U.S. Popular Culture Class Questions Spring 2010
FAST-US-7 United States Popular Culture
Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere
(Questions anonymized and presented in the order they were received)
1. In American movies and TV shows, one can often notice an "open door
culture". It seems that people keep their front doors unlocked during
the day and visitors can just walk in if no one answers the door. Is
this really the case in America (at least in some parts), and if yes,
aren't the people afraid of criminals entering their homes?
2. I have noticed many times that when there is a European or Asian movie
that becomes a smash hit internationally, Americans tend to make their
own Hollywood version of the movie. (Examples: The Spanish
horror/thriller 'REC' [www.imdb.com/title/tt1038988/] was remade in
America with the title 'Quarantine' [www.imdb.com/title/tt1082868/].
The Japanese horror movie 'Ju-On' [www.imdb.com/title/tt0364385/] was
remade as 'The Grudge' [www.imdb.com/title/tt0391198/]) The plot and
the characters are basically the same ('The Grudge even takes place in
Japan although it is the American version), but the production is
American. Why? Why not just bring the original production to America?
Sorry for the awkward linking in the second question. If you are
interested, here are two trailers to compare: REC and Quarantine
1. Late night talk shows seem to popular in America. We, in Finland, don't
really have any talk shows, and channels don't seem to advertise shows
that are aired after 11 pm. Do Americans stay up later than Finns? Do
you think the American talk show format could be successful in Finland?
Were you interested in the NBC Leno-Conan debacle? Do most Americans
have a certain late night talk show host they prefer over the others?
2. Watching American TV shows, I've noticed how frequently characters
refer to popular arts (films, TV, music, literature). Similar
references don't occur on Finnish TV. Why are they common on American
TV, and do real people actually use them in everyday conversations?
1. I recently saw a film called "The Secret Life of Bees," which is set in
South Carolina in 1964. The Civil Rights Act had just been implemented,
and racial issues were causing major turbulence all around the country.
The film left me wondering what the situation is nowadays; are there
still large-scale racial issues in the United States? Is racial
segregation completely a thing of the past or is it still a very
sensitive subject? What is the significance of Barack Obama's
presidency in this regard?
2. What are the origins of Uncle Sam as the personification of the U.S.?
1. Ribfest traditions. Based on one summer spent in Chicago, ribfests are
very popular during the summer, especially around 4th of July. Private
ribfests are usually held in someone's backyard, and guests are
families and friends around the neighborhood. Ribfests can also be
larger events organized by an association or a club etc. A competition
of who makes the best ribs is also an important part. Are ribfests
popular throughout the nation? Where did this tradition originate from?
Are there different variations in different regions as to what is
cooked and how?
2. Comedy talk shows. Comedy Central, a cable TV channel, airs two
satirical talk shows: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Both focus
on national politics and media. They satirize especially conservative
and Republican politicians. Are there any Republican counterparts for
these kinds of programs where the liberals are laughed at?
1. What's the status of women's professional sports leagues in the US?
Women's leagues are very under-appreciated in Finland, even though
Finnish women often fair better internationally than Finnish men.
2. Does the American audience of today criticize the 1939 film Gone With
the Wind because of its attitude towards slavery and its very strong
pro-South opinions, or is the story seen as purely nostalgic? For a
modern-day Finnish viewer, the wistful words of the opening scene
reminiscing the glory of the South have a very racist sound to them.
1. I read in a poll that only about 40% of Americans believe in evolution.
What do you think has caused this astonishingly low number; has this
always been the case? Is it just a failure of the educational system?
It seems to me like this might be at least partly the influence of
religious organisations who lobby for intelligent design to be taught
in science class as an alternative theory. So is the undermining of
scientific thinking a consequence of the pervasiveness of religion in
the American culture in general, or is the problem isolated religious
groups that have too much political power?
2. Is there a difference between TV news in Finland and the United States?
In my experience (mainly watching bits from the 24h cable news channels
like MSNBC, CNN, Fox news) the US news seem more geared towards
entertainment and shock value, but that could just be my skewed view
due to limited exposure. Are the cable news networks popular and are
there any alternative news outlets that would be more similar to the
news in Finland?
1. Certain TV series like Friends and the Bold and the Beautiful have been
aired in Finnish television as long as I can remember. What is the
status of these kind of TV series in American television?
2. Is plastic surgery as common in the US as TV series suggest, or is it
just for the rich and famous?
1. I've heard that the radio stations in the southern parts of the USA
will not play any other music than country music, is that true?
2. In movies the "hillbillies" always drive pickups: how popular is the
pickup in America and do urban people also drive pickups?
1. Sarah Palin has been widely made fun of and criticized in the American
media. Many instances have shown that she is not very knowledgeable
about the issues she's talking about. You would think that no one would
even consider her to be qualified to run a country, but her popularity
among right-leaning citizens is immense. I think this video from one of
her book signings is very descriptive of her following. What do you
think "regular" people see in Sarah Palin? Could her popularity be
explained in terms of popular culture?
