Metaphors for the idea of America
July 17, 2013 6:15 PM   Subscribe

For a song I'm writing, I'm looking for images that represent the positive ideal of America, however naive. Bubblegum, the beach boys, Jimmy Stewart, you get the idea. The song is titled 'Miss America' and I'm looking for images that represent the America I miss in present times. This is far from a rah-rah composition -- they really don't have to be unambiguous -- in fact the ambiguity is something I want to drill into in the song. But I'm looking for people, places, things, ideas that have at one time represented an ideal of 'America', in the abstract, that I can play with as images in a song. No wrong answers. Thanks.
posted by unSane to Society & Culture (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Strong Unions fighting for the workers, clean waterways, a prosperous working class, doctors that make house calls and get paid in barter and live in their patients neighborhoods, sports for fun and not for profit, rockets to the moon!, nuclear families, God and Country, the greatest generation (and the ass kickers that came before and after), the benevolent President and the founding fathers, equality, freedom....

How did I do?
posted by cjorgensen at 6:19 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

'57 Chevy, '65 Mustang, etc.
Route 66
Drive-in movies (hmm, all of mine seem to be car-related)
posted by scody at 6:20 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Pizza, burgers, corn on the cob
Johnny Cash, Elvis, Dolly Parton
posted by quiet coyote at 6:21 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

White picket fence
2-car garage
Small town 4th of July parade
Block party
Cub Scouts / Boy Scouts / Campfire Girls / Girl Scouts
Little church with a steeple
Laundry drying on a line
Mom baking, wearing an apron
Big American cars
Horses and cowboys
Kids playing cowboys and Indians
Signing up for the military
Welcoming the new neighbors with a plate of cookies
Rocking chairs on the front porch
Kid's lemonade stand
Cruiser bikes
Cheerleaders / baton twirlers
Saluting a veteran
Barn dance / square dance
Drive in movies
Tractors / farms / ranches
Manufacturing industry / auto assembly line
Kite flying
Playing marbles
Trick or treating
Christmas morning / department store Santa
Pledge of Allegiance
posted by The Deej at 6:27 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Apple pie, of course. Windowbox gardens. Flag on the porch. Kids playing outside in the neighborhood. Barbecue. The space program. Baseball.
posted by kagredon at 6:28 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Westerns and jazz music.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:28 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Apollo program, state fairs, station wagons, Little League, potlucks, Mail Pouch tobacco ads painted on the side of barns, the New Deal.

(My Midwest childhood, let me show you it)
posted by drlith at 6:28 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

High school football games
Town square
County fairs
Basketball hoop on the garage
posted by SisterHavana at 6:29 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.

I fear that John Mellencamp may have beaten you entirely to the punch.
posted by Kakkerlak at 6:30 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Look for the Union Label. (Cynically paired with James McMurtry's "We Can't Make It Here.")

The Kennedy half dollar. Volunteer firefighters. Lemonade stands. Bunting. White picket fences and rockers on the front porch. Community potlucks and the Friday night fish fry. Raccoon-tail Davy Crockett hats. Tiny American flags. The Shriners in the town parade. Norman Rockwell prints. Rosie the Riveter. A chicken in every pot. The Lincoln Memorial.

Woodie Guthrie.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:32 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

hamburgers, cookouts, camping, road trips
posted by shortyJBot at 6:39 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Terrific answers, so far, everyone. Keep going.
posted by unSane at 6:40 PM on July 17, 2013

4th of July parades
Marilyn Monroe
Corn fields
having sex in the back seat
posted by Sophie1 at 6:53 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Zion National Park, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Acadia, Adirondacks, San Francisco Bay, Manhattan Skyline, Magnificent Mile in Chicago, Crater Lake, Everglades, Denali, Rainier, Etc.
posted by Wretch729 at 6:55 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hit post too soon- list mostly inspired by the cliche that they say the difference between the US and Europe is Americans think 100 years is a very long time and Europeans think 100 miles is a very long distance.)

Oh and since I haven't seen it suggested and despite my dislike for the military-industrial complex that spawned it, there's no denying the powerful imagery of a nuclear aircraft carrier.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:03 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Michael Jackson. Levi's blue jeans. Marlboro. McDonald's. Al Capone. Cowboys. Hollywood.
posted by goethean at 7:17 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

May be repeating others

Hula hoops
Leaf raking
Jump rope
Pilgrims / Thanksgiving
posted by The Deej at 7:21 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

people on fire escapes and front stoops
guys in uniform
gals out for a big time by themselves
a raging guitar solo
Frank Sinatra
night baseball under the lights
Cub Scouts
a goddamn Golden Retriever
The Prom
first kisses
ice cream falling on the ground
sitting in a movie theater eating popcorn
Woody wagons with surfboards on top
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 7:24 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ellis Island
The Statue of Liberty "Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.."
"I Have a Dream"
"Yes We Can"
posted by citron at 7:47 PM on July 17, 2013

The yellow school bus.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 7:55 PM on July 17, 2013

An open highway.
Corn dogs.
Pizza delivery.
Water parks.
the Wright Brothers
Open desert
Hawaii, California, Texas, New York
posted by KathrynT at 8:35 PM on July 17, 2013

Manifest destiny.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 9:34 PM on July 17, 2013

Based on street names: M.L.K., Rosa Parks, Cezar Chavez, Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Broadway, Main
posted by chrchr at 10:22 PM on July 17, 2013

- we are obsessed with fitness and diets and superficial goals of "perfection" yet we are also the most obese country in the world (actually, 2nd most obese, as of this year - Mexico managed to squeeze past us and take over the first place spot) and are notorious for our huge food portions and greasy foods and sugary 100 oz drinks with free refills, yet there are gyms on every street corner.

- sex is still so incredibly taboo in much of the public sphere, yet we use sex to sell everything and anything; on a related note, the entire country falls apart over a nip-slip on primetime TV yet we won't blink twice at violence and gore on those same channels during that same time slot.

Also, one of the more random American staples (well, especially in the high school/college setting) that multiple family members of mine in Europe have noticed in American movies and pointed out? Red Solo Cups. I'll even bring a pack or two when I go visit (if I remember) because its incredible how happy it makes them, especially the younger (teens, early 20s) cousins.

Finally, much bigger everything - cars, roads, open spaces, living spaces, washing machines, etc...
posted by slightlyamused at 12:19 AM on July 18, 2013

Violence. It's as American as cherry pie (H. Rap Brown)
posted by Mister Bijou at 2:39 AM on July 18, 2013

For what it's worth, these aren't metaphors, they're metonyms.
posted by Acheman at 4:02 AM on July 18, 2013

Not to be a party pooper and this is not a direct answer to the question, but if you aren't aware, David Byrne already put out a song called, Miss America that does something similar to what you're suggesting.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:25 AM on July 18, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks. Luckily that's a million miles from what I'm planning.
posted by unSane at 5:39 AM on July 18, 2013

Response by poster: They're metonyms right now but they'll be metaphors by the time I've finished with them.
posted by unSane at 5:40 AM on July 18, 2013

Roy Rodgers. Bob Hope. Marilyn Monroe.
posted by goethean at 6:07 AM on July 18, 2013

Town square bustling with activity, surrounded by busy mom and pop stores

Town square dead and weed-filled, surrounded by empty storefronts
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:50 AM on July 18, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. In the end this turned out mostly to be helpful in eliminating some of the cliches that I didn't want to sing about. Here's the song.
posted by unSane at 6:58 PM on July 31, 2013

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