Contextualising America

Often when I watch TV programs or films, it’s American media. Even if it’s not set in the US, there’s always a lot of cultural references that I never dwelled on much. But having now been in the US, especially travelling through New York, I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced a lot of US culture and locations in person.

When an unfamiliar American reference occurs, usually I try and piece together what it means. Okay, college tours, I guess it’s a thing where kids go and check out various colleges in different areas before deciding where they go. Sophomore? Let me google that. Brooklyn and Harlem? I guess they’re both suburbs or something? Racial tension? I guess America has issues.

But now having spoken to Americans who have gone through college, I have a much broader understanding of what it’s like. I now also know that Brooklyn is a massive borough and not a little neighbourhood, whereas Harlem is. And I’ve heard from various people (of many colours) on the Black Lives Matter issue, and how a history of marginalisation has perpetuated poor black communities.

Now, Broadway isn’t some concept in my mind but a much more solid understanding of what shows and theatres are considered “Broadway” and what aren’t. Now, I not only know that the A train is in New York but I know it goes up to Harlem – and I’ve been on it! Now I know Time Square is a massive tourist trap area.

And I’m not sure how to put it better than it all just makes more sense. I mean, yes, the US has problems and I’m far more aware of their issues now, and that doesn’t make sense. But having been there and spoken to people, I now have context for all this media I consume and conversations I have. So as much as I may not like how America-centric our pop culture is, at least I understand it better now.

 

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