Is the American Dream Dead?

Clearly this view of the future is well outside of mainstream forecast.

That said, in Washington, D.C., the politicians are gearing up for a titanic battle over how to structure a post-collapse economy. According to this article:

"In a series of comments in recent weeks, Mr. Obama has begun to sketch a vision of where he would like to drive the economy once this crisis is past. His goals include diminishing the consumerism that has long been the main source of growth in the United States, and encouraging more savings and investment. He would redistribute wealth toward the middle class and make the rest of the world less dependent on the American market for its prosperity."

The common denominator among all these visions of the future is a less consumerist American dream. Which seems like a big change. However, a fascinating article in Vanity Fair suggests we may all be under a false impression of what the American Dream really is.

According to the article, the term originally comes from a 1931 book called "The Epic of America" by James Truslow Adams, who defined it thusly: "that American dream of a better, richer and happier life for all our citizens of every rank."

Over time, the article argues, the original Dream got "decoupled from the common good." First, as Americans started to feel it was their birthright to have houses, cars, televisions and college degrees. (Hard to argue with any of that stuff.) Then, as mutual funds, mortgages and credit cards saw Americans striving madly for more, bigger, better, faster.

As the article astutely points out, this shift is charted in popular television shows. "The Honeymooners" lived in a grubby tenement. "Ozzie and Harriet" lived in a lovely, modest home. "The Brady Bunch" had an even bigger home and could afford a Hawaiian vacation. The denizens of "Dynasty" and "Dallas" lived in mansions. All of which led inexorably to the spoiled brats of "Gossip Girl" and MTV's "The Hills."

But it appears that, even at MTV, the times are changing. According to Sunday's New York Times, the network is launching new reality shows, with a twist.

"Four buddies set off across the country in an RV, video camera in tow, to knock items off their "100 things to do before I die" list: kiss the Stanley Cup, get a tattoo, grow a mustache. With plenty of high jinks and adolescent humor, "The Buried Life" seems like the perfect MTV reality show, except for one unexpected twist. At each stop the group helps deserving locals with their own wishes. In Idaho, for example, they took eight children with brain cancer on a shopping spree at Toys "R" Us."

And perhaps this is the most hopeful sign of all. If our young people want programming with a social conscience, it might indicate that the next generation will restore the original American Dream.

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