American Literature Is a Disgrace

Peter Clarke
9 min readSep 9, 2021

Americans are an overly enthusiastic and hyper-expressive people. We love to laugh and smile! We love to dance and sing! And when we do so! — we do so with extraordinary zest!!!

This isn’t just a stereotype. Americans actually smile more — and with bigger smiles — than other countries. The likely reason is that we are a county of immigrants. In order to get along with each other when we didn’t all speak a common language, we learned to communicate by smiling and being expressive. This disproportionate expressiveness is so engrained in our culture that we can’t even keep it out of the workplace. Ask a British coworker how they’re doing, they’ll likely say, “Fine.” Ask an American, they’ll likely say, “Great!” with a big smile.

This unusual expressiveness has become a trademark not just in how we act, but also in the cultural artifacts we produce. The history of American music is essentially the history of wild personalities trying to outdo each other in terms of brashness, rebelliousness, and raw enthusiasm. It’s all a competition for who has the biggest personality and the most attitude. Did you see the new music video by Tyler the Creator? Sure he’s a talented musical artist, but who cares! His attitude is so undeniably infectious you have to keep watching whether you like his style or not.

Same with our movies! Our cinema was almost about to become stagnant and predictable in the 1980s, and then Quentin Tarantino came along and Americanized the hell out of the whole scene once again. Same with art! Or have you not seen the latest beeple?

Of course, other cultures produce wild personalities, too. But no country’s cultural output relies so notably on the attitude factor. Attitude, arguably, is our primary cultural export.

With one exception: our literature is notably lacking in personality. In place of attitude, our authors wield understatement. I don’t have a clean theory for why this is the case, and I can’t prove definitively how widespread it is, but — true to my American urges — I can rant and bullshit on this topic endlessly. But even before I do so, I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about…

Go to any bookstore and pick up the latest hardback work of fiction. I will bet you anything you want that the “style” of the text will be…

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Peter Clarke

Author of “The Singularity Survival Guide” and Editor at JokesLiteraryReview.com. Read more at petermclarke.com. Follow me on Twitter @HeyPeterClarke