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Culture is the compilation of the social behavior and norms found in societies across the globe, along with the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, and habits of the individuals within these groups. It can be a fruitful concept that can directly or indirectly affect the way people think and act following particular topics or preferences, shaping them into the culture of what is known to be their traditional society. One thing that should be recognized is that cultures are not stagnant or still, they are an ever-changing force that develops throughout the years, subsequently changing those who live within it. This ties together with people’s development and creates dependability on various outlets, all utilized to receive the social cues about what is customary or favorable.
When we think of American culture, many things come to mind, such as the colors of the flag, the hymn of the nation, fame, and fortune, and even oddly large portions of food in restaurants across the United States of America. Being from a foreign country, being introduced into this alien way of living provides an outsider window into being able to observe dramatic changes over time in multifaceted aspects of North American culture. One of the most significant factors affecting an individual’s development directly, whether physically or mentally, is the growth of the American public’s dependence on media of all sorts. When referring to media, this includes televised press, social media, and other forms of artificial connection. Media has been a significant influencing factor in the public since the dawn of its existence, as it was able to create a newfound sense of communication amongst people across states and even the globe. These lines of connection are being used to develop things like broadcasting, social media platforms, television programs, and even music streaming networks. All of these became highly accessible and went from high-luxury services into everyday commodities.
Media has been utilized throughout the years as a potent means of expression, especially during the development of upcoming trends and ideas. However, this has also caused a tangible level of media dependency in individuals of teenage to young adult age. Even as someone born and raised in different countries, I was also affected by the deep level of media reliance, especially after moving to the United States. I found myself questioning things like my style, taste in music, and personality traits, and even coming across diversions in political or cultural ideologies. The questions of who we are, along with who we are destined to be is progressively being influenced by what is seen through screens or heard through audiovisual platforms across the planet. This reliance on trends or the impact of well-known individuals is capable of suppressing our very own individuality along with disassociating our ideas and thoughts from ourselves.
Erik Erikson’s stages of psychological development deeply detail how an individual’s life is closely influenced not only by their behavior but by the factors that occur around them. These different stages may cause variations on one’s personality and values, all in accordance with past experiences in various stages of life. One of Erikson’s stages, Identity vs. Role Confusion, is deeply rooted within this idea of finding one’s real individuality and staying true to what an individual believes to be their identity within society. This stage’s essential goal is defined to be “to resolve identity confusion and prepare the individual for adult problems”. The expansion of media dependency of any form can infringe this period of personal growth, thus developing a sense of confusion or insecurity. As Erikson establishes in this stage, a person must be allowed to discover their sexual and occupational identities without being subdued by other outstanding factors to avoid an identity crisis.
The 1980s brought an astronomical boom concerning the growth of media, particularly in the audiovisual field of television. The newspaper had begun to decline, whereas the market for interactive 24-hour television shows was at an all-time high. With this boom also came the growth of people adhering to media for political news and viewpoints, publications, advertising, entertainment, and scandal. Taking this into consideration, media was not the only factor of history that had a redevelopment or growth. A darker side of the American culture story, systematic racism, had also developed along with media, thus encapsulating new forms of discrimination and portrayal of African-American communities. Not only were African-American men being portrayed as violent and volatile creatures, but they also adhered to these depictions a blatant underlying layer of intent. An intent to continue the cycle of marginalization that had been started to be built centuries before.
In the book The Other Wes Moore by author Wes Moore, the portrayal of a 1982 black family had so much depth that it would be almost impossible to find any form of public media from the said time that successfully depicted the various struggles and hardships of black lives as African-Americans were shown in 1980s media to be almost clownish caricatures meant for humiliation while also being portrayed as the public enemy. Black people were being subjected to being placed behind a forced-upon mask, unable to express what their day-to-day lives were truly about in its essence. Due to this portrayal, this community was trapped in a life that seemed to consist of locked doors of hope and locked opportunities for change.
This is shown in The Other Wes Moore, as an imprisoned Wes Moore says, “Do you think we’re all just products on our environments? I think so, or maybe products of our expectations. We will do what others expect of us. If they expect us to graduate, we will graduate. If they expect us to go to jail, then that’s where we’ll end up too.” The raw nature of this quote shows how a society’s expectations on its people will primarily affect the opportunities these individuals have for hope and overcoming hardships. From an academic young woman raising children on her own and being denied an education, having nothing and resorting to living on the streets, being brainwashed into the vicious cycle of gang life, and losing your life fighting to provide for your family. These are all scenarios taken directly from Wes Moore’s tale. Not only is it true within the story he tells, but it is evident in how one group of people all over America had two fates; the fate that was written for public portrayal, and one’s own life.
As a foreigner in the United States, it did not take long for me to realize how everything in history and the now is interconnected. The roots of media, psychology, systematic racism, and one’s individuality are all part of a more extensive web that forms the core of America today. It would be insufficient to say that I have been affected by all these factors even during my brief time living here, and also yet a more significant understatement to say that I haven’t seen it progress throughout the years from afar. The American culture story is alive and ever-changing, enveloping within its path all individuals who reside and develop within it. We, as individuals, make the American culture story. Our values, at their core, are the American culture story.
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