My idea for this piece occurred whilst I was making my way back to university on a train. The train was halted, presumably a track-work related problem, on a trestle overlooking a busy roundabout in the Midlands area. It was a dull night and rain was falling fast. Glancing up from my current American Studies revision, the dark banality of the industrial landscape of brick, road, exhaust fumes, and rain, reminded me of my previous conceptions of America. Whilst I sat there I remembered the images I had of America when I decided to study the country as an undergraduate. From the East coast to the Midwest to the West coast, the US is something I want to be illuminated by.
Like many, my fascination with America grew from the romantic idealism explored in the music and literature of its countrymen and women. As an ardent fan of great songwriters such as Dylan, Springsteen and Brian Fallon, I was endowed with the romance of the US through their lyricism. As well as its music, I was exposed to great American cinema and literature. I was fascinated by the portrayal of the country within Scorsese’s films, and by the books of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and Richard Russo, amongst others.
My own vision of what defines America consisted of images of stars and striped flags blowing in the wind on white picket fences in suburban America. This was coupled with the sound of the fans in Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium when a home-run gets hit, and images of the colossal architecture of Chicago and New York, contrasted with the cornfields of the Midwest. It revolves around the formation of this ‘New World’, one that prohibited expression of a singular religion, one that believed mankind possessed inalienable rights such as ‘the pursuit of happiness’, and one that gave its people the right to freedom and free expression, whatever that may be.
Similarly, my historical vision of the US followed a conventional narrative. I set out to study past presidents and what they achieved for their nation. I aimed to understand America’s involvement in past conflicts such as World War Two and Vietnam. I wanted to explore the affluent post-war era and understand why exactly it was affluent and culturally imperative. Most of all, I aimed to explore the ‘American Dream’ and to understand why my vision of America was considerably idealistic and romanticized. However, as I finished Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby a few years ago, I was struck with a sense that, for people like Gatsby, the ‘American Dream’ is superficial and empty. Yet, for others, the ‘American Dream’ is simply unachievable due to oppression and poverty.
Since studying America at undergraduate level, I have rather opposed a conventional view of the US. I decided to pursue a certain counter narrative. Since starting my AMS degree, I have discovered incredible African-American writers such as Toni Morrison and Langston Hughes. I have immersed myself in understanding the objectives and success of minority and oppressed groups such as African-Americans and women. I have also developed interest in US foreign policy, particularly its commitments and the reasons why it has caused vociferous criticism and condemnation at times.
Thus, I have now focused my research onto certain notions regarding America domestically and internationally. Firstly, I wish to further explore such questions as why African-Americans are still the most unemployed and impoverished community in the US, and why the richest minority have more wealth than the majority. I am also interested in why there is a resurgence of fundamental Christianity, particularly in a nation whose constitution can be seen to promote secularism. Also, why does the US have the highest GPD globally? How does its markets work and acquire its levels of production and consumption; how is its economy sustained?
Internationally, I wish to explore the imperialistic arm of the US. Most notably, whether it still extends to countries such as the Middle East for democratic and idealistic pursuits or self serving economical and political purposes. Moreover, in what ways can the war in Iraq be justified? To what effect does a militarized foreign policy have on America, from small-town families to Congress?
I still, to some extent, have a romantic view of the US. However, as my AMS research ends for the first year, I wish to explore further the socio-economical disadvantages of certain groups, the nature of religion, and whether the US is promoting democracy or violence to other parts of globe ,or instead, whether it continues to grind the gears of the war machine.