Modern US Culture Wiki
Culture of the
United States

Comic books
Visual arts

The development of the culture of the United States of Americamusic, cinema, dance, architecture, literature, poetry, cuisine and the visual arts—has been marked by a tension between two strong sources of inspiration: European sophistication and domestic originality. Frequently, the best American artists have managed to harness both sources such as Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, etc.

American culture has a large influence on the rest of the world, especially the Western world. American music is heard all over the world[citation needed], such as through MTV, Channel V, VH1 and by singers such as Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Mariah Carey, Backstreet Boys, Whitney Houston and American movies and television shows can be seen almost anywhere[citation needed] such as Titanic, The Matrix, Mission Impossible etc. and American sports figures are widely known such as Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Venus Williams, Mike Tyson, etc. This is in very stark contrast to the early days of the American republic, when the country was generally seen as an agricultural backwater with little to offer the culturally advanced world centers of Europe and Asia. Nearing the end of its third century, nearly every major American city offers classical and popular music; historical, scientific and art research centers and museums; dance performances, musicals and plays; outdoor art projects and internationally significant architecture. This development is a result of both contributions by private philanthropists and government funding.

American culture also exhibits a tendency to hybridize pop culture and so-called high culture, and generally questions normative standards for artistic output. This is likely an effect of the country's egalitarian tradition, and the nation's history of constitutionally protected freedom of speech and expression, as enshrined in the First Amendment.

Origins, history, development, and spread

File:Albert Bierstadt - The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak.jpg

The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak (1863) by Albert Bierstadt, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York

The European roots of the United States originate with the English settlers of colonial America during British rule. The varieties of English people, as opposed to the other peoples on the British Isles, were the overwhelming majority ethnic group in the 17th century (population of the colonies in 1700 was 250,000) and were 47.9% of percent of the total population of 3. 9 million. They constituted 60% of the whites at the first census in 1790 (%: 3.5 Welsh, 8.5 Scotch Irish, 4.3 Scots, 4.7 Irish, 7.2 German, 2.7 Dutch, 1.7 French and 2 Swedish).[1] The English ethnic group contributed to the major cultural and social mindset and attitudes that evolved into the American character. Of the total population in each colony, they numbered from 30% in Pennsylvania to 85% in Massachusetts.[2] Large non-English immigrant populations from the 1720s to 1775, such as the Germans (100,000 or more), Scotch Irish (250,000), added enriched and modified the English cultural substrate.[3] The religious outlook was some versions of Protestantism (1.6% of the population were English, German and Irish Catholics).

Jeffersonian democracy was a foundational American cultural innovation, which is still a core part of the country's identity.[4] Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia was perhaps the first influential domestic cultural critique by an American and was written in reaction to the views of some influential Europeans that America's native flora, fauna, including humans, were degenerate.[4]

File:Betsy Ross sewing.jpg

Betsy Ross was an American upholsterer who was credited by her relatives in 1870 with making the first American flag.

Major cultural influences have been brought by historical immigration, especially from Germany in much of the country,[5] Ireland and Italy in the Northeast, Japan in Hawaii. Latin American culture is especially pronounced in former Spanish areas but has also been introduced by immigration, as has Asian American cultures (especially on the West Coast). Caribbean culture has been increasingly introduced by immigration and is pronounced in many urban areas. Since the abolition of slavery, the Caribbean has been the source of the earliest and largest Black immigrant group, a significant source of growth of the Black population in the U.S. and has made major cultural impacts in education, music, sports and entertainment. [6]

Native culture remains strong in areas with large undisturbed or relocated populations, including traditional government and communal organization of property now legally managed by Indian reservations (large reservations are mostly in the West, especially Arizona and South Dakota). The fate of native culture after contact with Europeans is quite varied. For example, Taíno culture in U.S. Caribbean territories is nearly extinct and like most Native American languages, the Taíno language is no longer spoken. In contrast, the Hawaiian language and culture of the Native Hawaiians has survived in Hawaii and mixed with that of immigrants from the mainland U.S. (starting before the 1898 annexation) and to some degree Japanese immigrants. It occasionally influences mainstream American culture with notable exports like surfing and Hawaiian shirts. Most languages native to what is now U.S. territory have gone extinct,Template:Citation needed and the economic and mainstream cultural dominance of English threatens the surviving ones in most places. The most common native languages include Samoan, Hawaiian, Navajo, Cherokee, Sioux, and a spectrum of Inuit languages. (See Indigenous languages of the Americas for a fuller listing, plus Chamorro, and Carolinian in the Pacific territories.)[7]Template:Better source needed Ethnic Samoans are a majority in American Samoa; Chamorro are still the largest ethnic group in Guam (though a minority), and along with Refaluwasch are smaller minorities in the Northern Mariana Islands.

