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A Guide to American Culture in Chimerica Close

Choon Ping | July 3, 2013

Karl Collins as David Barker in Chimerica. Photo: Johan Persson.



What is THE BIG SLEEP?

The Big Sleep is a 1946 film noir, the first film version of Raymond Chandler's 1939 novel of the same name, starring Humphrey Bogart as detective Philip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall as the female lead in a film about the 'process of a criminal investigation, not its results.' In 1997, the U.S. Library of Congress deemed the film 'culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,' and added it to the National Film Registry.

The Big Sleep is known for its convoluted plot. During filming, allegedly neither the director nor the screenwriters knew whether chauffeur Owen Taylor was murdered or had killed himself. They sent a cable to Chandler, who told a friend in a later letter: 'They sent me a wire ... asking me, and dammit I didn't know either'.

There is some confusion as to the identity of Sean Regan's killer. In the novel Carmen is definitely the culprit, but that would have made Vivian, Marlowe's love interest, an accessory to murder, which would have run afoul of the Hollywood Production Code (the 'Hays Code') Hence, the film edits the original story, to imply that Mars killed Regan himself because Regan was romancing Mars's wife. The Hays Code also heavily restricts sexual themes. In the novel, Geiger is selling pornography, then illegal and associated with organized crime, and is also a homosexual having a relationship with Lundgren. Likewise, Carmen is described as being nude in Geiger's house, and later nude and in Marlowe's bed. To ensure the film would be approved by the Hays Office, Carmen had to be fully dressed, and the pornographic elements could only be alluded to with cryptic references to photographs of Carmen wearing a 'Chinese dress' and sitting in a 'Chinese chair'. The sexual orientation of Geiger and Lundgren goes unmentioned in the film because references to homosexuality were prohibited.


What is a CADILLAC?

Cadillac is an American luxury vehicle marque owned by General Motors. Cadillac currently sells vehicles in 37 countries, with its primary market being North America. In 2012, Cadillac sold 149,782 in the US. Globally, Cadillac's next largest market is China. According to their website, 'Over the past century, Cadillac has been the automotive expression of the American Dream'.


What is CASABLANCA?

Casablanca is a 1942 American romantic drama film starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid; the plot focuses on a man torn between 'love and virtue'. Its lead character, memorable lines, and pervasive theme song have all become iconic; and the film consistently ranks near the top of lists of the greatest films of all time. Semioticians account for the film's popularity by claiming that its inclusion of a whole series of stereotypes paradoxically strengthens the film. Umberto Eco explains: 'Thus Casablanca is not just one film. It is many films, an anthology. [...] When all the archetypes burst in shamelessly, we reach Homeric depths. Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us. For we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion'. In 1989, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being deemed 'culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant'.


What is COLUMBO?

Columbo is an American detective mystery television film series (NBC 1968 – 1978), starring Peter Falk as Columbo, a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. The character and television show were created by William Link and Richard Levinson. The show popularized the inverted detective story format. Almost every episode began by showing the commission of the crime and its perpetrator. The series has no 'whodunit' element. The plot mainly revolves around how the perpetrator, whose identity is already known to the audience, will finally be caught and exposed.

Columbo is a friendly, verbose, disheveled-looking police detective (of Italian descent) who is consistently underestimated by his suspects. Most other characters in the episode are initially reassured and distracted by his circumstantial speech, then increasingly irritated by his pestering behavior. Despite his unprepossessing appearance and apparent absentmindedness, Columbo shrewdly solves all of his cases and secures all evidence needed for indictment. His formidable eye for detail and meticulously dedicated approach, though apparent to the viewer, often become clear to the killer only late in the storyline.


Who holds America’s foreign DEBT?

As of January 2011, foreigners owned $4.45 trillion of U.S. debt, or approximately 47% of the debt held by the public of $9.49 trillion and 32% of the total debt of $14.1 trillion. The largest holders were the central banks of China, Japan, Brazil, Taiwan, United Kingdom, Switzerland and Russia. The share held by foreign governments has grown over time, rising from 13% of the public debt in 1988 to 25% in 2007.