2. In Finland, we get both American television shows and British
television shows, but how much of British TV is shown in the US? Would
most Americans know about classic shows like "Black Adder", "Jeeves and
Wooster" or "Fawlty Towers"?
1. In American TV series such as CSI where every time someone uses a
computer they write long commands on the keyboard and never use a
mouse. This is not how computers are used in reality. Seems as though
in TV computers are still like they were in the 80's. (Computers are
used in the same way in "Police Academy" from 1984.) Why is this?
Wouldn't it be better to show the scientists using more sophisticated
technology? Or is the idea to show that using computers is a difficult
job and only for the geeks?
2. How much do they show foreign TV series in the US? Are the foreign
language series always dubbed? How about British series? Do Americans
always understand British English?
1. We briefly discussed the university/college sports, and the fact that
an American would assume UTA also has several sports teams etc. Have
American universities&colleges 'always' had sports teams? What are the
origins of this tradition? Sports are valued higher in the upper level
of education overall, it seems (sport scholarships, for example), why?
2. Every now and then I've read about the sweeps period in relation to
American TV and TV series. It is connected to shows trying to get more
attention/viewers with all kinds of things that have some shock value.
What are these sweeps and what is the history behind them?
(See What Are the U.S. Television 'Sweeps'?)
1. Bridal showers and baby showers seem to be important for many people in
American TV series. Are they really common in the U.S.? Why are they
2. When and how do babies receive their name in the U.S.? Are there
any equivalents of Finnish christening ceremony?
1. In Finland, there seems to be a high level of democracy and equality at
workplaces and at universities or schools. Is there a general
difference between Finland and the U.S. concerning how the employers
and employees / teachers and students interact?
2. Are there many families where the parents make their children call them
sir/ma'am? Do you feel that there is a difference in how children are
brought up in the U.S. from the way they are brought up in Finland?
1. How has the representation of the black population changed in
mainstream media since the 1950s?
2. How has the target audience of commercials changed in recent decades?
1. From various films I've gathered that proms are the most important
thing in the life of a teenager. Is that really so in reality or do the
films merely exaggarate? If that is true, is there a reason for it?
2. I've read from the newspapers that many people in America are arguing
about birth control and contraception. Also, there has been some talk
that in the U.S. they do not want to teach sex education to young
people. What is the current situation? What are the reasons for it?
1. Is it just a stereotype that Americans eat more junk food than people
in other countries, or do you think Americans in general have more
unhealthy diets than people in Finland, for example? From what I have
learned by watching American TV series, fast food, TV dinners, etc. are
eaten very often. Also, in the documentary film Supersize Me, lemonade
and junk food are often served for pupils in American schools. What do
you think is the reason for this junk food culture? Lack of education?
impact of junk food commercials? hectic lifestyle?
2. It seems to me that rhetorical speeches (and the ability to give them)
are quite important in American culture. For a Finn, the rhetorical
style used in famous American speeches (e.g. speeches of presidents and
politicians) seems almost humorous. I heard recently that President
Obama has actually been criticized for not being able to give effective
enough speeches. In addition to politics, rhetorical speeches can be
found in many American films. Why are they so important for Americans?
Does this appreciation of rhetorical speeches date back to the age of
settlement when sermons were considered as an 'art form' of some kind?
1. Church-going. Do most Americans go to church every week? Is there any
difference between Catholics and Protestants?
2. In many American TV series, whenever a family moves into a new
neighborhood, they receive pies and fruitbaskets from their new
neighbors. Does this really happen in real life, and if it does, is it
common in all social classes?
1. The more American books I purchase, the more I notice a strange
pattern: almost all of them have a stamp on the cover citing 'NEW YORK
TIMES BESTSELLER'. What defines this bestseller status? Why is it
significant that a book is deemed a bestseller, and is it specifically
important that this bestseller status is granted by the New York Times?
2. What is the function of godparents in American culture? I've received
some contradicting information on this: some people claim godparents
are similar to those in Finland (they are meant to help your parents
with giving you a good Christian upbringing), but I've also heard that
if the child's parents die, the godparents are expected to adopt the
child. I've also heard that there's a difference between legally bound
godparents and 'godparents in name only', the legally bound ones being
the ones expected to participate in the child's life and the ones in
name only being more like honorary aunts and uncles.
1. Why is it that we rarely see American police officers on TV use a
breathalyzer to test suspected drunk drivers? Is this just a distorted
view perpetuated by television?
It seems to me that conducting complex field sobriety tests is more
time-consuming, difficult and unrealiable than a simple breathalyzer
test. The only half-decent answer I've come up with is that this is
some sort of backwards individual rights issue.
2. Is it common in American colleges to have some sort of an initiation
ritual for the whole freshman class, or are these initiations or
hazings confined to only fraternities and sororities?
