FAST-US-7 United States Popular Culture
Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere
1. I find the phenomenon of children's beauty pageants in America both mystifying and repugnant. Two-year-olds wearing make-up and false teeth: isn't this a form of child abuse? Are there children's beauty pageants in other countries, and if so, did they originate in America? What is it about the American mindset that makes people do this kind of thing? (cf. The Whys and Woes of Beauty Pagaents) 2. In what ways do American schools perpetuate the myth that America is the greatest country in the world: the country of justice, equality, democracy, and freedom? I suppose every country believes itself to be the best place to live, but I have a feeling that the propaganda in America goes beyond that in Finland. I'm sure there are great differences between states and schools but I hope you can give a few examples. ------------------------ 1. Is it true that you can't get proper insurance if you are not employed? This came up in a movie called John Q. There's a man whose son needs a heart transplant, but his insurance won't cover it because he's only working part-time and can't get better insurance from the company he's working in. This seems very different from Finland, where anyone can get insurance if they have the money, regardless of their employment. Are there many private insurance companies in America and if there are, are they so expensive that ordinary, working people can't buy their insurance? 2. What is it with cops and donuts?? I agree that donuts taste good and everything, but why is it just cops who seem to like them so much? Or is this phenomenon a bit exaggerated in movies and TV? 3. If someone has 'brady-like' parents, what are they like? I know that this refers to The Brady Bunch, but I have never seen it. Are they some kind of ideal parents? And is this adjective 'brady-like' used really or did I just happen to spot a really unique expression? :) ------------------------ 1. There was an interesting news item a while ago about US conservative Christian groups (Focus on the Family) attacking the cartoon character SpongeBob Squarepants, claiming that it was pro-gay propaganda. A few years ago there was a similar case involving one of the teletubbies. How much can right-wing Christian groups influence or censor popular culture in the US? 2. For quite some time now the quality of British TV has been criticized and the BBC has been accused of "dumbing down". At the same time we are getting lots of highly acclaimed TV series from the US, such as Six Feet Under, the Sopranos and Angels in America, even though American television has had a reputation of producing only low-quality entertainment. Has there been some cultural change that has allowed these shows to be produced? ------------------------ 1. In the past few years minority groups have started to appear in television series more and more. Especially gay and lesbian main characters are becoming very popular. Why is this happening now? Many of these shows are broadcast in Finland with a large following. How popular are they in the US? Are they on in all parts of the US or just in the 'more liberal' states? 2. What would the corresponding idea be in the US to the 'Elovena-girl /factor'? When you mentioned it, I automatically thought of 'Quaker Oats' for some reason. What are the associations Americans have with 'Quaker Oats'? ------------------------ 1. What is the game Marco Polo about? I've seen it played in the pool in Tv-series like the Sopranos and the Simpsons. When playing the game, participants seem to be moving around in the pool and calling out 'marco' and 'polo' at each other. I just don't understand it :) 2. How much of the culture that average Americans digest in their lifetime is from outside the US? Is everything Americans see on television for example made in America? A lot of British series seem to be made into American versions, would Americans ever see the original shows? ------------------------ 1. American black people often have these beautiful names with a 'prefix' such as La (as in La'Trice or La'Toya). Where do these names come from? Do random people have this kind of names or is there a certain area or 'society class' where the names are most common? 2. How do Americans feel about slang and dialects? Are the ways of speaking in, for example, New York and San Francisco remarkably different, as they are between Tampere and Turku? Do people from all around the States understand each other? ------------------------ 1. In American tv shows, especially talk shows, there are always references to certain people (Martha Stewart, Oprah...). I don't always know who these people are, but I was wondering: do all Americans know? The larger talk shows must be broadcasted all over the states, but the country is just SO big, do people in California know who a tv host in Florida is talking about? 2. What is the movie-going culture like in the U.S.? It seems that in sitcoms and tv-shows they are always "going to the movies", way more often than we do here in Finland. I have understood that it is almost as expensive to see a movie in the States as it is in Finland, is this true? I think Finnish people have had to cut down on how often they go to the movies because of the price. ------------------------ 1. A few years back people used to say "yes/no, sir-ree bob" a lot. I at least remember Jay Leno using it a lot as a kind of a punch-line. What is the origin of this saying? Is there some guy named Bob that should be blamed for this? 2. Often in sitcoms, when kids steal something from another kid, they say "possession is nine tenths of the law". Apparently the origins of this are in the English common law, but how did it end up in the US? What does it really mean? ------------------------ 1. I guess this question might be a bit out-of-date, but I'd like to know whether there are (have been) any popular children's board games in America that parents play (have played) with their children and a lot of people (of certain age group) are likely to know. If I think of my class mates back at school, I'm almost certain that they all know and most likely have played games like Afrikan Tähti, Kimble, Monopoly, and some sort of muistipeli (memory game?). People of my age (late twenties, early thirties) might also remember games like Hullunkuriset perheet, Musta Pekka, Uno, Domino, and Fortuna (or perhaps it's just that my parents were a bit twisted, I don't know). At any rate, people of my age who have children seem to pass these games to their offspring as well, so I think they represent a sort of common cultural background for us. While I do realize it's impossible for you to answer for the whole nation, it would be nice to hear whether you've had similar experiences in your childhood and adolescence in America or when you've kept in contact your home country later. 