, Research Paper
Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality
To many people the phrase American culture represents a set of positive values and beliefs that would be held by any benevolent citizen. In an ideal society this would indeed be the case, however the phrase actually represents a set of values and beliefs that are imposed, reinforced, and become dominant. These beliefs are often presented as being valid when they are actually based on the distortion and manipulation of the truth. Dominant American culture is imposed by various means such as our families, schools, government, and possibly most often by the mass media. Although it is important to realize that cultural values and beliefs are not necessarily positive, it must be noted that they are not necessarily negative either. To discover if a dominant cultural belief is in fact sound, one must examine it critically. To do this is to look at where the belief originated, why it has been reinforced, and who is benefiting from its continuance. In the readings by Rubin, and Ore several dominant cultural values are investigated and an upsetting connection is found. On the foundation of actual experiences, the authors show how a number of dominant beliefs are presented as truth but in reality serve to promote the welfare of those in power and in control of resources.
When identifying dominant cultural beliefs, perhaps the first one that comes to mind is the idea of the American dream. To many the American dream is in fact the essence of America. The idea that anyone can be anything they put their mind to is the basis for America being known as the land of opportunity. Upon inspection however, its apparent that America is far from an Egalitarian society where all have equal access to power and natural resources. In a society where there was equal access to resources one would expect to see an equal distribution of wealth. America however has the most unequal distribution of wealth of any industrialized nation. Here the top 1 percent of households controls the same percentage of the nation’s income as the bottom 90 percent of households (Ore: 81). If in truth America represents a society that obviously restricts opportunity to a small number of people, why has the idea of the American dream been reinforced for so long?
To answer this question, it is important to first identify where most of this reinforcement takes place. In this case, the media is largely responsible for supporting the myth of equal opportunity in America. The support comes in the form of distorted media coverage of the poor and inaccurate portrayals of the wealthy. One of the ways the media distorts the facts about distribution of resources is by deceiving the public into thinking that it is common to be wealthy. Even though they make up an incredibly small percentage of the population, the affairs of the wealthy are most often the focus of the media. By presenting these issues as the most common, the American public is led to believe that the “concerns of the wealthy are the concerns of us all”(Ore: 75).
Another way in which false values been supported by the media is evident in its terribly inaccurate presentation of poverty in this country. On the rare occasion that the poor are the focus of the media, they are portrayed as a small percentage of the population that is responsible for creating financial problems for the middle class. Rather than examine the tremendous barriers that serve to keep the poor from attaining financial success, we are trained to see them as a burden on those who have already achieved financial success. This is where the myth of the American dream once again comes into play. If we are in a country where all have equal opportunity, then the poor are considered to be wholly responsible for their situation. Problems such as crime, drug and alcohol abuse, lack of education, and reliance on welfare are represented as the causes of poverty rather than the effects of it. The poor may also affected by this misrepresentation by believing themselves that they are part of a minority group that should only be concerned with becoming part of this immense and prestigious middle class. The truth is “working class families are the single largest group of families in the country. These are the men and women, by far the largest part of the American work force”(Rubin: 30). If in fact the working class makes up the largest section of the population, it is necessary to explain why they are represented as a troublesome minority.
The continuance of myths like these serves to benefit only those who already have access to wealth and resources. It should come as no surprise then that “unlike other cultural institutions, ownership and control of the mass media is highly concentrated. Twenty-three corporations own more than one-half of all the daily newspapers, magazines, movies studios, and radio and television outlets in the United States”(Ore: 71). When the wealthy are identified as having so much control over the media it is easy to recognize how the myths it promotes serve to keep the working class divided and thus unable to initiate social change.
In addition to prolonging the myth of equal opportunity, the media is responsible for exploiting race differences in reference to the distribution of wealth. According to the coverage provided by the media, one would think that minority groups in urban areas made up the bulk of the impoverished population. In actuality, most of the poor in America are white and live in rural areas. The purpose of this sort of misleading depiction is to prevent the working class from uniting and having a chance at instigating social change. This is just another example of inaccurate social beliefs promoting the welfare of the wealthy ruling class in this country. As long as the working class is encouraged to stay divided, it will not become a threat to these values that support the uneven distribution of wealth in America. These myths must be dispelled for until they are, the smallest segment of the population will continue to control the greatest percentage of resources.
What is most dangerous about these destructive myths and cultural values is how easily they are presented as being of a positive nature. The reason that these false beliefs are so prevalent in our society is because they are distorted meticulously in order to seem virtuous. Although the idea of America as an Egalitarian society is a myth, the idea of equal opportunity evokes nothing but positive feelings. The idea of an enormous middle class sharing wealth and opportunity is not inherently corrupt. The idea however, becomes corrupted when one realizes that the middle class by that definition is non-existent. Through this corruption of otherwise positive values and beliefs, the American people have been exploited in the worst way possible. Although hegemonic values in this country often serve to promote inequality, most people don’t hold those values for that reason. Instead, people hold onto dominant values and beliefs because they are deceived into believing that these ideals are the ideals that this country was founded on. To free ourselves from cultural myths that encourage categories of difference, we must look beyond the surface of our cultural values and examine them critically. Only then, will these ideologies become exposed for the chains they actually are. The idea of equal opportunity and the American dream were undoubtedly originally intended to represent the highest of ideals. Unfortunately, a small but very powerful section of the population has found a way to take advantage of these ideals to in order t