As of May 2011 the largest single holder of U.S. government debt was China, with 26 percent of all foreign-held U.S. Treasury securities (8% of total U.S. public debt). China's holdings of government debt, as a percentage of all foreign-held government debt, have decreased a bit between 2010 and 2011, but are up significantly since 2000 (when China held just 6% of all foreign-held U.S. Treasury securities).


Who are the DIXIE CHICKS?

The Dixie Chicks are an American country music band which has also crossed over into other genres. The band formed in 1989 in Dallas, Texas. During a London concert ten days before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, lead vocalist Maines said, "We don't want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the President of the United States [George W. Bush] is from Texas". The positive reaction to this statement from the British audience contrasted with the boycotts that ensued in the U.S., where the band was assaulted by talk-show conservatives, while their albums were discarded in public protest. As of 2012, the Dixie Chicks had won 13 Grammy Awards.


What was the FISCAL CLIFF?

In the United States, the 'fiscal cliff' was a simultaneous increase in tax rates and decrease of government spending through sequestration that would have occurred in January 2013 through a series of previously enacted laws. On 2 August 2011, US Congress passed the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 as part of an agreement to resolve the debt-ceiling crisis. The Act provided for a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the 'super committee') to produce legislation by late November 2011 that would decrease the deficit by $1.2 trillion over ten years. When the super committee failed to act, another part of the BCA went into effect. This directed automatic across-the-board cuts (known as 'sequestrations') split evenly between defense and domestic spending, beginning on 2 January 2013.

This, and other issues like the earlier debt-ceiling crisis created by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, and the fiercely fought Affordable Care Act, characterise the deeply partisan nature of recent US politics.


Why is FOX NEWS not a proper news channel?

Fox News Channel (FNC), also known as Fox News, is a cable news channel owned by the Fox Entertainment Group, a subsidiary of News Corporation. The channel was created by Australian-American media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Critics have accused Fox News Channel of promoting conservative political positions and biased reporting, as well as misrepresenting facts by cropping quotes so that they appear out of context, misattributing and fabricating quotes, manipulating images using software, and of passing off a mixture of footages from different events as the same event. Commentators, news anchors, and reporters at Fox News Channel have responded that news reporting and political commentary operate independently of each other, and have denied any bias or misconduct in news reporting.


Where is the FREMONT?

The Fremont Hotel & Casino is located in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada.


What is FRESCA?

Fresca is a diet citrus soft drink made by The Coca-Cola Company.


What is GOODFELLAS?

Goodfellas is a 1990 American crime film directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Robert De Niro, following the rise and fall of Lucchese crime family associates Henry Hill and his friends over a period from 1955 to 1980. Goodfellas is based on New York crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi's book Wiseguy. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote: 'No finer film has ever been made about organized crime - not even The Godfather.'


What is a GOVERNOR?

In the United States, the title governor refers to the chief executive of each state or insular territory, not directly subordinate to the federal authorities, but the political and ceremonial head of the state.

The United States Constitution preserves the notion that the country is a federation of semi-sovereign states, and that powers not specifically granted to the federal government (by the Constitution) are retained by the states. States, therefore, are not merely provinces or subdivisions of federal administration. State governments in the US are relatively powerful; each state has its own independent criminal and civil law codes, and each state manages its internal government.


What does getting a GREEN CARD entail?

Family: A Chinese citizen can receive a green card through a qualifying family member, like a U.S. citizen fiancé, husband, or wife. US citizens also can file for their children, siblings, and parents. A current US lawful permanent resident (LPR) only can file a petition for a spouse or children. The processing times vary based on the qualifying relationship. For example, a spouse of a US citizen is considered an ‘immediate relative’ and receives fast processing – usually less than one year from initial application to final approval. Wait time for an LPR's spouse from China takes about four years because of a limited number of visas available to non-immediate relatives, which includes children over 21 years old and siblings. The visa limit provides a strong incentive for LPRs to become U.S. citizens.

