Key Concepts of American Civilization

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The aim of this paper is to try and show different approaches to key concepts of American Civilization, and therefore, I am not going to analyze them using classical literature or cinematography. My analysis is going to be carried out by the use of popular music videos of the 21st century American artists. This project is an attempt to find non-traditional ways to present those concepts such as reinterpretation or a completely new adaptation.

Materials used in this analysis include photos, pictures, frames from the videos and some lyrics to clarify the meaning.

It is a hip-hop/pop song originally written and performed by Montero Hill (Lil Nas X), who is an American rapper. It was initially released on December 3, 2018 and gained popularity almost instantly. Many artists have been making remixes of this song but the most popular version is the one with Billy Ray Cyrus, who helped Montero gain even larger popularity. It was finally released on April 29, 2019 and was included in Lil Nas X’s debut EP. The remix spent twelve weekend at number one on the Hot 100 by Billboard. While planning to make a music video, Hill decided to film it with Cyrus, as their remix was much more popular than the original version. Most of the creators of the remix were included in the video. The clip involves Montero Hill and Billy Ray Cyrus as cowboys. At the beginning, the setting in a typical frontier area in 1889, they ride horses and run from somebody. When they are forced to escape they both are accidentally transported to present day 2019 where they change from traditional 19th century cowboys to kind of modern version of Wild West men.

Concepts included

As the setting of the video is Wild West, the most obvious choice is to analyze the concept of The Frontier and not surprisingly I have decided to examine it in such a way. However it is not he only concept which I am going to study using this clip. As the title suggests, the song has something to do with the concept of The Road. Therefore, I am going to discuss above mentioned concepts on the basis of the video with the slight help of the lyrics.

The Frontier

Scientifically, in the United States history, American Frontier is the border that marked the territory that was settled and colonized by the European settlers from areas still unexplored by them. The border was advancing as the Europeans were expanding their territory from the East Coast of the North America westwards, eventually to the Far West in the 19th century. For two centuries the idea of being an American was connected with expansion and exploration. The frontier was moving westwards very quickly and at some point Wild West was not so wild anymore. In the second half of the 19th century, a very intensive migration took place. Many small towns were established and people were leading lives of farmers or buffalo keepers. However, some men decided to choose a different way of life. Cowboys were often considered as criminals or bad guys, spending all of their time riding their horses and robbing people.

That is the way that two main characters of the video, played by Montero Hill and Billy Ray Cyrus, have chosen. After stealing a large amount of money they run away from the possible owners. At that moment, the west is presented in quite traditional way. Horses, small farms, prairies and vast areas waiting for cowboys to explore them. Nothing surprising, a classical description of The Frontier. One non-typical feature is that one of the cowboys is black which might be surprising because of the fact that in cowboy culture African-Americans were „whitewashed” by Hollywood producers. Things become completely different when while taking a rest at a random farm they are forced to flee when the owner shoots at them. They are miraculously transported from 1889 to 2019, and that is the moment when tables have turned. A clash of western cultures takes place. After an obvious moment of confusion the modernity starts to influence them. We can see than many elements of life from the 19th century still exists in the present west. It seems like everything from 1889 has its equivalent in 2019. While discovering the town Lil Nas X that not so many things have changed. People still have horses, but on the wheels and with engines. They still wear cowboy shoes, they dance quite different. Cowboy clothes are still available to buy. The two cowboys easily adjust to the modern lifestyle, even though everything seems so different it has not changed at the same time. And people of modern west have not changed.

The Frontier presented here is not just a border, a place or an area. People in 2019 are almost the same as people from 1889, they just adjusted some things to the advancement of technology. Frontier in the video is shown as something abstract, as something which is more spiritual rather than materialistic and after over 100 years it still exists in people

The Road

The concept of The Road is a deep-seated element in American culture. It is strongly linked with the history of America, first settlements and exploration of the continent. In literature, many writers included this concept in their works, making it quintessentially American. In the second half of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century road-building industry in America flourished. Transcontinental Railroad, local roads were just tools enabling Americans to develop the concept of the road. The concept itself is not strictly about roads. In literature, the road might mean typical road, railroads, or even a river. It is more about movement, about development, self reliance and individuality. It is strongly connected with the myth of American Adam. Apart from the physical movement which characters make, it if often a spiritual journey rather than a typical one.

As the video opens, the main character is running with a sack of money from probable owners or someone who want to catch him for stealing the cash. Suddenly, the chasers stop and after a question „Why did we stop?” one of them answers the question in such a way:

The men who want to catch the thief knew that they have to capture him. Apparently, he is a criminal. However, one of them sees something that the other two does not. They only try to keep up with the man running away, but he is too fast. The man in the hat sees more. He appreciates the speed and the passion of the runaway. He stops the chase to have a look at the man. He knows that the most important thing right now is the ride itself, and not punishing of the fugitive. The road presented in the clip is a symbol of freedom to me. It enables the escapee to just ride. Faster and faster and nothing is more important for him than his journey. That statement corresponds perfectly with the lyrics of the song which he starts to sing.

„I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road,

I’m gonna ride ’till I can’t no more”

It looks as if he understood his chaser – he is smiling, he knows that they will not catch him. He is not just to fast for them, he just wants to „ride until he can’t no more” and his chaser knows it and does not want to stop him from doing so. The point of the whole escape is not to get away with a theft, it is to just ride. The „old town road” is a tool which makes the escapee able to pursue his passion. It is a symbol of persistence to me, or a symbol of not giving up, he puts all his effort to the act of riding his horse. The road is shown in a quite traditional way. It is not presented here as something created to just get from one place to another, it is something that enables the main character to be on the move and ride until he is out of energy.

