Prepare For ’Merica Madness

The road to Most ‘Merican begins here.

In election years, America becomes an exaggerated version of itself, like a twenty-something writing a Tinder profile. All of our national traits are cranked up to 11: our fierce patriotism, our grassroots can-do spirit, and our boundless ambition to remake the world. (Unfortunately, so too are our xenophobia, our struggles with race and gender, our increasingly stratified class system, and our disillusionment with institutions.)

We at Overthinking It have been musing over all the great pop culture that’s tried to hold a up mirror to the USA over the years. And since nothing is more American than a pathological need to be #1, we’re going to celebrate our nation by finding the most American piece of pop culture… that has the word “American” in its name. No, the word “America” doesn’t qualify (maybe next year), and “USA” certainly doesn’t qualify (sorry Lee Greenwood – you would have gone far).

Why limit it to pop culture with “American” in the name? Aren’t we excluding many competitors that are just dripping with Americaness? (It’s easy to imagine The Simpsons crushing all challengers like so many Scratchys.) One of the reasons is that without that restriction, the field would be so wide that we couldn’t hope to narrow it down. But we’re also fascinated by movies, TV shows, and songs that have the audacity to frame themselves as broad statements about the nation as a whole. Take American Beauty for instance. No one in that film gives a big speech about the United States. No one is trying to address any larger societal problems. There’s no reason you couldn’t translate the film into Japanese and set it in Kyoto. But the title makes it clear the filmmakers want you to see this story as something quintessentially American. We want to take those works and look at what they say (and how well they say it).

And what do we mean by “most American”? How do we intend to pick the winners? To us, “most American” doesn’t mean the most popular or populist. It means something that’s insightful about America. We’re looking for pop culture that reveals fundamental truths about this country. In some cases, these truths may be ugly, but perhaps we can take a perverse pride in being a nation that makes great art out of its own shortcomings.

So how will this work? After months of debate, we’ve settled on a bracket of 32 top contenders, organized around four of America’s central preoccupations: Violence, Sex, Family, and Capitalism. These are your ’Merica Madness competitors. Click to get a printable PDF with forms you can fill in yourself!

Note that sticking to these four themes meant dropping a few of our favorite “American” pieces of pop culture, which just didn’t have a place. Bye bye “American Pie” (the song – the movie is still very much in play).

In the coming weeks the Overthinking It editors will be writing posts discussing the Round 1 matchups and announcing the ones we believe should advance to the Sweet Sixteen. So if you want to advocate for your favorite ’Merica Madness competitor, post a comment below – we’ll take it into consideration. And if you want to impress us, download the bracket above, fill it out, and email it back to me at [email protected]. Whoever is closest to our final selections will get a patriotic t-shirt of our choice!

Good luck to all our ’Merica competitors. Next week we kick things off in true American fashion: with Violence.

12 Comments on “Prepare For ’Merica Madness”

  1. yellojkt In A Way #

    “American Woman” is by the Guess Who, a Canadian band. Are we really going to let Canucki ringers in this contest?

    Reply
    • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

      Absolutely no requirement that the pop culture be CREATED by Americans. One of the things that just barely missed the cut was David Bowie’s song “I’m Afraid of Americans,” which would have been for Capitalism.

      The American Woman vs. American Girl first round matchup should be interesting!

      Reply
  2. Tulse #

    Is it “American Girl” the Tom Petty song, or “American Girl” the doll?

    And I understand there are constraints at play, but you’ve got both American Beauty and The Americans in “Family”?! I would think those would fit in any of the other categories better.

    Reply
    • Rambler The Full Harvey #

      “American Girl” is in the sex section of the showdown. So either it’s clearly the song, or there are things about the doll series that I wasn’t aware of… not that there’s anything wrong with that…

      Reply
      • An Inside Joke In A Way #

        I completely forgot the song existed, so I was definitely wondering if there were some undertones to the dolls I’d been unaware of when I was 7.

        Now I want someone to write a post on the Freudian sexual underpinnings of overpriced historical dolls. I’m guessing since most of the OTI writing staff is male, perhaps they were unaware these existed? http://www.americangirl.com/shop/dolls

        Reply
      • yellojkt In A Way #

        “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl” which is a movie based on the Depression era American Girl doll is in the Family bracket, so that would be the representative for that line.

        Quick anecdote: My family was in New York City and went by the American Doll store which is quite the tourist attraction. My wife wanted to check out what the fuss was about but my 12-year-old son refused to even step inside the store. So he spent a half hour standing on the sidewalk outside while we toured the doll beauty salon, hospital, and restaurant.

        Reply
    • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

      I do think that some of these could belong in more than one category, and we tried to be thoughtful about placing things in the right spot. For instance, American Psycho was going to be in Violence until we decided that it’s more about money and consumer culture, with the violence being a symptom of that.

      American Beauty certainly features sex and violence, but the core of the movie is the family members and their inability to connect. And while The Americans has a lot of violence, it’s a story of foreign agents trying to pass as an American family. It’s that struggle to assimilate and conform that we’ll be analyzing.

      But seriously, there’s going to be a lot of subjectivity, and half the fun is hearing from you guys about how you’d do things differently.

      Reply
  3. Akilah #

    Fievel!

    Is it fundamental truths about America as in how America sees itself/wants to be portrayed or truths as in this IS America, warts and all?

    Reply
    • Stokes OTI Staff #

      More the latter — but keep in mind that, if X is how America sees itself/wants to be portrayed, then “X is how America sees itself” is a true thing about America. If that makes any sense at all.

      Reply
  4. Rob #

    At one point this winter, my DVR was regularly delivering episodes of The Americans, American Crime and American Crime Story. What I’m saying is, Americans like to mark their territory.

    Reply
  5. Coughin Ed #

    inshallah looking forward to a good ol’ gigolo/pastoral champeenship

    Reply

Add a Comment