Friday, May 14, 2010

Modern Myths: The American Dream

One of my favorite modern myths is the idea that everyone can (and should aim to) attain "The American Dream." Simply defined, the American Dream is the notion that if one works hard enough, no matter his beginnings, he can someday own a suburban home, a white picket fence emphasizing the manicured, weedless lawn. He can wear comfy slippers on Sunday mornings while reading the funnys, smoking a pipe (or vehemently not, depending on the decade), and watching the little ones frolic to and fro. The missus - the love of his life who is 40% homemaker and 60% sexy - is in the kitchen whipping up pancakes and bacon, stopping occasionally to kiss him on the forehead or to remind him about their social commitments - the bunko game at the Smith's or something. Of course there would be work the next morning at a job that would warrant a decent amount of complaining, but only enough to appear confident, productively opinionated, and/or wise so that the next rung on the ladder to a management position might be easily surmounted.

This 1950's, post World War ideal is both antiquated and far fetched. It never really existed in the first place, not to mention the fact that the image was only represented by a single prototype: male and white. Those who have attained what they deem the American Dream tend to snidely look down their noses at people who haven't, yet. They ask brutal questions like, "Why should our tax dollars pay for those who are too lazy to work?" or "Why should we have to take care of immigrants who take our jobs and our land? Tell them to go back to their own countries."

These folks did not take into account variations in pre-American Dream status such as:

Education - This is not only a question of did one go to school and for how long, but in what environment (safe, welcoming, encouraging, intellectual), with what resources (school supplies, lab equipment, healthy lunches), and with what community support (family - mom and dad, especially - and friends)?

Resources - Having money within the existing family initially gives one an automatic leg up. It also allows for more cultural/educational experiences, hobnobbing with important connections, and time (as in you may not have to have an after school job to eat, so you get to spend time having cultural experiences and hobnobbing).

Opportunity - tied to education, culture, friends, and resources

Culture - Is English one's first language? If not, strike one. It certainly makes education more difficult, not to mention finding a job and/or hobnobbing.

Sex - Men still have the advantage.

Luck - plain and simple

These variations, among hundreds of others make the myth that The American Dream is attainable for everyone completely ridiculous. More ludicrous is the idea that some deserve it more than others as a God-given reward for being righteous (of the Christian variety, of course), a very popular belief here in the South. Also, this dream promotes individuality, a trait that, in my opinion, is contrary to human nature.

It is exceedingly rare for folks to break away from the familiar lifestyles and into the upper echelon of the dream. That said, in the same breath I have to also mention that we have it a lot better here than in most places in the world. Our poverty level, though devastating, compared to other countries is minor. Our poor can find food. That, perhaps, is the legitimate American Dream.

Whenever I feel confronted by the elitists who still find ways to demean the downtrodden, I remember Martin Luther King Jr.'s comment (and I'm paraphrasing) that it is completely unfair to ask a man to pull himself up by his bootstraps when he has no boots. King also related that the suburbs are a bane to society, anyway, simply because people can climb into their cars and drive away from the burden of poverty. I think of Lot's wife - the one who has no name and who, therefore, represents any person, who was too caught up in the luxuries of Gomorrah to leave without looking back. She turned into a pillar of salt.

So here we sit - waiting for and working towards attaining some mythical, material American dream. I'm not saying that it's poor form to have money or to want to climb ladders. I am saying that humility is necessary in the ascent, as is helping others without condemnation. Community is essential.

This post was inspired by the Loose Bloggers Consortium, a small and feisty(!) global community. We write weekly on a common topic (Modern Myths, this week) and post responses - all of us together, simultaneously, from all over the world. (Lovely!) Please visit Anu, Ashok, Conrad, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Judy, Magpie 11, Maria and Ramana for other wonderful posts.

6 comments:

Grannymar said...

Ginger, you mean the movies were not true to life in Amerikaaaa! ;)

Great post. If we give boots, then we must be prepared to give the jobs and lifestyles along with them!

Conrad said...

Excellent analysis very gracefully written. These are very important, but very nuanced distinctions you are making. Once nuance is introduced, or any questioning of the mythical American dream, you run smack into a very dangerous, anti-intellectual faction gaining so much foothold in America.

It concerns me mightily!

Rummuser said...

Ginger, I have always wondered why it is called the American dream. This is the dream that every human being has and the reasons that you have listed for it coming true or not is as valid in Vietnam as it is in India or the USA. Beautifully written and my compliments on a very thoughtful approach to the subject.

Jen said...

I LOVE this post!! You are such an amazing writer!!

Christine said...

Preach it, sister. Preach it.

Nemo said...