Employment: Another way for Chinese citizens to obtain permanent residency is through employment-based petitions. Each year, US employers sponsor thousands of foreigner workers and their families. Chinese citizens might qualify for a green card through occupations in engineering, science, medicine, and math. All candidates must hold at least a bachelor's degree. Another way to get a green card is through the EB-5 visa program. The EB-5 visa allows foreign investors, such as Chinese citizens, to obtain green cards if they invest at least $500,000 in the US and create at least ten jobs.


What is GUANTANAMO BAY?

The Guantanamo Bay detention camp is a detainment and interrogation facility of the United States military located within Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. The facility was established in January 2002 by the Bush Administration to hold detainees it had determined to be connected with opponents in the Global War on Terror including Afghanistan and later Iraq, the Horn of Africa and Southeast Asia.

Current and former prisoners have complained of abuse and torture, which the Bush administration denied. In a 2005 Amnesty International report the facility was called the 'gulag our times'. In 2006 the United Nations called unsuccessfully for the Guantanamo Bay detention camp to be closed; one judge observed 'America's idea of what is torture… does not appear to coincide with that of most civilized nations'. The Bush administration asserted that detainees were not entitled to any of the protections of the Geneva Conventions. Ensuing US Supreme Court decisions since 2004 have determined otherwise and that the courts have jurisdiction: it ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld on 29 June 2006 that detainees were entitled to the minimal protections listed under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

Although the Obama Administration has committed to closing the detention camp, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said during testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee on 17 February 2011: 'The prospects for closing Guantanamo as best I can tell are very, very low given very broad opposition to doing that here in the Congress.' Congress particularly opposed moving prisoners to facilities in the United States for detention or trial.


What is HOWARD GREENBURG?

Since its inception over twenty years ago, The Howard Greenberg Gallery has built a vast and ever-changing collection of some of the most important photographs in the media. Maintaining diverse and extensive holdings of photographic prints, the Gallery includes such masters as Berenice Abbott, Henri Cartier-Bresson, André Kertész, William Klein, Gordon Parks, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Josef Sudek, and Edward Weston on its roster of artists. The Gallery's collection also acts as a living history of photography, offering genres and styles spanning from Pictorialism to Modernism, in addition to contemporary photography and images conceived for industry, advertising, and fashion.


Where is HUDSON HEIGHTS?

Hudson Heights is a neighborhood in the Washington Heights area of Upper Manhattan, New York City. As its name implies, it is a high area overlooking Hudson River, and the neighborhood includes the highest natural point in Manhattan, in Bennett Park. Hudson Heights is primarily a residential community, with an abundance of apartment towers, many of which are cooperatives. The Manhattan Times’s annual restaurant guide highlights the area's burgeoning restaurant scene. Money magazine in its November 2007 article names Hudson Heights the best neighborhood to retire to in New York City.


What was the MAYFLOWER?

The Mayflower was the ship that in 1620 transported 102 English Pilgrims, including a core group of Separatists (Protestants who wanted independence from the Church of England), to New England.


What is Obama’s MEDICARE bill?

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) commonly called Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act, is a United States federal statute signed into law by President Barack Obama on 23 March 23 2010. Together with the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, it represents the most significant government expansion and regulatory overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. Due to resistance from Republicans in Congress (as well as pro-life Democrats who opposed the possibility of federal funding for abortion in the Act), the bill had to be considerably scaled-back and re-drafted before it was passed. The day after the Act was passed, Republicans introduced legislation to repeal the bill. The Act was also challenged in the Supreme Court for its constitutionality (the Supreme Court eventually upheld the bill with the 5-4 majority).


Where is MOTT STREET?