File:Welcome to the land of freedom.png

European immigrants arriving in New York

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.[8]

The United States has traditionally been thought of as a melting pot, with immigrants contributing to but eventually assimilating with mainstream American culture. 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.[9][10][11] Throughout the country's history, certain subcultures (whether based on ethnicity or other commonality, such as the gay village) have dominated certain neighborhoods, only partially melded with the broader culture. Due to the extent of American culture, there are many integrated but unique social subcultures within the United States, some not tied to any particular geography. The cultural affiliations an individual in the United States may have commonly depended on social class, political orientation and a multitude of demographic characteristics such as religious background, occupation, and ethnic group membership.[12]

Colonists from the United States formed the now-independent country of Liberia.


Main article: Literature of the United States

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, American art and literature took most of its cues from Europe. Writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Henry David Thoreau established a distinctive American literary voice by the middle of the nineteenth century. Mark Twain and poet Walt Whitman were major figures in the century's second half; Emily Dickinson, virtually unknown during her lifetime, would be recognized as America's other essential poet. Eleven U.S. citizens have won the Nobel Prize in Literature, most recently Toni Morrison in 1993. Ernest Hemingway, the 1954 Nobel laureate, is often named as one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century.[13] A work seen as capturing fundamental aspects of the national experience and character—such as Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851), Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925)—may be dubbed the "Great American Novel." Popular literary genres such as the Western and hardboiled crime fiction developed in the United States.


Main article: Poetry of the United States

The poetry of the United States naturally arose first during its beginnings as the Constitutionally-unified thirteen colonies (although prior to this, a strong oral tradition often likened to poetry existed among Native American societies[14]). Unsurprisingly, most of the early colonists' work relied on contemporary British models of poetic form, diction, and theme. However, in the 19th century, a distinctive American idiom began to emerge. By the later part of that century, when Walt Whitman was winning an enthusiastic audience abroad, poets from the United States had begun to take their place at the forefront of the English-language avant-garde.

This position was sustained into the 20th century to the extent that Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot were perhaps the most influential English-language poets in the period during World War I.[15] By the 1960s, the young poets of the British Poetry Revival looked to their American contemporaries and predecessors as models for the kind of poetry they wanted to write. Toward the end of the millennium, consideration of American poetry had diversified, as scholars placed an increased emphasis on poetry by women, African Americans, Hispanics, Chicanos and other subcultural groupings. Poetry, and creative writing in general, also tended to become more professionalized with the growth of creative writing programs in the English studies departments of campuses across the country.

Comic books

Main article: American comic book

Since the invention of the comic book format in the 1930s, the United States has been the leading producer with only the British comic books (during the inter-war period and up until the 1970s) and the Japanese manga as close competitors in terms of quantity.

Comic book sales began to decline after World War II, when the medium was competing with the spread of television and mass market paperback books. In the 1960s, comic books' audience expanded to include college students who favored the naturalistic, "superheroes in the real world" trend initiated by Stan Lee at Marvel Comics. The 1960s also saw the advent of the underground comics. Later, the recognition of the comic medium among academics, literary critics and art museums helped solidify comics as a serious artform with established traditions, stylistic conventions, and artistic evolution.


Main article: Music of the United States

The music of the United States reflects the country's multi-ethnic population through a diverse array of styles. Rock and roll, country, rhythm and blues, jazz, and hip hop are among the country's most internationally-renowned genres. Since the beginning of the 20th century, some forms of American popular music have gained a near global audience.[16]

The earliest inhabitants of the United States were Native Americans who played the first music in the area. Beginning in the 17th century, immigrants from the British Isles, Spain, and France began arriving in large numbers, bringing with them new styles and instruments. African slaves brought musical traditions, and each subsequent wave of immigrants contributed to a melting pot.

Much of modern popular music can trace its roots to the emergence in the late 19th century of African American blues and the growth of gospel music in the 1920s. The African American basis for popular music used elements derived from European and indigenous musics. The United States has also seen documented folk music and recorded popular music produced in the ethnic styles of the Ukrainian, Irish, Scottish, Polish, Hispanic and Jewish communities, among others.

Many American cities and towns have vibrant music scenes which, in turn, support a number of regional musical styles. Aside from cities such as Detroit, New York, Chicago, Nashville and Los Angeles, many smaller cities have produced distinctive styles of music. The Cajun and Creole traditions in Louisiana music, the folk and popular styles of Hawaiian music, and the bluegrass and old time music of the Southeastern states are a few examples of diversity in American music.