Our American Dream:

To survive the zombie Apocalypse and spend the rest of our days shaping the tattered remnants of humanity into a Utopian civilization.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Modern Myths: The American Dream

One of my favorite modern myths is the idea that everyone can (and should aim to) attain "The American Dream." Simply defined, the American Dream is the notion that if one works hard enough, no matter his beginnings, he can someday own a suburban home, a white picket fence emphasizing the manicured, weedless lawn. He can wear comfy slippers on Sunday mornings while reading the funnys, smoking a pipe (or vehemently not, depending on the decade), and watching the little ones frolic to and fro. The missus - the love of his life who is 40% homemaker and 60% sexy - is in the kitchen whipping up pancakes and bacon, stopping occasionally to kiss him on the forehead or to remind him about their social commitments - the bunko game at the Smith's or something. Of course there would be work the next morning at a job that would warrant a decent amount of complaining, but only enough to appear confident, productively opinionated, and/or wise so that the next rung on the ladder to a management position might be easily surmounted.

This 1950's, post World War ideal is both antiquated and far fetched. It never really existed in the first place, not to mention the fact that the image was only represented by a single prototype: male and white. Those who have attained what they deem the American Dream tend to snidely look down their noses at people who haven't, yet. They ask brutal questions like, "Why should our tax dollars pay for those who are too lazy to work?" or "Why should we have to take care of immigrants who take our jobs and our land? Tell them to go back to their own countries."

These folks did not take into account variations in pre-American Dream status such as:

Education - This is not only a question of did one go to school and for how long, but in what environment (safe, welcoming, encouraging, intellectual), with what resources (school supplies, lab equipment, healthy lunches), and with what community support (family - mom and dad, especially - and friends)?

Resources - Having money within the existing family initially gives one an automatic leg up. It also allows for more cultural/educational experiences, hobnobbing with important connections, and time (as in you may not have to have an after school job to eat, so you get to spend time having cultural experiences and hobnobbing).

Opportunity - tied to education, culture, friends, and resources

Culture - Is English one's first language? If not, strike one. It certainly makes education more difficult, not to mention finding a job and/or hobnobbing.

Sex - Men still have the advantage.

Luck - plain and simple

These variations, among hundreds of others make the myth that The American Dream is attainable for everyone completely ridiculous. More ludicrous is the idea that some deserve it more than others as a God-given reward for being righteous (of the Christian variety, of course), a very popular belief here in the South. Also, this dream promotes individuality, a trait that, in my opinion, is contrary to human nature.

It is exceedingly rare for folks to break away from the familiar lifestyles and into the upper echelon of the dream. That said, in the same breath I have to also mention that we have it a lot better here than in most places in the world. Our poverty level, though devastating, compared to other countries is minor. Our poor can find food. That, perhaps, is the legitimate American Dream.

Whenever I feel confronted by the elitists who still find ways to demean the downtrodden, I remember Martin Luther King Jr.'s comment (and I'm paraphrasing) that it is completely unfair to ask a man to pull himself up by his bootstraps when he has no boots. King also related that the suburbs are a bane to society, anyway, simply because people can climb into their cars and drive away from the burden of poverty. I think of Lot's wife - the one who has no name and who, therefore, represents any person, who was too caught up in the luxuries of Gomorrah to leave without looking back. She turned into a pillar of salt.

So here we sit - waiting for and working towards attaining some mythical, material American dream. I'm not saying that it's poor form to have money or to want to climb ladders. I am saying that humility is necessary in the ascent, as is helping others without condemnation. Community is essential.

This post was inspired by the Loose Bloggers Consortium, a small and feisty(!) global community. We write weekly on a common topic (Modern Myths, this week) and post responses - all of us together, simultaneously, from all over the world. (Lovely!) Please visit Anu, Ashok, Conrad, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Judy, Magpie 11, Maria and Ramana for other wonderful posts.

6 comments:

Grannymar said...

Ginger, you mean the movies were not true to life in Amerikaaaa! ;)

Great post. If we give boots, then we must be prepared to give the jobs and lifestyles along with them!

Conrad said...

Excellent analysis very gracefully written. These are very important, but very nuanced distinctions you are making. Once nuance is introduced, or any questioning of the mythical American dream, you run smack into a very dangerous, anti-intellectual faction gaining so much foothold in America.

It concerns me mightily!

Rummuser said...

Ginger, I have always wondered why it is called the American dream. This is the dream that every human being has and the reasons that you have listed for it coming true or not is as valid in Vietnam as it is in India or the USA. Beautifully written and my compliments on a very thoughtful approach to the subject.

Jen said...

I LOVE this post!! You are such an amazing writer!!

Christine said...

Preach it, sister. Preach it.

Nemo said...

Our American Dream:

To survive the zombie Apocalypse and spend the rest of our days shaping the tattered remnants of humanity into a Utopian civilization.