Shrines of American Microculture: Halls of Fame and Nostalgia Tourism

Holmgren, Charles Francis , Department of English, University of Virginia
Howard, Alan, Department of English, University of Virginia

The Hall of Fame and Museum hopes to induct robots from the deeply scientific, such as Dante II (the walking robot that explored the inside of a volcano) and NASA's Sojourner (which explored Mars in 1997), to the fictive, like Star Wars' R2D2 and Johnny 5 from Short Circuit. With a distinguished panel of judges, including legendary futurist and author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke, the Robot Hall of Fame hopes to be make Pittsburgh, already considered the 'Detroit of robotics,' its Cooperstown as well (Spice,

The rise of this new hall of fame begs a simple question: when did we feel the need to single out and honor the achievements of robots, not to mention the hundreds of other entities, to the extent of building them a hall of fame? We're all familiar with Cooperstown's National Baseball Hall of Fame and perhaps the Basketball Hall of Fame and Football Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts and Canton, Ohio, respectively, but there are many more out there. Firefighting, swimming, astronauts, burlesque dancing, Texas aviation and badminton are but a few of the areas and occupations that have built a hall of fame to honor the greats of their field, and more of these shrines to greatness are built every year.

These various communities of leisure and work each embody an individual "microculture;" a loose grouping of people collected around a distinctive association or organization. People belong to microcultures of leisure or work willingly, whether it's the occupation they've chosen or the sport in which they wanted to participate. The collected experience of all those involved develops these niche cultures into communities of shared values and common identity. As a distinct community, people take pride in the success of their fellow participants. Recognition of achievement both consolidates pride and builds a more cohesive community. As more microcultures emerged towards the end of the twentieth century, these multifarious groups found they needed to honor their heroes or those that have remarkable success. As we shall see, an American tradition developed that welcomed the creation of halls of fame in honoring achievement within a microculture.

The explosion of halls of fame in the latter half of the twentieth century was a reaction to the pluralistic society that emerged from the post-WWII homogenization of American culture. These halls of fame provide their visitors an idealized collective memory personified by the nostalgic greatness of the heroes they honor. In creating a distinct past, these institutions develop greater pride in their microculture and enhance its public notoriety in order to assure themselves of a successful and viable future.

MA (Master of Arts)

Originally published on the XRoads site for the UVA American Studies program. Years range from 1995-2005. Content is captured at the level of functionality available on the date of capture.

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