Posts Tagged American culture

Black Friday blogging

Today was Black Friday, and you know what I didn’t do? Go shopping.

I guess I’m a terrible person for not buying the people I love flatscreen televisions.

The beginning of the Christmas shopping season has become such an event that it’s overshadowing an actual holiday, Thanksgiving. While I’m sure there are many great bargains to be had, aren’t we going a little too far in pursuit of cheap goods?

The great threat to American values isn’t abortions, gay marriage, or people’s pesky desire not to get shot when they go to the mall. It’s that we’re expected to spend so much time in said mall.

You don’t have to be a curmudgeon to recognize that spending time with family and giving thanks for what one has are two things that are worth taking one day off a year for.

Yet those things seem to take a back seat to an unearthly cycle of production and consumption.

You often hear people saying that the holidays are an important time to consider the less-fortunate.

That’s an incredibly ironic statement considering that, while the Macy’s bigwigs were enjoying the Thanksgiving Day Parade yesterday, entry-level workers had to open the stores.

Of course, it’s sometimes hard to put oneself in the position of someone who is forced to choose between surviving, and celebrating a holiday that–as an American–they are supposedly entitled to enjoy.

So maybe those people should consider how much time they spend buying gifts, and compare it to how much time they actual spend celebrating the holidays.

Over a month of purchasing goes into what, for most people, is a single day of observance.

Gift giving is an integral part of the holiday season, but if it requires so much time and effort that people choose (or are forced) to cut their holidays short, what’s the point?

Consumerism can only take people so far. A holiday that is only distinguished from an ordinary day by a larger credit-card bill isn’t much of a holiday.

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Other People’s Cars: Oldsmobile Delta 88

Oldsmobile Delta 88This may not look like a very impressive car, but bear with me. You probably have a better chance of seeing a Porsche on today’s roads than seeing one of these babies.

This is a car from a brand that no longer exists and, fittingly, it represents a type of car that is on the verge of extinction.

Ask a kindergartener to draw a car and they’ll probably come up with something like this: a four-door sedan with no curved lines other than the wheels.

At one time, this Platonic automobile really was the most common sight on American roads. If it wasn’t an Olds Delta 88, it was a Chevy Caprice, or a Ford LTD, or a Dodge Monaco.

Today, however, the automotive landscape is much more diverse. Cars try to be all things for all people, which is why we have crossovers that look like tough 4x4s, but are actually based on front-wheel drive sedans, and “four-door coupes” that try to combine style and practicality.

In contrast, the big American sedan has become a niche item. There are still a few around (Dodge Charger, Chevy Impala, Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus) but they are the automotive equivalent of vinyl.

That’s not exactly a bad thing. Today’s cars are safer, faster, and better for the environment than this gas-guzzling Olds, although maybe not as old-school-cool.

Either way, this 88 is a noteworthy sighting. It’s both a historical reminder of a time when cars were expected to have the square footage of a small apartment, and a rare car in its own right.

Oldsmobile may have made legions of these things back in the ‘70s. but you’d be hard pressed to find one on the road today. That’s why I’m glad I did.

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First world problems

So I’ve encountered a new phrase called “first world problems.” I have a problem with this phrase.

It seems to mean something that really isn’t a big deal, like having to prepare a presentation or being peeved that the barista put cream in your Starbucks concoction instead of milk. You know, things that don’t have to do with subsistence.

I see what people are getting at here. We all get wrapped up in our lives, make mountains out of mole hills and forget how lucky we are to live the way we do. That’s fine.

Checking your whining with a phrase like “first world problems” is a little obnoxious, though. It sounds like the person is saying “I know I shouldn’t be complaining about this trivial thing, but I will,” or “See how conscious I am of other people’s suffering?”

Both are very “first world” things to do. I’m a huge fan of irony, but too much of a good thing is still a problem. Drawing an implied comparison between oneself and a starving African child or a smog-choked Chinese factory worker doesn’t make a person sound smart or sensitive, it just makes them sound like they are trying to license their whining.

The phrase “first world problems” is also etymologically dubious. Do you ever notice why people never talk about the second world? It’s because the terms first world and second world were coined during the Cold War to describe the United States and its NATO allies and the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, respectively. Any countries not within either the U.S. or Soviet sphere were referred to as the third world.

So maybe we should stop using outdated political terms to label our trivial complaints. It’s perfectly fine to complain, even if you know that someone else would be happy to be in your position. It’s not a big deal, and certainly doesn’t merit a snarky term like “first world problems.”

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Tyranny of the majority

America, to use an oft-quoted phrase, is a melting pot of different cultures. Through a constant stream of immigrants, a unique culture has emerged from bits and pieces of others. Yet America has never had a problem with identity crisis: for most of the country’s existence, people have had a very clear idea of what is “American.” But who gets to decide what is (and isn’t) American?

Apparently, rednecks get most of the casting votes. On a commercial for a new discovery channel show, a stereotypical “good ‘ole boy” declares “if you love your country, you’re gonna have to love moonshine.” In their song “Red, White & Blue,” Lynyrd Skynyrd sing “if they don’t like it they can just get the hell out.”

If a Jewish deli owner went on television and said “if you love your country, you’re gonna have to love pastrami,” how would people react? They might say that one individual should not tell others that his regional subculture is more American than theirs. The same goes for illegal distillers and their white lightning.

Another important group are Christians. Around this time of the year, there are always a few arguments about whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” Most people act like rational human beings and see this for what it is: a non-issue. However, others take it very seriously; just look at the comments on this blog post about holiday political correctness. The Christmas warriors argue that, since the majority of Americans are Christian, everyone should have to say “Merry Christmas.”

The Founding Fathers feared a “tyranny of the majority,” the arbitrary use of democracy in ways to were harmful to the nation and the rights of minorities. By writing off certain things as “less American” than others, we bring ourselves dangerously close to a cultural tyranny of the majority. There’s room for everyone, and people who think they can decide what is and is not American need to remember that.

Regardless of who has the majority, everyone’s right to religious freedom and the pursuit of happiness is guaranteed by the Constitution. As far as that document is concerned, Manishevitz is just as American as moonshine.

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