1. A couple of months ago, I visited the United States with my family. I
was quite amused to notice that even in nice restaurants adult
customers preferred to drink sodas (soft drinks) instead of water,
juice, wine or beer. Sodas were usually cheaper than water, and you
could get free refills. Do the different soda brands and drinking soda
have a special role in the American way of life? And how can their
teeth bear it?
2. During our visit, we spent two days in Disney World in Orlando,
Florida. The magnitude of these parks and all the related places and
happenings was amazing. What do ordinary Americans (if there are any
such persons) think of these parks? Are the parks well known? Do all
American children dream of visiting these parks?
1. They have shown a few American films in the Finnish TV that have only
featured Black American actors. It seems that there are also sitcoms
where most of the actors are Black Americans, for example "The Fresh
Prince of Bel-Air". How popular are these among Black Americans? How
popular are these among other ethnic groups in the US? Are there
all-Hispanic films or sitcoms? If so, what are the most characteristic
features in them, how do they differ from "main-stream" sitcoms/films?
2. In Finland the majority of the population is Evangelical-Lutheran,
Religion is taught in schools, and the majority of teenagers attend
confirmation class (often in the form of confirmation camps). Still,
only a very small minority of Finns read the Bible word by word,
believing that everything in it, even in the Old Testament, is the
literal truth, and none of it is in the slightest way figurative. The
vast majority of Finns believe in the theory of evolution, and this
theory is taught in the Finnish schools as the scientific truth of the
origin of species.
My old Biology (Natural Science) teacher in upper secondary school was
a highly religious Christian, and he saw no conflict between what he
believed in and what he taught us. Is it true that most Christians in
the US believe that the Old Testament tells the literal truth?
Consequently, is it true that they believe that the theory of evolution
is all lies? If so, how strong is their influence in the US? What is
taught about the origin of species in the American schools of today?
How does this influence the Natural Science related programs in the TV?
1. I would like to know more about the Health Care Reform that is now
taking place in the United States. How does this new policy actually
differ from the old one? And why do Republicans oppose this reform so
fiercely (to the extent of calling President Obama a communist)?
2. Is it only in movies or do police officers actually force a possible
drunk-driver to do all these silly tests before the actual breath test
(walking a straight line, eye movement tests, counting backwards from
99 etc.). Why not just use the breathalyzer, like here in Finland?
1. This year's Super Bowl became the most-watched program in American
television history. The record had been held for 27-years before this
by the final episode of the television series M*A*S*H*. How did the
show become so wildly popular to hold this kind of record so long? I
don't ever remember seeing in on Finnish television on reruns even
though other old American shows are, but it is apparently re-run on
American TV constantly. Was there something so culture-specific that it
did much better in the U.S. than anywhere else; was it particularly
popular among the Korean War veterans, for example? Did it hold the
huge popularity from the beginning, or did the ratings and fanbase
2. There are certain works of literature that are "staples" in most
nations and cultures - that all adult (natives) of a certain nation are
expected to have read, and that probably have played a part in shaping
the collective consciousness. What literary works, if any, could be
considered like this in the United States? You have mentioned Catch-22,
for example. Might that be one of them?
(see Modern Library '100 Best Novels' and The Library of America)
1. Sometimes it seems like every movie or tv-series made in the US has to
have at least one African-American actor in it. When did
African-American actors start to appear on screen so frequently (and in
roles which are not stereotypical)?
2. How much did the black "teenage culture" in 1950s and 1960s differ from
the white "mainstream" teenage culture?
1. In Finland, there are no dogs or cats sold in pet stores. This seems to
be the case in many American movies and tv shows. How often can one
actually see puppies for sale in pet stores in the United States? Is
this permitted in every state or only in some of them?
2. How common is it to own exotic animals, such as chimpanzees, in the
1. After watching the movie "Little Miss Sunshine", I was horrified. In my
opinion, those child beauty pageants can, at worst, ruin a girl's whole
childhood and distort her ego. It seems to be all about parents living
out their own fantasies through their kids, or trying to win money and
prizes by making their poor little girl do all the work. How come these
competitions aren't illegal yet?
2. Let's say there was an American school where a bigger number of boys
played golf than girls did. Since the school has to spend as much money
on both sexes' teams, wouldn't it mean that the girls would
automatically perform a lot better in competitions, since their team
could afford a better coach, better equipment, etc.?
1. What might be the reason for the popularity of conspiracy theories in
the US? Some of them, for example those concerning the Roswell alien
landing and President Kennedy's assassination, have endured for decades
and new information is still being searched for.
2. From watching American television programs it seems that the gap
between "white" and "black" is still enormous: whenever a white
character says or does something even remotely African
American-related, anything from nasty looks to bodily harm might come
his way. Is this just exaggeration for comedic purposes or is the
situation really still that flammable?
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Last Updated 19 March 2010