Sunday, July 23, 2006

Question for Readers

Has There Been a Pure American Product Since 1964?

In the July 24 issue of the New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl gives a tiny "Critic's Notebook" review of the Whitney Museum's current permanent collection retrospective "Full House." He says -- and I agree completely -- that the fifth floor Edward Hopper portion is the best (Hopper was championed by the museum's founder since the 20s; when the artist died, his widow left all of his work to the Whitney. More on Edward Hopper at the Whitney in a later post.).

But there was something at the bottom of the short review that I can't stop thinking about:
"The sportive Pop floor is titled with a line from William Carlos Williams, 'The pure products of America go crazy.' It's catchy, but silly. America hasn't had a pure product since the 1964 Ford Mustang."
Now, even if you don't agree with the '64 Mustang being a "pure American product," it still challenges you to come up with another. For the sake of argument, let's assume the 1964 Ford Mustang was a pure American product, and let's use that as our starting point. What American object, what American product made since then is purely American?

It's tough. So much of what we make is either derivative or old. Blue jeans. Pizza. Hot dogs. Baseball. Skyscrapers. Bud Light. Regis Philbin. I remember thinking how uniquely American the tv show "All in the Family" was until I heard that it was based on a British sitcom with a similar concept.

On the subject of cars, I think you could say that the station wagon, and later the minivan were pure American automobiles. They were created for a distinctly American market -- big middle class families living in the suburbs without public transportation, far from giant supermarkets and sports practice. But is there one iconic station wagon or minivan? I'd say no to the former and maybe -- the Dodge Caravan to the latter.

But what else is there? Here are my criteria:
  • It has to be a thing.
  • It has to be a singular product, not a broad category (no generic 'minivans' or 'station wagons' -- only specific examples ).
  • It has to be American: made here for our population by our workforce for an American firm.
  • It must be an American idea, not an Americanization of a foreign idea (no 'All in the Family').
  • It can be available elsewhere (like Coca-Cola) but it must scream Americana to foreign buyers.
So tell me what you think. Use the comment forum to submit your picks for American products post-1964. I'll think about the question and post my picks and yours in a few days.


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