I recently received a Tweet from Leslie Marshall regarding a new movie, “The American Dream”. Her tweet questioned whether the American dream was dead or should maybe be redefined.
That got me to thinking about the origin and current status of the American dream.
According to Webster’s dictionary the definition of American Dream is as follows: the ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity traditionally held to be available to every American.
The term, American Dream was originally coined by James Truslow Adams in 1931, a U.S. writer and historian, in “Epic of America.”
[The American Dream is] "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position." [Adams]
Wow! Over the years that definition has been completely hijacked. Today the American dream seems to be defined by: getting married, having a job that allows you to buy lots of material things, the proverbial house complete with a white picket fence, and of course a family of 2.5 kids.
The American dream can be described as the fundamental character or spirit of our culture. The belief that we all enjoy certain freedoms and those freedoms include the opportunity for prosperity and success.
Of course reality is far from this but is it possible to create a new ethos and work towards that? I don’t agree that the dream is dead. I don’t think it ever truly existed for millions of Americans. These days the percentage is growing ever smaller so this movie and question is particularly topical.
Naturally, with 2012 being an election year, I expect the demise of the American dream to be front and center during much of the campaign.
The same way that a flame cannot exist without oxygen, or life cannot exist without water, the American Dream to continue to exist, let alone flourish unless certain economic conditions also exist. Personally, I don’t think that we have put enough effort into maintaining those necessary conditions in order for opportunities to expand.
People need a sense of their own power. They have to believe that they matter. Right now I don’t see that happening.