U.S. Culture — страница 4

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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