer to their original. In California, chefs combined the fresh fruits and vegetables available year-round with ingredients and spices sometimes borrowed from immigrant kitchens to create an innovative cooking style that was lighter than traditional French, but more interesting and varied than typical American cuisine. Along with the states wines,
California cuisine eventually took its place among the acknowledged forms of fine dining.
As Americans became more concerned about their diets, they also became more ecologically conscious. This consciousness often included an antitechnology aspect that led some Americans to switch to a partially or wholly vegetarian diet, or to emphasize products produced organically
(without chemical fertilizers and pesticides). Many considered these foods more wholesome and socially responsible because their production was less taxing to the environment. In the latter 20th century, Americans also worried about the effects of newly introduced genetically altered foods and irradiation processes for killing bacteria. They feared that these new processes made their food less natural and therefore harmful.
These concerns and the emphasis on variety were by no means universal, since food habits in the late 20th century often reflected societys ethnic and class differences. Not all Americans appreciated California cuisine or vegetarian food, and many recent immigrants, like their immigrant predecessors, often continued eating the foods they knew best.
At the end of the 20th century, American eating habits and food production were increasingly taking place outside the home. Many people relied on restaurants and on new types of fully prepared meals to help busy families in which both adults worked full-time. Another sign of the publics changing food habits was the microwave oven, probably the most widely used new kitchen appliance, since it can quickly cook foods and reheat prepared foods and leftovers. Since Americans are generally cooking less of their own food, they are more aware than at any time since the early 20th century of the quality and health standards applied to food. Recent attention to cases in which children have died from contaminated and poorly prepared food has once again directed the publics attention to the government*s role in monitoring food safety.
In some ways, American food developments are contradictory. Americans are more aware of food quality despite, and maybe because of, their increasing dependence on convenience. They eat a more varied diet, drawing on the cuisines of immigrant groups (Thai, Vietnamese, Greek, Indian, Cuban,
Mexican, and Ethiopian), but they also regularly eat fast foods found in every shopping mall and along every highway. They are more suspicious of technology, although they rely heavily on it for their daily meals. In many ways, these contradictions reflect the many influences on American life in the late 20th centuryimmigration, double-income households, genetic technologies, domestic and foreign traveland food has become an even deeper expression of the complex culture of which it is part.
Dress
In many regions of the world, people wear traditional costumes at festivals or holidays, and sometimes more regularly. Americans, however, do not have distinctive folk attire with a long tradition. Except for the varied and characteristic clothing of Native American peoples, dress in the United States has rarely been specific to a certain region or based on the careful preservation of decorative patterns and crafts. American dress is derived from the fabrics and fashions of the Europeans who began colonizing the country in the 17th century. Early settlers incorporated some of the forms worn by indigenous peoples, such as moccasins and garments made from animal skins (Benjamin Franklin is famous for flaunting a raccoon cap when he traveled to Europe), but in general, fashion in the
United States adapted and modified European styles. Despite the number and variety of immigrants in the United States, American clothing has tended to be homogeneous, and attire from an immigrants homeland was often rapidly exchanged for American apparel.
American dress is distinctive because of its casualness. American style in the 20th century is recognizably more informal than in Europe, and for its fashion sources it is more dependent on what people on the streets are wearing. European fashions take their cues from the top of the fashion hierarchy, dictated by the world-famous haute couture (high fashion) houses of Paris, France, and recently those of Milan, Italy, and London,
England. Paris designers, both today and in the past, have also dressed wealthy and fashionable Americans, who copied French styles. Although
European designs remain a significant influence on American tastes,
American fashions more often come from popular sources, such as the school and the street, as well as television and movies. In the last quarter of the 20th century, American designers often found inspiration in the imaginative attire worn by young people in cities and ballparks, and that worn by workers in factories and fields.
Blue jeans are probably the single most representative article of American clothing. They were originally invented by tailor Jacob Davis, who together with dry-goods salesman Levi Strauss patented the idea in 1873 as durable clothing for miners. Blue jeans (also known as dungarees) spread among workers of all kinds in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially among cowboys, farmers, loggers, and railroad workers. During the 1950s, actors Marlon Brando and James Dean made blue jeans fashionable by wearing them in movies, and jeans became part of the image of teenage rebelliousness. This fashion statement exploded in the 1960s and 1970s as
Levi*s became a fundamental part of the youth culture focused on civil rights and antiwar protests. By the late 1970s, almost everyone in the
United States wore blue jeans, and youths around the world sought them. As designers began to create more sophisticated styles of blue jeans and to adjust their fit, jeans began to express the American emphasis on informality and the importance of subtlety of detail. By highlighting the right label and achieving the right look, blue jeans, despite their worker origins, ironically embodied the status consciousness of American fashion and the eagerness to approximate the latest fad.