Main article: Cinema of the United States

American cinema has had a profound effect on cinema across the world since the early 20th century. Its history is sometimes separated into four main periods: the silent film era, Classical Hollywood cinema, New Hollywood, and the contemporary period (after 1980).


Main article: Television in the United States

Television is one of the major major mass media of the United States. In an expansive country of more than 300 million people, television programs are some of the few things that nearly all Americans can share. Ninety-nine percent of American households have at least one television and the majority of households have more than one.


Main article: Dance in the United States

There is great variety in dance in the United States, it is the home of the Lindy Hop and its derivative Rock and Roll, and modern square dance (associated with the United States of America due to its historic development in that country--nineteen U.S. states have designated it as their official state dance) and one of the major centers for modern dance. There is a variety of social dance and concert or performance dance forms with also a range of traditions of Native American dances.

Visual arts

Main article: Visual arts of the United States

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 replaced Paris as the center of the art world. Painting in the United States today covers a vast range of styles.


Main article: Architecture of the United States

The United States has a history of architecture that includes a wide variety of styles.

The United States of America is a relatively young country, and the Native Americans did not leave any buildings comparable to the grandeur of those in Mexico or Peru. For this reason, the overriding theme of American Architecture is modernity: the skyscrapers of the 20th century are the ultimate symbol of this modernity.

Architecture in the US is regionally diverse and has been shaped by many external forces, not only English. US Architecture can therefore be said to be eclectic, something unsurprising in such a multicultural society.


Main article: Sculpture of the United States

The history of sculpture in the United States reflects the country's 18th century foundation in Roman republican civic values as well as Protestant Christianity, both of which sought truth in the spoken word of orator or minister and neither of which required the visualizaton of magnificence, power, solemnity, or profundity that characterized the sculptural traditions of European (as well as Asian) civilizations.


Main article: Theater in the United States

Theater of the United States is based in the Western tradition, mostly borrowed from the performance styles prevalent in Europe, especially England. Today, it is heavily interlaced with American literature, film, television, and music, and it is not uncommon for a single story to appear in all forms. Regions with significant music scenes often have strong theater and comedy traditions as well. Musical theater may be the most popular form: it is certainly the most colorful, and choreographed motions pioneered on stage have found their way onto movie and television screens. Broadway in New York City is generally considered the pinnacle of commercial U.S. theater, though this art form appears all across the country. Off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway diversify the theatre experience in New York. Another city of particular note is Chicago, which boasts the most diverse and dynamic theater scene in the country. Regional or resident theatres in the United States are professional theatre companies outside of New York City that produce their own seasons. There is also community theatre and showcase theatre (performing arts group). Even tiny rural communities sometimes awe audiences with extravagant productions.


Main article: Cuisine of the United States

Mainstream American culinary arts are similar to those in other Western countries. Wheat is the primary cereal grain. Traditional American cuisine uses ingredients such as turkey, white-tailed deer venison, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, squash, and maple syrup, indigenous foods employed by Native Americans and early European settlers. Slow-cooked pork and beef barbecue, crab cakes, potato chips, and chocolate chip cookies are distinctively American styles. Soul food, developed by African slaves, is popular around the South and among many African Americans elsewhere. Syncretic cuisines such as Louisiana creole, Cajun, and Tex-Mex are regionally important. Iconic American dishes such as apple pie, fried chicken, pizza, hamburgers, and hot dogs derive from the recipes of various immigrants. So-called French fries, Mexican dishes such as burritos and tacos, and pasta dishes freely adapted from Italian sources are widely consumed.[17] Americans generally prefer coffee to tea, with more than half the adult population drinking at least one cup a day.[18] Marketing by U.S. industries is largely responsible for making orange juice and milk (now often fat-reduced) ubiquitous breakfast beverages.[19] During the 1980s and 1990s, Americans' caloric intake rose 24%;[17] frequent dining at fast food outlets is associated with what health officials call the American "obesity epidemic." Highly sweetened soft drinks are widely popular; sugared beverages account for 9% of the average American's daily caloric intake.[20]


Main article: Fashion in the United States

Apart from professional business attire, fashion in the United States is eclectic and predominantly informal. While Americans' diverse cultural roots are reflected in their clothing, particularly those of recent immigrants, cowboy hats and boots and leather motorcycle jackets are emblematic of specifically American styles. Blue jeans were popularized as work clothes in the 1850s by merchant Levi Strauss, a German immigrant in San Francisco, and adopted by many American teenagers a century later. They are now widely worn on every continent by people of all ages and social classes. Along with mass-marketed informal wear in general, blue jeans are arguably U.S. culture's primary contribution to global fashion.[21] The country is also home to the headquarters of many leading designer labels such as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. Labels such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Eckō cater to various niche markets.

