Robert Hughes' Culture Of Complaint: The Fraying Of American

1224 words - 5 pages

Robert Hughes' Culture of Complaint: the Fraying of American

Robert Hughes, a native Australian, spent twenty years in the United States and assumed many traits that are typical of Americans before publishing Culture of Complaint: the Fraying of America. His evaluation finds that America is a country more focused on appearance than reality. Americans would rather complain than change. Instead of analyzing the problem of American culture, Hughes attempts to present himself as an ideal critic, scholar, and journalist. He seems more concerned with reputation that academics. Like the work of Alexis de Tocqueville, which has remained the benchmark for the study of American culture since ...view middle of the document...

Political correctness warranted more attention for Hughes than it does in the national media today. It is quite telling that only five years after its publication this material is already outdated.

Throughout Hughes’ text the reader is bombarded with the tedious, albeit extensive, litany of his readings. He has “read a lot of books in the last forty-five years, since (he) became a conscious and addicted reader at the age of about nine” (107). However, instead of writing about works he is familiar with, he should write about what he has learned from undertaking this honorable hobby. For example, Hughes mentions a “claim made” by Eric Hobsbawm, the works of the late Herbert Gutman, Eugene Genovese, and Eric Foner, a “superb book” by Leon Litwack and a story by Nicholas Lemann, all in one paragraph (123). His commentary is suspiciously lacking original thought. After reading his book the reader is quite aware of his knowledge of literature, but unsure if he can apply it to the relevant problems in American culture.

Hughes offers no solutions to America’s cultural problems. He says that “no American university can assume that its first-year students are literate in more than a technical sense” (103). This is a problem, clearly, for a country that routinely graduates students from high school who cannot read. However, the problems in America do not need to be articulated they need to be solved. To do this people must become more knowledgeable about their society, its constraints such as gender roles and racism, and the mechanisms which perpetuate these problems such as ideology and hegemony. But, Hughes does not offer promising solutions, only negative comments.

Hughes does not see America in the larger picture. He thinks the problem facing American culture is that people complain, but do little to create change. In this idea, Hughes fails to recognize that people abuse power to prevent others from making change. This creates a cycle that is a result and cause of American apathy. Politicians can remain elected officials despite owning horrid legislative records because people do not expect much of them. “The art of not answering the question, of cloaking unpleasant realities in abstraction or sugar is so perfectly endemic to Washington by now that we expect nothing else” (27). However, some groups are successful in changing America into a country that is more suited to their wants. Anti-abortion groups, for example, have been successful in getting much legislation passed to restrict half the population’s right to privacy. Instead of complaining, these groups are politically active at the federal, state and local levels. Members of both sides of...

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