Mott Street is a narrow but busy thoroughfare that runs in a north-south direction in the borough of Manhattan in New York City in the United States. It is best known as Chinatown's unofficial 'Main Street'. Mott Street runs from Chatham Square in the south to Bleecker Street in the north. It is a one-way street, southbound.


What is PENN STATE?

Could refer to any of the state prisons in Pennsylvania, US.


What is PETER LUGER’S?

Peter Luger Steak House is a steakhouse located in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York City, with a second location in Great Neck, New York, on Long Island. Peter Luger has been named the best steakhouse in New York City by Zagat Survey for 28 years in a row. In 2002, it was named to the James Beard Foundation's list of 'America's Classics.'


What are the PRESIDENTAL DEBATES?

During presidential elections in the United States, it has become customary for the main candidates to engage in a debate. The topics discussed in the debate are often the most controversial issues of the time, and arguably elections have been nearly decided by these debates (e.g. Nixon vs. Kennedy). While debates aren't constitutionally mandated, it is often considered a de facto election process. The debates are targeted mainly at undecided voters. Debates are broadcast live on television and radio. The first debate for the 1960 election drew over 66 million viewers out of a population of 179 million, making it one of the most-watched broadcasts in US television history. Recent debates have drawn smaller audiences, ranging from 46 million for the first 2000 debate to a high of over 67 million for the first debate in 2012.

The three debates between Obama and Romney in the 2012 election were:
3 Oct 2012, University of Denver, Colorado
16 Oct 2012, Hofstra University, New York
22 Oct 2012, Lynn University, Florida


What is the RED MENACE?

Refers to the threat of communism or radical leftism. The term was coined in the Cold War era to describe the Soviet Union or 'an international communist conspiracy.'

The first 'Red Scare' in the US began following the Bolshevik Russian Revolution of 1917; according to political scientist Murray B. Levin, this was 'a nation-wide anti-radical hysteria provoked by a mounting fear and anxiety that a Bolshevik revolution in America was imminent – a revolution that would change Church, home, marriage, civility, and the American way of Life'. The press portrayed several legitimate labour strikes in 1916 and 1917 as radical threats to American society inspired by left-wing, foreign agents provocateur.

The second 'Red Scare', known as 'McCarthyism', occurred after World War II. Eastern Europe was then under Soviet control; high-ranking US bureaucrats were discovered to be Soviet spies; the Chinese Communists won the Chinese Civil War against the Western-sponsored Kuomintang; and the Chinese later intervened in the Korean War against US ally South Korea. Thousands of Americans were accused of being Communists or communist sympathizers, and became the subject of aggressive investigations and questioning before government or private-industry panels, committees and agencies. The primary targets of such suspicions were government employees, those in the entertainment industry, educators and union activists. Amongst other things, this led to the creation of the infamous Hollywood Blacklist, associated with hearings conducted by the US House of Representatives’ Un-American Activities Committee.

The term has somewhat regained popularity among the right in America after the elections of President Barack Obama; the words have for instance been used by radio talkshow host Glenn Beck.


Where in America is ROUTE 66?

US Route 66, also known as the Will Rogers Highway, and colloquially known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was a highway within the US Highway System. One of the original US Highways, Route 66 was established on November 11, 1926 – with road signs erected the following year. The highway, which became one of the most famous roads in America, originally ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending at Los Angeles, California, covering a total of 2,448 miles (3,940 km). It was recognized in popular culture by both a hit song and the Route 66 television show in the 1960s. Route 66 served as a major path for those who migrated west, especially during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and it supported the economies of the communities through which the road passed. People doing business along the route became prosperous due to the growing popularity of the highway, and those same people later fought to keep the highway alive in the face of the growing threat of being bypassed by the new Interstate Highway System. It was also the road featured in the Disney-Pixar animated film Cars and Cars 2.


What is SCOOBY DOO?

