American Cultural Phenomena, Fads, Events, and Icons:

Below is a list of American phenomena, fads, events, and icons that are generally considered common knowledge. I have found that unless students have lived in the U.S. for an extended period, most are unfamiliar with these. Below the list, there is a description of each item.  In class, I pass out the unexplained list and have students speculate about each item.  I then divide the class into groups and have them research a certain portion of the list. After that, we jigsaw and students share what they have learned.

TV shows, Movies, Commercials

  1. American Idol
  2. CB Radios
  3. Fyre Festival
  4. Game of Thrones
  5. Grunge Music
  6. Hamilton
  7. Jaws
  8. Jeopardy!
  9. Jonestown Massacre
  10. Katrina (Good Job Brownie!)
  11. Monopoly
  12. MTV
  13. MySpace
  14. Oklahoma City Bombing
  15. Pac-Man
  16. Pickle Ball
  17. Roe v. Wade
  18. Sesame Street
  19. Studio 54
  20. Survivor
  21. The Brady Bunch
  22. The Brat Pack
  23. The Breakfast Club
  24. The Challenger Disaster
  25. The Godfather
  26. The O.J. Simpson Trial
  27. The Rat Pack
  28. The Sopranos
  29. The Walkman
  30. Thriller
  31. Trivial Pursuit
  32. VHS vs. Betamax
  33. Waco Standoff
  34. Wheel of Fortune
  35. Y2K Scare
  36. Yuppies


  1. American Idol (2002-present): Launched in 2002, American Idol transformed reality TV and gave aspiring singers a platform for nationwide exposure, turning some into bona fide stars.

  2. CB Radios (1940s-present, peak in 1970s): Citizens Band radios gained cultural traction in the 1970s, facilitating communication among truckers and leading to a unique jargon and community spirit.

  3. Fyre Festival (2017): Billed as a luxury experience, the 2017 Fyre Festival became infamous for its disastrous execution, serving as a warning tale about the power and pitfalls of social media marketing.

  4. Game of Thrones (2011-2019): Airing from 2011 to 2019, Game of Thrones became a global sensation, famous for its intricate storytelling, complex characters, and epic scope.

  5. Grunge Music (Late 1980s-1990s): Originating in the late 1980s in the Pacific Northwest, grunge music blended punk and heavy metal to define the sound of the 1990s youth culture.

  6. Hamilton (2015-present): Premiering in 2015, Hamilton shook the theater world with its unique blend of rap and musical storytelling, revisiting the life of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.

  7. Jaws (1975): Directed by Steven Spielberg and released in 1975, Jaws is widely considered the film that invented the summer blockbuster, setting new standards for thrillers.

  8. Jeopardy (1964-present): Debuting in 1964, this trivia-based game show has become an enduring part of American television, celebrated for its intellectual rigor.

  9. Jonestown Massacre (1978): Occurring in 1978, the Jonestown Massacre saw over 900 members of the Peoples Temple cult die from mass murder-suicide, leaving a lasting impact on American consciousness.
  1. Katrina “Good Job Brownie!” (2005): The inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 became a focal point for critiques of government ineptitude, epitomized by President Bush’s infamous “Good job, Brownie” comment.
  1. Monopoly (1935-present): Released in 1935, Monopoly is a board game that simulates real-estate investment, becoming a staple in American households.
  1. MTV (1981-present): Launched in 1981, MTV revolutionized music and youth culture by introducing music videos as a new form of entertainment.
  1. MySpace (2003-2011, peak): Hitting its peak in the mid-2000s, MySpace was the precursor to modern social media, providing a platform for personal expression and networking.
  1. Oklahoma City Bombing (1995): The 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City marked a dark chapter in American history, sparking debates about domestic terrorism.
  1. Pac-Man (1980-present): Introduced in 1980, Pac-Man became an arcade sensation and an enduring symbol of early video game culture.
  1. Pickleball (1965-present): Created in 1965, pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong, gaining a dedicated following among players of all ages. It gained major popularity in the early 2020’s.
  1. Roe v. Wade (1973): The 1973 Supreme Court decision legalized abortion nationwide, becoming a contentious focal point in American politics. It was overturned in 2022 by the conservative majority of the Supreme Court.
  1. Sesame Street (1969-present): Debuting in 1969, Sesame Street revolutionized educational television for children, featuring a diverse cast and tackling important social issues. The puppets known as ‘muppets’ gained popularity which resulted in their own show and movies.
  1. Studio 54 (1977-1980, peak): At its peak from 1977 to 1980, Studio 54 was the epitome of New York City nightlife, known for its celebrity guests and hedonistic atmosphere.
  1. Survivor (2000-present): Premiering in 2000, Survivor set the stage for reality competition shows, featuring contestants living in harsh conditions while competing for a cash prize.
  1. The Brady Bunch (1969-1974): Airing from 1969 to 1974, The Brady Bunch portrayed a blended family navigating everyday challenges, becoming an iconic representation of American family life.
  1. The Brat Pack (1980s): A nickname for a group of young actors in the 1980s, the Brat Pack became synonymous with teen dramas and coming-of-age films of the era.
  1. The Breakfast Club (1985): Released in 1985, The Breakfast Club is a seminal teen drama that explored the complexities and stereotypes of high school life.
  1. The Challenger Disaster (1986): The 1986 explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger was a devastating moment in American history, leading to significant changes in NASA’s safety protocols.
  1. The Godfather (1972): Premiering in 1972, The Godfather became a touchstone of American cinema, setting new standards for storytelling and film production.
  1. The O.J. Simpson Trial (1995): The 1995 trial of famous American football player, O.J. Simpson for murder captivated the nation, bringing issues of race, celebrity, and justice into the public spotlight.
  1. The Rat Pack (1950s-1960s): Comprising entertainers like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, the Rat Pack epitomized the glamor and excess of 1950s and 1960s American culture.
  1. The Sopranos (1999-2007): Airing from 1999 to 2007, The Sopranos redefined TV drama with its complex characters and morally ambiguous narratives centered around a mob family.
  1. The Walkman (1979-2010): Introduced in 1979, the Sony Walkman revolutionized personal audio, allowing people to take their music with them wherever they went.
  1. Thriller (1982): Michael Jackson’s Thriller album was released in 1982, set records and influenced the music industry for years to come. The music video of Thriller had a live premiere (December 2, 1983)  on MTV that was watched by millions and set a new standard for production standards. 
  1. Trivial Pursuit (1979-present): Launched in 1979, Trivial Pursuit became a cultural phenomenon, popularizing trivia games and challenging players’ general knowledge.
  1. VHS vs. Betamax (Late 1970s-1980s): This format war in the late ’70s and ’80s saw VHS ultimately triumph over Betamax, shaping the home video market.

  2. Waco Standoff (1993): The 1993 standoff between federal agents and the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, ended in a tragic fire, sparking debates on government intervention and religious freedom.

  3. Wheel of Fortune (1975-present): Debuting in 1975, Wheel of Fortune is one of the longest-running game shows in U.S. history, featuring a spinning wheel and word puzzles.

  4. Y2K Scare (1999-2000): Leading up to the year 2000, fears about the “Y2K bug” potentially disrupting computer systems led to widespread panic and preparations.
  1. Yuppies (1980s): Short for “Young Urban Professionals,” yuppies became a cultural archetype in the 1980s, characterized by their high-income jobs, materialistic lifestyles, and influence on fashion and consumer trends.


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