Peanut Butter and Pop Culture

26Jun12

Elvis, the King of Choripan

Elvis, the King of chorizo hotdogs: one example of US pop culture with an Argentine twist

Several Argentines now have asked us variations of the question, “So what’s the deal with peanut butter?” What is it, they want to know. What does it taste like? How do you eat it?

Now, peanut butter is hard to find in Argentina. When we do find it—often in health food stores, of all places—it’s expensive ($10 a jar!). No Argentine we know eats it, and yet everyone wants to know all about it. James and I had a mystery on our hands: how had Argentines come to know about peanut butter?

The answer should have been obvious. Through North American movies and TV shows, our friends said. Of course. Just think of all the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that big- and small-screen moms tuck into the lunchboxes of their fictional children. In an example from the summer road trip/coming-of-age comedy, Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss (1988), the spoiled little brother flings his salmon salad sandwich onto the highway, whining, “I don’t WANT this dumb sandwich, I wanna peanut butter an’ jelly sanwich!” The offending sandwich is promptly flattened by an oncoming truck, underscoring the brat’s insistence of peanut butter and jelly’s clear superiority over salmon.

Our peanut butter-as-North-American-media-export discovery made us nervous. For one, it made us realize yet again the power of media to create and reinforce culture in our individual and collective subconscious. The fact that it took people from outside US culture to help us identify peanut butter as a US cultural phenomenon underscores how ingrained and subliminal cultural messages can be.

Second, if Argentines pick up on something as mundane as peanut butter, what other aspects of US culture do our media transmit, and what conclusions do people from other cultures draw about the US? And, how do perceptions of North Americans color how Argentines see us as individuals? What stereotypes do we reaffirm as we go about our daily lives, and what responsibility do we have to conform to, explain, or break with these stereotypes?

James and I have no certain answers. Rather, we find that we negotiate dozens of cultural mini-dilemmas every day as we attempt to find our place in our new host culture. But we will admit that cultural confusion goes down a lot better with a big spoonful of peanut butter.

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4 Responses to “Peanut Butter and Pop Culture”

  1. Totally on spot with this post, I am pretty sure that many believe America is a mirror image of our Scripted reality TV shows.

    • And even (or especially?) in the US, we forget that our media is often like a funhouse mirror, showing us warped images of ourselves.

  2. I completely understand your peanut butter dilemmas. Sri Lankans also have little use for the product. Where it can be found, it comes in what Americans would deem ‘Fun Size’ containers and sell for $6-7.
    I can also identify with your cultural ‘mini dilemmas’. I wish both of you open minds and lots of patience as you work to dispel the myths of living in the United States, and as you both seek to clarify your own understandings of the local culture.


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