Le Grand Détour

American culture

18 August 2017

Imagine having spend the last three thousand years comparing penis size with the guys. It does not take long for one to realise that the male genitalia can only be so large. To compensate, you add decorations, equipment, songs, writing and eventually war to show who's is truly the largest. Or, at the very least, have the others recognise that.

This is the origin of European culture. The United States, on the other hand, have only had a little over two hundred years to compete in this field. While they rely heavily on European designs and ideas, considering their European origins, they have managed a few of their own. And while it is clear who has the largest two speed male stick shift these days, it is not all of their own making. Such is American culture.

It is not like the modern United States itself is entirely to blame, many of the immigrants coming to the new world brought their own culture with them and maintained their heritage fevoursely, even if the details and meanings were lost over the generations.

And then came the fusions. Unlike in Europe, there was a far greater chance on the new continent for people of different cultural heritages to be living side by side with one another. As the cultures and meanings and traditions became mixed and muddled, some Americans decided to look into the past to find the more pure version of these.


Non-assuming US federal architecture.

Washington, District of Columbia, is built as a capital city. An unusual concept for Europeans, where one city would simply eventually become such a city in each country. But this is hardly uncommon in former colonies. Ottawa, Washington, Canberra, Brasíllia and so on are all purpose-built country capitals. But without hundreds of years to obtain their distinct style, they are forced to start from scratch, which help with the city planning but makes the cultural heritage less so.


There are clear signs of not actually being in Paris or Rome, that these buildings are not built of rare material.

So they turned to classic European styles, and Washington is perhaps the biggest user (or should I say offender?) of this. The federal buildings all attempt to emulate a classic European style. I must confess, I am not the biggest of architectural students, but even me there are not fooling.


The US capital in particular is ridiculous. So I did not venture any closer.

But Washington is not alone in this attempt at grandeous, back in Nashville I had the fortune of visiting the Parthenon. You know, the one in Athens. No, not Athens, Tennessee, but the one in Greece. Except, this one is in Nashville, a full size replica of the original.


In your face, Greeks, this Parthenon is not damaged. Although not built of marble but cement.

This was originally built for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897, effectively celebrating 100 years of Tennessee with culture unrelated to Tennessee. Indeed, someone had decided to nickname Nashville 'Athens of the South' - clearly having not actually been to the real Athens - and that provided the theme for the celebration.


The statue to the goddess Athena, with Nike in her hand. Based on the original statue, which had been lost to the centuries.

A recent addition to the Parthenon was a full size Athena statue replica, which was finished in the early 1990s. And as you walk around in these buildings, seeing this architecture, you cannot escape the feeling one gets when one sees the Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas. That it all feels sort of hollow and immitating.

The United States is no stranger to the lavatorial size comparison game, one need only to look at their military spending. And modern American art is creating a flurry of cultural impact upon the Western world and beyond, just think of the New York City skyline. And perhaps, in the future, original American culture will be so vast, it will have no need for these European immitations and replicas, and they will remain theirs all on their own.