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Resources | American Framing Tools | Some American Story Elements That Evoke Core Values

Some American Story Elements That Evoke Core Values

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The Metaphor Project's list of enduring American Story Elements contains a number of important themes found in the American cultural story, which is a mixture of our ideals, our idealized national character (think 'identity') and items drawn from our actual historical experience. This list is not meant to be all-inclusive, definitive, or confined to what we ourselves like.

It is designed to empower activists to use what they themselves already know and accept about the American story in their own work. See American Framing Steps, Red, Blue and Purple, and June 2005: Speaking American About Economic Justice for suggestions about how to pick aspects of the story elements and recombine them for success in our goals. For more on this topic, including sources, see What Is 'Speaking American?', Why 'Speak American?' and the American Studies section in Selected Sources and Links.


1. THE AMERICAN DREAM: pioneering, being on the frontier of something, creating the new, bright future, we invent ourselves b/c we are a 'can do' people (or reinvent, redeem, renew or restore), we like things bigger, better, higher, up, improved, fresh, more of everything, we do what works, we're optimistic. . . (This category is also tightly linked to the next element, The American Nation.)

(For the common extension of the The American Dream into techfixes and cartoon magic, see # 6 Man to Superman, below, and for a more narrowly individual and materialist version of The American Dream, see #3 Free to Succeed below.)

2. THE AMERICAN NATION: a new kind of nation with a mission, beacon of hope, melting pot, cradle of freedom, democracy's defender, champion & missionary, home of equal opportunity, of hope, choice, and of power, conscience of the world, rule of law, human rights, political rights, a classless society. . .

3. FREE TO SUCCEED: no barriers, Horatio Alger (individual economic responsibility) and hope for economic success, rags to riches, being good=being rich, a rising tide lifts all boats, individual effort, innovate, compete, win by hard work and being smart, winning, being on the winning team, owning your own home or business, coming from behind, playing catch up. . .

4.WE'RE ON A ROLL: going, moving, driving, rolling, accelerating, going toward, no limits, a fast pace, online, trip, traveling, making a journey, escape, action . . .

5. SMALL TOWN SECURITY: clean, safe, secure, moral, friendly, consensus, middle, practical, compromise, cooperate, protect, participate, healthy, honest, caring, orderly, common sense, true, fair, tough love, limits, home sweet home, doing right, being just, having a heart, being innocent, community, united, being tolerant . . .(An important variant of this element is the 'Us vs Them' story that includes the supportive community of those fighting to make the American promise of fairness, equality, and opportunity come true.)

6. MAN TO SUPERMAN: the cowboy, the sheriff, Clark Kent, Spiderman, Superwoman, Batman, Catwoman, bionic people, spiritual machines (man to machine), the endless techfix, Lara Croft, scientific magic, super seeds, super genes, Harry Potter, James Bond. . .

7. THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE: secrecy, deception, lies, conspiracy, stealth attacks, secret deals, threats to U.S. sovereignty, violation of rights or rule of law, threats of any kind, going too far, soaking the taxpayers, breaking the budget, betraying the public trust, cheating the public, unfair business practices, fear of attack or danger. . .