American informality in dress is such a strong part of American culture that many workplaces have adopted the idea of casual Friday, a day when workers are encouraged to dress down from their usual professional attire.
For many high-tech industries located along the West Coast, as well as among faculty at colleges and universities, this emphasis on casual attire is a daily occurrence, not just reserved for Fridays.
The fashion industry in the United States, along with its companion cosmetics industry, grew enormously in the second half of the 20th century and became a major source of competition for French fashion. Especially notable during the late 20th century was the incorporation of sports logos and styles, from athletic shoes to tennis shirts and baseball caps, into standard American wardrobes. American informality is enshrined in the wardrobes created by world-famous U.S. designers such as Calvin Klein, Liz
Claiborne, and Ralph Lauren. Lauren especially adopted the American look, based in part on the tradition of the old West (cowboy hats, boots, and jeans) and in part on the clean-cut sportiness of suburban style (blazers, loafers, and khakis).
Sports and Recreation
Large numbers of Americans watch and participate in sports activities, which are a deeply ingrained part of American life. Americans use sports to express interest in health and fitness and to occupy their leisure time. Sports also allow Americans to connect and identify with mass culture. Americans pour billions of dollars into sports and their related enterprises, affecting the economy, family habits, school life, and clothing styles. Americans of all classes, races, sexes, and ages participate in sports activitiesfrom toddlers in infant swimming groups and teenagers participating in school athletics to middle-aged adults bowling or golfing and older persons practicing tai chi.
Public subsidies and private sponsorships support the immense network of outdoor and indoor sports, recreation, and athletic competitions. Except for those sponsored by public schools, most sports activities are privately funded, and even American Olympic athletes receive no direct national sponsorship. Little League baseball teams, for example, are usually sponsored by local businesses. Many commercial football, basketball, baseball, and hockey teams reflect large private investments.
Although sports teams are privately owned, they play in stadiums that are usually financed by taxpayer-provided subsidies such as bond measures.
State taxes provide some money for state university sporting events.
Taxpayer dollars also support state parks, the National Park Service, and the Forest Service, which provide places for Americans to enjoy camping, fishing, hiking, and rafting. Public money also funds the Coast Guard, whose crews protect those enjoying boating around the nation*s shores.
Sports in North America go back to the Native Americans, who played forms of lacrosse and field hockey. During colonial times, early Dutch settlers bowled on New York City*s Bowling Green, still a small park in southern
Manhattan. However, organized sports competitions and local participatory sports on a substantial scale go back only to the late 19th century.
Schools and colleges began to encourage athletics as part of a balanced program emphasizing physical as well as mental vigor, and churches began to loosen strictures against leisure and physical pleasures. As work became more mechanized, more clerical, and less physical during the late
19th century, Americans became concerned with diet and exercise. With sedentary urban activities replacing rural life, Americans used sports and outdoor relaxation to balance lives that had become hurried and confined.
Biking, tennis, and golf became popular for those who could afford them, while sandlot baseball and an early version of basketball became popular city activities. At the same time, organizations such as the Boy Scouts and the Young Mens Christian Association (YMCA) began to sponsor sports as part of their efforts to counteract unruly behavior among young people.

Baseball teams developed in Eastern cities during the 1850s and spread to the rest of the nation during the Civil War in the 1860s. Baseball quickly became the national pastime and began to produce sports heroes such as Cy
Young, Ty Cobb, and Babe Ruth in the first half of the 20th century. With its city-based loyalties and all-American aura, baseball appealed to many immigrants, who as players and fans used the game as a way to fit into
American culture.
Starting in the latter part of the 19th century, football was played on college campuses, and intercollegiate games quickly followed. By the early
20th century, football had become a feature of college life across the nation. In the 1920s football pep rallies were commonly held on college campuses, and football players were among the most admired campus leaders.
That enthusiasm has now spilled way beyond college to Americans throughout the country. Spectators also watch the professional football teams of the
National Football League (NFL) with enthusiasm.
Basketball is another sport that is very popular as both a spectator and participant sport. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) hosts championships for mens and womens collegiate teams. Held annually in March, the mens NCAA national championship is one of the most popular sporting events in the United States. The top mens professional basketball league in the United States is the National Basketball
Association; the top womens is Womens National Basketball Association.
In addition, many people play basketball in amateur leagues and organizations. It is also common to see people playing basketball in parks and local gymnasiums around the country.
Another major sport played in the United States is ice hockey. Ice hockey began as an amateur sport played primarily in the Northeast. The first
U.S. professional ice hockey team was founded in Boston in 1924. Ice hockeys popularity has spread throughout the country since the 1960s. The
NCAA holds a national collegiate ice hockey championship in April of each year. The countrys top professional league is the National Hockey League
(NHL). NHL teams play a regular schedule that culminates in the championship series. The winner is awarded the Stanley Cup, the leagues top prize.
