Today’s post is mostly a collection of my observations and opinions, it is not meant to be a dissertation nor something to be read as fact. These are just my views. This post was inspired by an email I received from a friend who lives south of the border, he got me thinking of how great the USA is and can be. The piece probably deserves a bit more thought and elaboration but this is all I could muster up for now.
There is no country in world like the United States of America, the place where the medium of comic books was born.
Comic books are an American art form and they owe their success to a series of developments that preceded them, developments that led to a popular culture infrastructure and delivery system that could not happen in any other place except America.
The earlier success of comic strips in newspapers was an important catalyst, strips were often the most popular section of the paper and media empires fought for possession of the best writers and artists. The unsung hero though was the syndicate, syndicates were companies that represented artists and intellectual property owners and these companies would act as agents and get the strips into papers across the country. We could have a kid in Seattle loving the same weekly comic strips as a kid in Tampa and a kid in New York all reading it on the same Saturday.
These syndicates formed the early foundation of America’s popular culture infrastructure. Next, we can look to radio, by the 1930s hit radio programs featuring popular culture figures like The Shadow and Buck Rogers expanded the fanbase to a truly national level. Movie theatres were also adding to the popular culture infrastructure. In the 1930s, distribution companies assured that Walt Disney movies and shorts were being seen nationally in every nook and cranny of the country, adding another important level of infrastructure.
Comic books as we know them came around in 1933 with Famous Funnies but they really exploded and fulfilled their destiny with the creation of Superman in June 1938.
By 1938 America had the pop culture infrastructure in place needed to make sure a creation like Superman reached every crevasse of society, comic books, radio programs, movie serials, newspaper strips, licensed toys and more. After that, any popular creation had the necessary infrastructure to assure success, all that was needed now was the creation of something good and that’s where America again comes to the rescue.
The USA has been the greatest incubator of ideas in the history of humanity. You just do not get that randomly though, there had to have existed the right environment to foster so much creativity.
Citizens of the United States have been awarded 383 Nobel prizes, which is more than the next 5 nations, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Sweden and the U.S.S.R./Russia combined. Obviously the country of the United States has the right environment.
Many of these American Nobel winners were once citizens of those other countries mentioned. The USA is a country of immigrants, aside from the Native American population everybody came from somewhere else and belonged to some established tribe. Nikola Tesla, Elon Musk, Sergey Brin all immigrants. Just getting immigrants is not enough though, there was an atmosphere that allows these immigrants to assimilate, create and flourish.
Separation of church and state, rule of law that focused on the protection of property, a culture built on enterprise and innovation, a culture where failure was not seen as a stigma but just a temporary setback. These factors and others helped build this can-do atmosphere.
Millennia ago they say that oases where caravans crossed paths were places to gain new ideas and take them back home, to often though the meeting of caravans ended badly with violence, robbery and killing so there was both opportunity and danger.
The United States has been like the world’s biggest oasis for over a century and like in the old days one of two things usually happened, people shot at each other or they came up with ideas that changed the world, ideas that could only come to light with this volatile mixing of differing ideas and cultures.
Homogeneity tends to lead to safer societies and stagnation of ideas, maybe not stagnation of ideas but more a boundary for ideas. Homogeneous cultures are often bound by traditions that limit outside views needed to fuel innovations and ideas; my food is best, my god is best, my music is best, these are not views that foster new ideas.
Like I said above the mixing of old cultures can be dangerous in a new shared home, but this mixing can also fuel thoughts and innovations unimagined in the old world. America has gone through assimilation growing pains and continues to do so but she also continues to produce new ideas unlike anywhere else.
Lets now combine the internal pop culture infrastructure developed in the United States with the country’s ability to create pop culture ideas, concepts and properties a level unmanageable anywhere else and you get what the United States has been for over a century now, a place where comic book characters can be created and exported to every corner of the world where they are eagerly consumed and where they attain popularity levels surpassing local folklore and fables.