America, America

Following the Battle for America strand at the Battle of Ideas festival in London in November 2008, Culture Wars is exploring the past, present and future of the USA by bringing together new and old reviews of books, films and more.

Europeans sometimes disdain the USA as the land of soulless materialism, religious fundamentalism, chronic obesity and high school shootings. But is there still something in the American idea to inspire the rest of the world in the 21st century?

Friday 17 April 2009

Changing cultural paradigm

Subcultural pluralism and the new social order: the end of the culture war and the dawn of a new American society

America is no longer the ‘melting pot’: it no longer assimilates minority groups into the majority culture. Instead of a homogeneous cultural majority imposing Western values on ethnic minorities, we now have heterogeneous cultural pluralism developing through acculturation.

Friday 27 March 2009

Night waiting for dawn

Dr Atomic, English National Opera, Coliseum, London

The music continues to be glorious. The staging is evocative, the visuals epic. But there is no suspense. We know the end of this story, after all. We know it will detonate, there will not be a chain reaction that ignites the atmosphere, Oppenheimer will live to doubt his decisions.

Friday 13 March 2009

Marines make do

Generation Kill, directed by Susanna White and Simon Cellan Jones / produced and written by David Simon, Ed Burns et al (HBO)

What would it be like to find yourself in a humvee in the desert in the middle of Operation Iraqi Freedom, surrounded by grunts who speak in an impenetrable military argot littered with code words and acronyms, and who don’t know what’s going on anyway? It would be confusing, that’s what. Welcome to Generation Kill.

Friday 6 March 2009

I’m not an Arab - get me out of here!

Uncultured Wars, Arabs, Muslims and the Poverty of Liberal Thought, by Steven Salaita (Zed Books)

Salaita gives an analysis in terms of institutionalised racism, showing how it fosters domestic legitimacy for aggressive interference in the Middle East whilst underpinning the stranglehold of ‘white liberals’ on what it means to be progressive, mainstream and American. Underneath, this is a humanist argument with Enlightenment roots, though one with an interesting twist.

Friday 30 January 2009

In hopeless emptiness

Revolutionary Road (2008), directed by Sam Mendes

The problem is that the Wheelers are an empty shell, remnants of a meaningful past of which they have no recollection. Their fight then is useless from the very outset, for it lacks any foundation.

Friday 23 January 2009

The rise and fall of an agent of change

Milk (2008), directed by Gus Van Sant

The film unpicks the complex dynamic in the American political system that lead both to the rise and the inevitable fall of this charismatic agent of change. It is laden with the complexity of social dynamics within modern society through its depiction of a tragic inevitability.

Thursday 22 January 2009

All hail the President of the World?

US election blog - part seven

Obama managed some genuinely inspiring lines about the productivity of American workers and the inventiveness of American minds, but in the short term at least it is the borrowing power of the American state that he’ll be drawing on in a bid to recover the US economy, and by extension the world economy.


The Wrecking Crew: The American Right and the Lust for Power, by Thomas Frank (Harvill Secker)

Perhaps the most important problem with this book is that it has been overtaken by events. Not only the election but the recession exposed the hollowness of supposed economic libertarianism. Like the anxious pronouncements of fellow liberals before Obama’s election, this book now appears shrill and off-target.

New Cultural Paradigm: Community Art at the End of the Culture War

As the inauguration of President Obama marks the end of an era, what next for the arts?

Mass culture is now composed of an array of equally entitled subcultures connected through a ubiquitous techno-social environment of camera phones, social networking on the internet and cable television channels dedicated to specific audiences.

Wednesday 31 December 2008

Power, politics and race

Street Fight (2005), directed by Marshall Curry

This may be Curry’s first feature-length documentary, but his handling of this ugliness is just as it should be. No dogmatic, Michael Moore-style commentary here; his effective interview technique and subtle editing allow the Newark electorate to speak through the film with an analysis of the situation that is succinct and enlightened.

Cushioned revolt

CSNY Déjà Vu (2008), directed by Neil Young

This is not a blasting nerve-wrecking stand, but a sort of community appeal against war. You are fused into the revolt, yet you are only marginally affected by the violence of war.

Friday 5 December 2008

Obamanomics: the triumph of hope over imagination

US election blog - part six

Obama’s economic team is stacked with, er, economists. Bringing in ‘the experts’ is presented as preferable to being governed by ‘ideology’, but this is to put a lot of faith in the ‘dismal science’.

Monday 1 December 2008

Concrete schoolyard

Gunnin' for That #1 Spot (2008), directed by Adam Yauch

You really feel for these boys; to live up to their dream they have to give up so much. Basketball is certainly not the answer for everything. These boys need life experience too. If they are not taught to lead a balanced life in their teens, how will they react when they start making serious money and they can afford to indulge in any temptation they want?

Friday 28 November 2008

Waking up from the American Dream?

A Battles in Print essay

At present America is fighting various battles – some on the outside, some inside the country. For one, American militaries are operating in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Somalia, Georgia and Lebanon; further troops are stationed in Turkey, Kenya and South Korea. For the other, the United States quarrel with a presidential election, the credit crunch, gas prices, and decisions on abortion, gun laws and same-sex marriages.

Friday 21 November 2008

Does reality have a liberal bias?

The New Blue Media: How Michael Moore, Moveon.Org, Jon Stewart and Company Are Transforming Progressive Politics, by Theodore Hamm (New Press)

What his book crucially lacks is an analysis of the other side, the rightwing radio talk shows, Fox news and the previously mentioned Bill O’Reilly. Especially as many of Hamm’s heroes are reacting to their success.

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