Television transformed sports in the second half of the 20th century. As more Americans watched sports on television, the sports industry grew into an enormous business, and sports events became widely viewed among
Americans as cultural experiences. Many Americans shared televised moments of exaltation and triumph throughout the year: baseball during the spring and summer and its World Series in the early fall, football throughout the fall crowned by the Super Bowl in January, and the National Basketball
Association (NBA) championships in the spring. The Olympic Games, watched by millions of people worldwide, similarly rivet Americans to their televisions as they watch outstanding athletes compete on behalf of their nations. Commercial sports are part of practically every home in America and have allowed sports heroes to gain prominence in the national imagination and to become fixtures of the consumer culture. As well-known faces and bodies, sports celebrities such as basketball player Michael
Jordan and baseball player Mark McGwire are hired to endorse products.
Although televised games remove the viewing public from direct contact with events, they have neither diminished the fervor of team identification nor dampened the enthusiasm for athletic participation.
Americans watch more sports on television than ever, and they personally participate in more varied sporting activities and athletic clubs.
Millions of young girls and boys across the country play soccer, baseball, tennis, and field hockey.
At the end of the 20th century, Americans were taking part in individual sports of all kindsjogging, bicycling, swimming, skiing, rock climbing, playing tennis, as well as more unusual sports such as bungee jumping, hang gliding, and wind surfing. As Americans enjoy more leisure time, and as Hollywood and advertising emphasize trim, well-developed bodies, sports have become a significant component of many people*s lives. Many Americans now invest significant amounts of money in sports equipment, clothing, and gym memberships. As a result, more people are dressing in sporty styles of clothing. Sports logos and athletic fashions have become common aspects of peoples wardrobes, as people need to look as though they participate in sports to be in style. Sports have even influenced the cars Americans drive, as sport utility vehicles accommodate the rugged terrain, elaborate equipment, and sporty lifestyles of their owners.
Probably the most significant long-term development in 20th-century sports has been the increased participation of minorities and women. Throughout the early 20th century, African Americans made outstanding contributions to sports, despite being excluded from organized white teams. The exclusion of black players from white baseball led to the creation of a separate Negro National League in 1920. On the world stage, track-and- field star Jessie Owens became a national hero when he won four gold medals and set world and Olympic records at the Berlin Olympics in 1936.
The racial segregation that prevented African Americans from playing baseball in the National League until 1947 has been replaced by the enormous successes of African Americans in all fields of sport.
Before the 20th century women could not play in most organized sports.
Soon, however, they began to enter the sports arena. Helen Wills Moody, a tennis champion during the 1920s, and Babe Didrikson Zaharias, one of the
20th centurys greatest women athletes, were examples of physical grace and agility. In 1972 Title IX of the Education Amendments Act outlawed discrimination based on gender in education, including school sports.
Schools then spent additional funding on women*s athletics, which provided an enormous boost to womens sports of all kinds, especially basketball, which became very popular. Women*s college basketball, part of the
National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), is a popular focus of interest. By the end of the 20th century, this enthusiasm led to the creation of a major professional womens basketball league. Women have become a large part of athletics, making their mark in a wide range of sports.
Sports have become one of the most visible expressions of the vast extension of democracy in 20th-century America. They have become more inclusive, with many Americans both personally participating and enjoying sports as spectators. Once readily available only to the well-to-do, sports and recreation attract many people, aided by the mass media, the schools and colleges, the federal and state highway and park systems, and increased leisure time.
Celebrations and Holidays
Americans celebrate an enormous variety of festivals and holidays because they come from around the globe and practice many religions. They also celebrate holidays specific to the United States that commemorate historical events or encourage a common national memory. Holidays in
America are often family or community events. Many Americans travel long distances for family gatherings or take vacations during holidays. In fact, by the end of the 20th century, many national holidays in the United
States had become three-day weekends, which many people used as mini vacations. Except for the Fourth of July and Veterans Day, most commemorative federal holidays, including Memorial Day, Labor Day,
Columbus Day, and Presidents Day, are celebrated on Mondays so that
Americans can enjoy a long weekend. Because many Americans tend to create vacations out of these holiday weekends rather than celebrate a particular event, some people believe the original significance of many of these occasions has been eroded.
Because the United States is a secular society founded on the separation of church and state, many of the most meaningful religiously based festivals and rituals, such as Easter, Rosh Hashanah, and Ramadan, are not enshrined as national events, with one major exception. Christmas, and the holiday season surrounding it, is an enormous commercial enterprise, a fixture of the American social calendar, and deeply embedded in the popular imagination. Not until the 19th century did Christmas in the
United States begin to take on aspects of the modern holiday celebration, such as exchanging gifts, cooking and eating traditional foods, and putting up often-elaborate Christmas decorations. The holiday has grown in popula...

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