So what is it that makes your hometown special?

Odds are if you hail from almost anywhere in the United States, the characteristics that make your community distinct are less abundant than might have been the case years ago.

Everywhere you go in the United States today, you'll encounter the same things. Sadly, American regionalism almost seems a thing of the past. While there are obviously still many inimitable places in this country, much of what gave Anytown, USA, its definition in the past has been supplanted by a broader, corporate-driven culture common from coast to coast.

Certainly, one can point to Times Square, the Las Vegas Strip or New Orleans's French Quarter (although, less so today than before Hurricane Katrina) and argue that the individualism of U.S. locales remains strong. At the same time, however, one might point to the TGI Friday's in Times Square, the McDonald's on the Strip or the Subway in the French Quarter, and reason that — although they are nevertheless unique — the fact that these places do harbor such corporate symbols is an indication of a broader cultural wave whose effects are far more evident throughout the rest of the country.

Today, life in all U.S. regions is remarkably similar, thanks to a commercial movement that has developed and marketed a way of life. An economic streamlining that has bought out the regional distinctions that was once prominent in this country has made an impact on nearly all aspects of the American existence.

Perhaps the most noticeable evidence of an increasingly homogenized national culture is the way Americans eat. Although fast food restaurants like McDonald's may have been present throughout the United States for many years, it is only in recent times that restaurant chains of all types have been able to expand on such a universal level. Now, in both Bangor, Maine, and Albuquerque, N.M., a dinner out might comprise a trip to the local Olive Garden. While this possibility alone might not seem troubling (after all, nobody is forced to eat at the Olive Garden), consider that the expansion of restaurants like the Olive Garden has, in many places, eliminated any alternatives to the Olive Garden that are not chains.

This phenomenon has fundamentally affected regional culture in more ways than food consumption.

Today, Americans of all regions are entertained almost exclusively by mainstream sources. People rent the same movies, watch the same primetime television, listen to the same music and see the same Internet fads as everyone else. When it comes to style, a teenager in Alabama might buy the same Gap jeans as his counterpart in Illinois. Even the dissemination of information is becoming uniform, as local newspapers become less local because of new, corporate ownership. With wire service coverage filling the pages, many of these papers' banners might as well lose the names of their localities.

No longer are we creating our own cultures with our own ideas in our own places. Rather, culture is being dictated to us by faceless entities in whose best interest lies the eradication of any local flavor.

It is disheartening to see the uniformity common to cities and regions that were once defined by auras of their own. Embracing convenience and economy, we have unknowingly transformed a rich, regional diversity into a mass culture of sterility.

Certainly, a corporate culture has allowed us the comfort of always knowing what we can expect, regardless of where we are. Just once in a while, however, it would be nice to encounter the unexpected.

Rob Rossmeissl ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and political science.