Politica – Naked US culture(s)


As one of the authors of the Cultural Detective USA®, I have been watching the presidential election campaign with interest, fear, and trepidation, concerned not just about the outcome, but about how what we see happening reflects culture(s) in the USA and how that will affect my understanding of it and my presentation of it as a consultant and trainer who frequently readies others around the globe for collaboration with US Americans or for expatriation to the States. As a citizen stakeholder, it is difficult to step back, observe and document the cultural dynamics without strong feelings trying to sway the way.

One could pick up any number of models in our intercultural professional toolbox and attempt an analysis via dimensions, values, contexts, etc., of what is going on. My first choice in this case would be a linguistic look at how the discourse of the candidates both reflects, shapes and solicits the discourse of their constituencies. As in marketing, each candidate must become a cultural intermediary. As this role is understood in social sciences, it is a person who takes an idea or product or an agenda and frames it in alignment with the cultural discourse and values of the target culture, so that that the listeners hear themselves being echoed in what they hear, and say, "Yessss!" In other words they buy into the candidate who reflects their construction of reality, who speaks familiar language and trades in familiar feelings.

The consequence of this is that despite the massive media attention paid to the candidates themselves, their language and their behavior, little is said about the cultural significance of the constituencies of each, viz., how US culture is reflected in the the actual identity discourse and values of the subcultures of the US population. So, those who find a this election scary because of the candidates should realize that it is even more scary because a powerful surge of popular attitudes is being stripped naked for the world to see. If a candidate is seen as threatening, it is only because the persuasion, energy and engagement of "their" people are even more so.

This seems to be the moment of obscenity in modern US history. Not just the gloves, but the masks are off. The gush of once considered "nasty" words and accusations in the mouths of the candidates and the commentators is a parade of popular feeling undressed. I find it reminiscent of the spats between Erasmus and Luther, neither of whom was a prude when it came to heaving stinking handfuls of foul language at the other, and whose followers came to lethal blows.

Today's US American ideals are being rewrapped in the language of the rappers, and we are learning that "values", if we want to use that focus on exploring culture, are not necessarily positive – the same ideals shouted loud can mean very different things. This may mark the end of our naively projected US innocence when we realize that so-called values are neither moral nor immoral in themselves, but can lead in either direction as used, propagandized and executed. Corruptio optimi pessima. For example,"Do it yourself, it's up to you", a widespread piece of US identity discourse may produce creative initiative on one hand, but can also be the slippery slope to, "Taking the law into your own hands", as much US history and contemporary behavior both individual and national confirms. This ambivalence not an invention of the current campaign. it's long standing reality that this election striptease rhetoric is exposing to the US citizens themselves – many outsiders have already seen through the flimsy costuming.

I'm linking here to an article that was sent to me by a colleague in Australia, where a "spade" is likely to be called a "(intercourse-related expletive) shovel", as the writing in this piece is a good example of the nakedness revealed in the current campaign, again not just of the candidates, but of the people themselves. The author's unapologetic doses of vulgarity and name-calling reflects the turn and temper of the current rhetoric, and brings it to the surface. I am not necessarily indicating agreement with the content–that's another story–but citing it as a good example of the current burlesque.

 

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