2. Another question partly to do with childhood I guess: When does an average (..like he existed, but anyway) American kid get his or her library card and what is the American library system like? Are there public city libraries like in Finland where anyone living in the area having a library card can borrow books for free? Do school classes make trips to libraries like we did in my childhood? I have a feeling that an average Finnish child visits library at a fairly early age (long before starting school) and children from all socio-economic backgrounds tend to visit libraries regardless of whether their parents encourage them to do so or not, but this might, of course, be my wishful thinking or perhaps I socialize with a far too homogenous bunch of people, I don't know. Anyway, it seems to me that our free libraries provide people with a fairly good opportunity to educate themselves should they wish to do so, and the Finnish education system has traditionally introduced all children to libraries. Perhaps you could do a bit of a comparison with the American situation in this matter? ------------------------ 1. One of my favourite TV shows as a kid was the Bill Cosby Show. Was this the first television show with an African American in the lead role? And was it watched mainly by African American audiences or did it have a wider appeal? 2. A friend told me that in the U.S. young people move out of their parents' house much later than here in Finland, where most people move out by the age of 18. Is this true and, if so, why? And is there a law which says how old a person must be before they can move away from their parents? ------------------------ 1. Is it true that in American high schools, the day is started with everyone standing up, holding a hand to their heart and singing the national anthem? I have heard these stories from people who have been in the U.S. as exchange students, but this is not something that's endorsed in, for example, American TV shows. In Finland, of course, this kind of nationalism would be considered weird, to say the least. 2. Still on nationalism: how is it possible that, considering the size and diversity of the country, Americans are able to hold such a unified front and are OK with America being "all these other things" as well as what they consider familiar? This is a big issue in the E.U., with regional variation being so dramatic that people from, say, Finland and Spain might not have much in common. Is it things like singing the national anthem every day that "glues" the nation together? ------------------------ 1. What is the origin of American talk shows? It seems that nowadays there at least are two types of talk shows, day-time shows (Oprah etc.) and talk shows that are broadcast later (Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, etc.). When did this separation happen, or has it been so since the beginning? 2. What is the most popular genre of music in USA? I've heard that hip hop is currently the most popular, but I haven't seen any statistics. ------------------------ 1. There was a documentary shown on Nelonen a few months ago which I thought would be very interesting, but forgot to watch. It was about American news broadcasting. At least the program advertisement hinted that the same people are behind all the main broadcasting companies and not everything is as neutral and objective as it could be. What is the system really like? Who decides what is shown in the news? 2. I know that many Americans are very overweight and it is a real public health problem. What kind of attempts are there to make the situation better? How much physical education is included in school curricula? Do you think that Americans might have a different kind of attitude towards "hyötyliikunta" than we Finns? ------------------------ 1. What kind of popular beliefs and myths are there concerning nature and the environment in the U. S.? Is there a general way in which people think and feel about nature? 2. What kind of attitudes are there in the U.S. towards speakers of British English? Very often women with a British accent in films or TV series are portrayed as intelligent, beautiful, and a lot more inhibited than their American counterparts. What kind of other stereotypes exist? ------------------------ 1. Every so often I stumble upon references to Dr. Seuss who, I'm guessing, is someone everyone in the US, especially kids, are familiar with. Who/what is he and what sort of things are usually associated with him? 2. "The Alamo" is mentioned as a "historic site" in the US-7 notes. What exactly happened at the Alamo? Why do people keep reminding each other of the events that took place there? ------------------------ 1. Why are there so few Native Americans represented in US popular culture? It seems that there are partically no Native Americans in, for example, the mainstream music industry, television or movies. I find this quite strange, since every other minority group is well-presented in popular culture.. 2. As we all know, reality-tv has taken the world by storm. What makes it so popular, especially among Americans?