Popular culture

American popular culture has expressed itself through nearly every medium, including movies, music and sports. Mickey Mouse,Britney Spears, Barbie, Elvis Presley, Madonna, Babe Ruth, Baseball, American football, Basketball, screwball comedy, G.I. Joe, jazz, the blues, Rap & Hip Hop, The Simpsons, Michael Jackson, Superman, Gone with the Wind, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jordan, Indiana Jones, Sesame Street, Catch-22—these names, genres, and phrases have joined more tangible American products in spreading across the globe.

It is worth noting that while America tends to be a net exporter of culture, it absorbs many other cultural traditions with relative ease, for example: origami, soccer, anime, and yoga.

It can be argued that this ability to easily absorb parts of other cultures and other languages is its greatest strength and helps American culture and language spread. Americans in general do not worry about protecting their "indigenous culture" (see below) but instead eagerly create and adopt new things and then change or modify to make them their own.

Exportation of popular culture

The United States is an enormous exporter of entertainment, especially television, movies and music. This readily consumable form of culture is widely and cheaply dispersed for entertainment consumers worldwide.

Many nations now have two cultures: an indigenous one and globalized/American popular culture. That said, what one society considers entertainment is not necessarily reflective of the "true culture" of its people. More popular syndicated programs cost more, so overseas entertainment purchasers often choose older programs that reflect various, and dated, stages of United States cultural development. Pop culture also tends to neglect the more mundane and/or complex elements of human life.


  1. The American Revolution, Colin Bonwick, 1991, p. 254
  2. , Becoming America, Jon Butler, 2000, pp. 9–11
  3. , The Encyclopedia of Colonial and Revolutionary America, Ed. John Mack Faragher, 1990, pp. 200–202
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Mr. Jefferson and the giant moose: natural history in early America", Lee Alan Dugatkin. University of Chicago Press, 2009. Template:ISBN, Template:ISBN. University of Chicago Press, 2009. Chapter x.
  5. Kirschbaum, Erik (1986). The eradication of German culture in the United States, 1917-1918. H.-D. Heinz, 155. ISBN 978-3-88099-617-5. 
  6. Fraizer, Martin. Continuity and change in Caribbean immigration. People's World.
  7. Most Commonly Spoken Native American/First Nations Languages.
  8. McDonald, James (2010) Interplay:Communication, Memory, and Media in the United States. Goettingen: Cuvillier, p. 120. Template:ISBN.
  9. Thornton, Bruce. Melting Pots and Salad Bowls.
  10. Clack, George (September 1997). "Chapter 1", One from Many, Portrait of the USA. United States Information Agency. 
  11. Adams, J.Q. (2001). Dealing with Diversity. Chicago, IL: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-7872-8145-8. 
  12. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Society in Focus
  13. Meyers, Jeffrey (1999). Hemingway: A Biography. New York: Da Capo, p. 139. ISBN 0-306-80890-0.
  14. Einhorn, Lois J. The Native American Oral Tradition: Voices of the Spirit and Soul (ISBN 0-275-95790-X)
  15. Aldridge, John (1958). After the Lost Generation: A Critical Study of the Writers of Two Wars. Noonday Press. Original from the University of Michigan Digitized Mar 31, 2006. 
  16. Provine, Rob with Okon Hwang and Andy Kershaw. "Our Life Is Precisely a Song" in the Rough Guide to World Music, Volume 2, pg. 167
  17. 17.0 17.1 Klapthor, James N. (2003-08-23). What, When, and Where Americans Eat in 2003. Institute of Food Technologists. Retrieved on 2007-06-19.
  18. Coffee Today. Coffee Country. PBS (May 2003). Retrieved on 2007-06-19.
  19. Smith, Andrew F. (2004). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 131–32. ISBN 0-19-515437-1. Levenstein, Harvey (2003). Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, pp. 154–55. ISBN 0-520-23439-1. Pirovano, Tom (2007). Health & Wellness Trends—The Speculation Is Over. AC Nielsen. Retrieved on 2007-06-12.
  20. Fast Food, Central Nervous System Insulin Resistance, and Obesity. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. American Heart Association (2005). Retrieved on 2007-06-09. Let's Eat Out: Americans Weigh Taste, Convenience, and Nutrition. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. Retrieved on 2007-06-09.
  21. Davis, Fred (1992). Fashion, Culture, and Identity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 69. ISBN 0-226-13809-7.

See also

  • Broadway theatre
  • America 24/7