Dominant American Values
America: United by Individuals?
Melissa A. Mudd
FS 2009 - Price
Dominant values defined:
individuality vs. conformity
We protect our individualism by laws and
by the belief in one's own worth.
Americans pride themselves on being self-
sufficient, strong, and rugged
Americans believe in adherence to a
group, especially for success. We are
often economically, politically, and socially
dependent upon each other, and
interdependence calls for some
Advertising plays on the
dominant value of
individuality in order to sell
products. The individual is
often co-opted as the
trendsetter, initiating group
How is it a cultural artifact?
The Scion advertisements are appropriate cultural
artifacts for today because they seem to blend these two
values (individualism and conformity) so seamlessly.
Consumers are accustomed to having say in their
product, so much that the term “prosumer” (producer +
consumer = prosumer) has been coined to explain this
phenomenon. Drivers need to personalize their vehicles
is a great example of this in action, thus elevating these
advertisements as culturally resonant for today.
What historical, social, cultural, or
political events could it reflect?
These ads seem to reflect the delicate balance between
leading the way to something new (the individual value)
and the comfort of knowing that someone else is also
doing this (the conformity of the “united” or en masse). I
think this can be seen as a mirror to America in the way
that we, as a culture, seem to be driven to innovate and
step outside of the box, but only within bounds which will
lead to widespread financial successes. On a social
level this expression of personalization may also be
compared to the need for subcultures or groups to
personalize or differentiate themselves from the masses,
yet look the same amongst the group. More on this
What does it tell us
about society’s beliefs?
I think that one of the most important things viewing
these ads reveal is that conformity and individuality
(beliefs that are seemingly opposite) are oftentimes
intrinsically intertwined. As educators it is important for
us to help students understand how the concepts of
“individual” or “conformity” are marketed so that students
are truly empowered in making their own decisions.
What other artifacts from
the time period support
and complement the
uniting in a group (aka
“conformity by surprise”)
T-Mobile Station Dance
Flashmob orchestrated to promote the idea of connectivity
in order to boost T-Mobile’s sales. The video went viral
exponentially increasing T-Mobile’s visibility.
T-Mobile’s flashmob can be
seen as “conforming” to
the individuality of these
Large crowds, though
not seen dancing in
unison, are also used
in the marketing of
The Verizon Network Phenomenon
Television Ad Real life TV?
Apple, continually a
trendsetter even today,
caught on to the need to
sell “individuality” and
“thinking different” quite
early on. Consider these
Apple 1984 Think Different Campaign
So, if you buy a product from
a company who’s mission is
to be an individual and think
differently, and so does your
neighbor, and his friends,
and their friends… are you
still an individual?
Let’s investigate this further…
Sub cultural assimilation:
the outsider individual
Exactitudes: a contraction
of exact and attitude.
By registering their subjects in an identical framework,
with similar poses and a strictly observed dress code,
Versluis and Uyttenbroek provide an almost scientific,
anthropological record of people's attempts to distinguish
themselves from others by assuming a group identity.
The apparent contradiction between individuality and
uniformity is, however, taken to such extremes in their
arresting objective-looking photographic viewpoint and
stylistic analysis that the artistic aspect clearly dominates
the purely documentary element.
view the book here
who wore leather
to look tough and
wearing leather to
look like they could
channel Brando or
Dean – conforming
to the point of view
of their stylists and
Even the most original,
. . . are eventually co-opted and
transformed for conformist
production by marketers.
Many questions remain. Perhaps some of the following
would be interesting prompts for students.
How do we tell who truly is an
individual? Who decides?
How can individuality be
protected from marketing?
Are all individuals simply
expressing an alternative form