Scooby-Doo is an American animated cartoon franchise, comprising several animated television series produced from 1969 to the present day, featuring four teenagers—Fred Jones, Daphne Blake, Velma Dinkley, and Norville 'Shaggy' Rogers – and their talking Great Dane dog named Scooby-Doo, who solve mysteries involving supposedly supernatural creatures through a series of antics and missteps.


Where and what is the SILICON VALLEY?

Silicon Valley is the southern region of the San Francisco Bay Area in Northern California, in the United States. The region is home to many of the world's largest technology corporations as well as thousands of small startups. The term originally referred to the region's large number of silicon chip innovators and manufacturers, but eventually came to refer to all the high-tech businesses in the area; it is now generally used as a metonym for the American high-tech sector.


What is SINGING IN THE RAIN?

Singin' in the Rain is a 1952 American musical comedy film directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, starring Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds, and choreographed by Gene Kelly. It offers a lighthearted depiction of Hollywood, with the three stars portraying performers caught up in the transition from silent films to 'talkies'. Gene Kelly’s performance as Don Lockwood of the song 'Singin' in the Rain' is now considered iconic. In 1989, Singin' in the Rain was among the first 25 films chosen for the newly established National Film Registry for films that are deemed 'culturally, historically or aesthetically significant' by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation.


What is SPANX?

Spanx is a hosiery brand specializing in 'body shaping' undergarments intended to give the wearer a slim and shapely silhouette.


Who has the right to VOTE in America?

Only US citizens have the right to vote in federal elections. In a few cases, permanent residents ('green card' holders) have registered to vote and have cast ballots, generally without realising that doing so was illegal. Non-citizens convicted in criminal court of having made a false claim of citizenship for the purpose of registering to vote in a federal election can be fined and imprisoned for up to a year. Deportation and removal proceedings have resulted in several such cases. Some states prohibit convicted felons from voting, a practice known as felony disenfranchisement. Of these states, some prohibit voting only during parole or probation but allow voting after. Other states ban felons from voting for life.


What is WAL-MART?

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., branded as Walmart, is an American multinational retail corporation that runs chains of large discount department stores and warehouse stores. The company is the world's third largest public corporation, according to the Fortune Global 500 list in 2012, the biggest private employer in the world with over two million employees, and is the largest retailer in the world. Walmart remains a family-owned business, as the company is controlled by the Walton family, who own a 48 percent stake in Walmart. It is also one of the world's most valuable companies.

Walmart has 8,500 stores in 15 countries, under 55 different names. The company operates under the Walmart name in the United States, including the 50 states and Puerto Rico. It operates in Mexico as Walmex, in the United Kingdom as Asda, in Japan as Seiyu, and in India as Best Price.


What was the WATERGATE SCANDAL?

The Watergate scandal was a political scandal that occurred in the United States in the 1970s as a result of the June 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., and the Nixon administration's attempted cover-up of its involvement. The scandal eventually led to the resignation of Richard Nixon, the President of the United States, on 9 August 1974, the only resignation of a US President. The scandal also resulted in the indictment, trial, conviction, and incarceration of 43 people, including dozens of Nixon's top administration officials.

The affair began with the arrest of five men for breaking and entering into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate complex on 17 June 1972. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) connected cash found on the burglars to a slush fund used by the Committee for the Re-Election of the President, a fundraising group for the Nixon campaign. It was revealed that President Nixon had a tape-recording system in his offices and he had recorded many conversations. Recordings from these tapes implicated the president, revealing he had attempted to cover up the questionable (and illegal) goings-on that had taken place during his administration, both before and after the break-in.

After a protracted series of bitter court battles, the US Supreme Court ruled that the president had to hand over the tapes to government investigators; he ultimately complied. Facing near-certain impeachment in the House of Representatives and a strong possibility of a conviction in the Senate, Nixon resigned the presidency on 9 August 1974. His successor, Gerald Ford, then issued a pardon to him.