Americans like to think of themselves as exceptional people. As the world’s dominant economic and cultural power for much of the last century, they tend to puff their chests and proclaim that, “We’re the best! Look at our wealth! Look at our military power! There are McDonalds restaurants in China!” But for all of America’s power, the idea of American Exceptionalism wouldn’t hold as much appeal if it wasn’t backed by a clear belief in American moral superiority. After all, plenty of civilizations have dominated the world in the past, but a key component to American Exceptionalism is the idea that, unlike those past powers, the U.S. achieved peaceful world domination via the exportation of freedom, democracy, and capitalism – not necessarily in that order.
Pity the suffering American intellectual. I’m serious about that statement. Despite hosting the finest universities and producing some of the most ground-breaking scientific research in the world, the United States has always been a haven for an especially virulent strain of anti-intellectualism that never seems to go away. These days in particular, it seems as if we’re living in the “Age of Uncuriousness,” if not the “Age of Willful Ignorance.” Okay, neither of those phrases are catchy, but damn if they don’t describe the intellectual rabbit hole down which the U.S. has descended in the last 50 years. Heck, we even have a Tea Party that’s twice as nutty as the one Alice experienced.
Americans love to work. Just ask any politician or corporate stooge, particularly of the conservative variety, and they’ll reaffirm this eternal truth. In American culture, work is everything: it’s how we spend the majority of the time we are so graciously granted on earth; it’s how we afford the necessities of life, like feeding and clothing ourselves, procuring shelter from the elements, and affording the cable through which we experience high art like Duck Dynasty.
Americans simply must love to work. Heck, they work longer hours than anyone else in the industrialized world, even though they’re getting less and less out of work as wages continue to stagnate, unions have been decimated, and vacation times wither away along with retirement-savings. Americans also love to toil even as study after study continues to highlight the health dangers associated with excessive work. If that’s not evidence that Americans are the ultimate large-scale ant farm, than what is?! After all, the French don’t work nearly as much as Americans and often report being happier, and Americans love to mock the French. Continue Reading
On February 2, 2014 — Groundhog Day — America lost Philip Seymour Hoffman, whom many critics considered to be “the best actor of his generation.” The forty-six-year-old actor was found dead in his New York City apartment building of an apparent drug overdose; a reasonable conclusion given the needle that still pierced his arm. Thus, in a turn of events that has long since become tragically clichéd, Seymour Hoffman joined many a brilliant artist from all mediums and from all parts of the world whose genius was too large a burden, driving them to self-medicate and self-destruct.
Seymour Hoffman’s untimely death spurred an outpouring of grief and well-wishes both from the film industry and from the general public as well; a testament to the profound influence his screen-presence rendered on American culture. Indeed, the tragedy of Seymour Hoffman’s death speaks volumes about the unique role the film industry has played in shaping American culture since the early 20th century, for better and for worse.