On Top Of The World

It is a rock song by the American rock band Imagine Dragons for their fourth EP „Continued Silence”, but it also is included in their first studio album „Night Visions” (2012) as the fifth track. In 2013 they released the official music video for the song. The clip is a satire of the 1969 moon landing, particularly of the conspiracy theory that the landing was faked. The theory states that it was directed to fool people.

Concepts included

As the video is a satire of the 1969 Apollo moon landing, it is not difficult to found out, that the main concept in the clip is American Icons. This historical event broke many conventions and since 1969 has been considered as the one of the Icons of American culture and history. I am going to go through the video in search of the presentation of this crucial American Icon.

American Icons

The word „icon” usually reminds people of a most prominent feature of something. It might be a symbol, something salient, the main representative of its category. Americans, deep rooted in their culture are very keen on finding symbols of their country. Americans are generally very proud to be Americans, due to the fact that they have a reason to be so. America is known everywhere around the world. It is so popular mainly because it has its very own symbols. Obviously, other countries have them too, but Americans symbols are something else. Some things remind us of the USA instantly. Those are the American Icons. Some events, places, buildings, animals, people or objects are thought to be particularly American.

The Moon Landing

One of such events is undoubtedly the 1969 moon landing. Americans were pioneers on the moon and the event itself were so incredible that it became one of the most prominent moments of American history. Americans ar very proud to be citizens of the country that made the first steps on the moon. Yet, some of them do not believe that it was actually real. This conspiracy theory spread rapidly though the world and attitude towards this event changed. The approach to this American Icon in the Imagine Dragons’ music videos is certainly the satire of the conspiracy theory, but it also shows some others symbols of America, but in more traditional way than it shows the moon landing.

The video shows the whole nation getting ready to watch the moon landing, people gather to watch it together. It also includes some typically American groups of people, even iconic for America.

Bikers, wearing stars and red, white and blue colours

Stereotypical American family from the 1960s

Typically American subculture – Hippies

American roads and highways and red white and blue everywhere

However, those images may be misleading. As it turns out later, the moon landing is fake, but the whole nation is fooled to think that t the Apollo mission succeeded. The video shows that the landing was fake using another American Icon which is

Hollywood film industry. It was all directed in Hollywood but mission accomplished, Americans have their another icon. The whole video makes me think that some of the American Icons were not made because of the fact that they are indeed iconic and significant events, but they were created for the icons’ sake. It seems like America tries very hard to be iconic and to have prominent symbols not because they were important, but just to have them. It is very unusual approach to American Icons, taking into account the fact that people who created the video are Americans and ironically, they do not express the pride of their country being so iconic. It appears like the video’s creators try to show their viewers some hidden meaning. Apart from showing an American Icon from a different perspective they show how easily Americans are tricked to think that their well known icons might not be what they seem to be. There must be something in the water.


It is a song by a German rock band Rammstein. The band plays particularly Neue Deutsche Härte which is a type of rock music. It was released on September 2004 as the single from their album „Reise, Reise”. Amerika was very popular in Europe, it entered the top 5 on charts in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland. The video shows the band in 1960s. It includes shots of many different nations from around the world such as African people, Native Americans, Australian Aborigines and Inuit people acting like stereotypical Americans.

Concepts included

The above mentioned summary of the plot of the video may not directly suggest any concepts that are included in the clip, but the video itself has many references to the American culture, particularly to the American Icons. Not the obvious ones such as Statue of Liberty or The Star Spangled banner, but more common, more modern and not so plain to see symbols of America.

American Icons

The video for some of the time concentrates on the moon landing in a similar way to the previous video – it shows that it was fake, but it is not the point of the whole clip, it is just an addition to the message that the video sends to a viewer, so I am not going to focus on that. The video apart from the title and the moon landing may seem quite not related to the USA, because it shows many nations of the world, from very remote places, completely different people. But what is crucial here are the details. American Icons included in the video are not things that an average person would consider to be symbols of America. It is not the anthem, the flag, Empire State Building, Great Canyon, not The White House, Uncle Sam or eagle. Those classical American icons are replaced in the video by reinvented versions of them. Moreover, the video shows how America influence other nations. How spreading of „americanness” throughout the world affects people.

The chorus of the song is:

„We’re all living in America”

This sentence mixed with the picture shown in the video give us a whole picture that creators of the clip might have wanted to show us. Modern American Icons are no longer reserved for America only. American culture is becoming quite universal. It is mixing with other cultures and unfortunately those genuine local cultures become less and less visible. Even the most remote places on the earth have some influence from the USA, and those non-typical symbols of America shown in the video become more obvious for people. American Icons are not fixed and they are still being created.


To conclude, music videos have become something more than just an addition to the music itself. They are a form of expression and sending a message to the audience. In the above mentioned examples they are ways of showing various approaches to the Key Concepts of American Civilization. The Frontier still lives in people, the road is still very important for people and American Icons are still relevant. The thing is, they are reinvented. Music videos creators attempt to show that those concepts are adjusted to the present times. They are quite different now. The Frontier is not as wild as it used to be, and American Icons are spreading around the world and „we’re all living in America”

Materials used:

Frames from music videos – youtube.com

Images – google.com

Cite this paper

Key Concepts of American Civilization. (2020, Sep 16). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/key-concepts-of-american-civilization/

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