Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The American Dream: A Personal Virtual Quest

I’m thinking about the American dream. I’m not sure what it is.

Frankly, I’m ambivalent about nationalizing dreams at all, as it hints at groupthink and totalitarianism. I have my own dreams, thank you, and I suspect nobody can enjoy my particular kinks and aspirations quite as I do.

But “the American dream” has entered the lexicon, for good or bad. And it is always “THE American dream,” not “An American dream,” or, plural, “American dreams.” So I’m on a little pilgrimage right now, exploring what people think of the American dream.

Needless to say, I haven’t reached a conclusion yet for myself, and don’t hold much hope of reaching one, but here are some of the opinions I have encountered so far on the information superhighway.

Please comment—and add your own points of view on this wonderful but increasingly perplexing phrase:


Richard Stuebi:

The catch-phrase "American Dream" was apparently coined in 1931 by James Truslow Adams, who wrote that "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement". It's worth noting that the original framing of the American Dream was on improved quality of life—upward mobility, based on merit, capitalizing on open opportunity.

However, a few years earlier in 1928, Herbert Hoover uttered a slogan in his Presidential campaign that ultimately became the shorthand phrase to most people for the American Dream: "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage." In other words, the American Dream got co-opted from a libertarian notion of vertical mobility to a government-led promise to entitlement of geographic mobility.

[Interesting that the phrase was "co-opted" a good three years before it was "coined."]

Matthew Warshauer:

Traditionally, Americans have sought to realise the American dream of success, fame and wealth through thrift and hard work.

John Hockenberry and Farai Chideya:

Many may wonder that, as a nation, have we so corrupted the fundamental ideals of the American dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that we instead find ourselves living through the American nightmare?

[Joe has a question here: Are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness a dream? or rights?]

American Dream Coalition:

The American Dream Coalition’s mission is to support citizens and organizations that promote the American Dream of freedom, mobility, and affordable homeownership.

Thomas Kochan:

Many American families have not prospered in the new "knowledge economy." The layoffs, restructurings, and wage and benefit cuts that have followed the short-lived boom of the 1990s threaten our deeply held values of justice, fairness, family, and work. These values—and not those superficial ones political pollsters ask about—are the foundation of the American dream of good jobs, fair pay, and opportunities for all.

Paul Harris:

The American Dream of riches for all is turning into a nightmare of inequality.

Hillary Rodham Clinton:

We can tell voters that we are for renewing and securing the American dream, of a college degree, a home, healthcare, a secure retirement, and the chance to get ahead in a growing economy where rising bottom lines mean rising incomes for all workers.

Mary Connolly:

It is crucial that the banking system modify their way of thinking or the government has to intervene and subsidize mortgage interest rates to allow Americans to essentially afford the true American dream—owning a home.

[Joe’s note: Googling “American dream of,” I find that “home ownership” is the Number 1 object of the preposition—often but not always according to realtors!]

Shirley M. Tilghman:

Universities have played a key role in the American dream of social mobility.

Peter Ames Carlin:

Krstic has spent these last few months balancing her ceremonial duties as Miss Oregon with her job as a dental hygienist, but her imagination has been elsewhere: tracing a vision of sashes and crowns and flowers. The American dream of instant fame, prestige and, perhaps, wealth.

1 comment:

  1. I view "the American dream" and "keeping up with the Joneses" as 2 sides of the same coin.

    Every reference to the American dream that I can recall requires financing for any middle class American. It seems we only end up financing the mega-wealthy's American dream.



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