Requiem for a Dream—Part 2 "The American One"
Updated: Jul 7, 2022
We are violence and disco.
The violence is all around us. There used to be pockets that were relatively safe. But now they too are filled with violence.
The disco is shiny and electric.
It too, surrounds us. The disco never closes. We don’t want it to close.
We are programmed to receive.
The sun is blistering.
The heat is intolerable.
If one is lucky enough to avoid the violence and escape the disco, they would still have to contend with the heat. Most say you’re better off in the disco. Some even say you’re better off in the violence.
The violence is our entertainment.
The disco is our escape.
The heat is our punishment.
And grief is the only thing we share.
The concept of The American Dream has been with us from the beginning. You can see the idea beginning to form in the Declaration of Independence in the language that declares all men are created equal and have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It only applied to white men, of course. But it was a start.
The actual phrase: The American Dream was coined in 1931 by historian James Truslow Adams in his best-selling book The Epic of America. Written mostly during the Great Depression, Adams defined the American Dream thusly:
“But there has been also the American dream, that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his 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... The American dream, that has lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores in the past century has not been a dream of merely material plenty, though that has doubtlessly counted heavily. It has been much more than that. It has been a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as man and woman, unhampered by the barriers which had slowly been erected in the older civilizations, unrepressed by social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being of any and every class.”
To me, it’s fairly clear, what he’s saying the American Dream is. First of all, it’s different than the way things have been in the past. There’s a fair amount of tearing down the system in the American Dream. I like that. It has attitude. It’s punk rock.
He also seems to be saying that the American Dream is about giving everyone a fair shot. Which is something that not everyone got under the old system. And not everyone would get under this one either, but let’s not forget we’re talking about a dream here.
Adams also seems to go to fairly significant trouble impressing upon us the fact that the American Dream is not about material wealth. Or, at least, not merely about material wealth. It’s about opportunity. As in, the land of. I don’t know who coined that one. Maybe some other blogger will dig into it for us.
Finally, as someone who takes messaging fairly seriously, it seems that Adams is reminding us that the American Dream has been the go to market strategy for America from the start and it’s been delivering consistently impressive, year after year gains since Plymouth Rock.
So, unless my reading comprehension skills have gone to shit since I took the SATs, according to the guy who coined the phrase—the American Dream is about inclusion, equality and immigration.
The American dream is a political fucking nightmare.
If you had to get the American Dream through congress, you’d have a better chance at legalizing baby labor. Which, I happen to believe is an untapped resource. If we could hook toddlers up to some sort of electricity producing treadmill or something, our fossil fuel problems would be solved.
Which is probably why it changed.
After WWII— which America won 2-0— the United States went through what’s known as the Golden Age of Capitalism. Our GDP went from $200 billion in 1940 to $300 billion in 1950 and over $500 billion by 1960.
An important thing to note about the Golden Age of Capitalism was that it benefited both sides. The people at the top got super rich just like they always do, but the people at the bottom got paid a damn good wage, had long-term job security and invented something called the middle class.
They bought automobiles. Household appliances. And even houses for the household appliances to go into. They lived in the suburbs instead of the cramped apartments in big cities. They had a little place of their very own. It was cozy, comfortable and reliable. And that’s what the American Dream became about.
America was officially the richest nation on Earth. And because it was the richest nation on Earth, it had the highest standard of living on Earth. Even if you were just an ordinary, average Joe, if you had a job then most likely you had a house and a car. In Russia you could be a fucking brain surgeon and you’d still be waiting in line for bread.
In America all you needed was a job. And if you worked hard at it and did it well, then that job would always be there for you. That’s not a bad deal. I’d take it.
It was still about getting a fair shake. It relies a bit more on consumerism than it did when Adams first penned it. But this version of the American Dream has a built in layer of security for the labor force. There’s a lot of equity in that. The dream also becomes less about inclusion and more about modern convenience and luxury being accessible to the middle class.
In 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. In one of the most powerful oratory accomplishments in history, he cuts right to the heart of the original meaning of the American Dream. In one speech, MLK harnesses the power of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and James Truslow Adams to redirect the American Dream into the hands of its most rightful recipients—the Civil Rights Movement.
This, of course, didn’t go over particularly well.
But to hand the American Dream over to the Civil Rights Movement would mean that the middle class would have to sacrifice their comfortable lives and automatic dishwashers.
I’m oversimplifying things on the grandest scale possible but in 1968, The Civil Rights Movement vs. The Middle Class isn’t even a fair fight. MLK never stood a chance.
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
In the blink of an eye the American Dream is redirected in the 1970s and 80s yet again.
This time by the real estate industry with help from the advertising industry.
In the 1970s and 1980s the American Dream was most widely used as a marketing device to convince first time home buyers that purchasing a home was the equivalent of achieving the American Dream. It’s the white picket fence. The two-car garage. And most importantly, the nest egg.
The security of the Golden Age of Capitalism is beginning to erode. The manufacturing jobs go overseas. The 401k takes the place of pensions. We all fall for it.
Home ownership, as the American Dream, is the perfect cover because you sell the house as the financial security that’s slowly vanishing from beneath the feet of the middle class.
The little house with the white picket fence becomes an investment that appreciates year over year. One that can be refinanced and borrowed against. Need money? No problem. Just take out a little equity. It’s easy. We can put cash in your pocket that you can use to re-do the kitchen, take the vacation you’ve been dreaming of or even pay off that high interest credit card debt.
I’ve worked on several different mortgage lending accounts. All at the same agency actually. I never understood how they got around the non-compete clause but that’s their ethics problem, not mine. The point is, I wrote the phrase “owning your own home is your chance to get a piece of the American dream” maybe 10,000 times.
It’s a far cry from “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”.
In 1976, the movie Rocky came out. It was about a down and out, nobody boxer who gets plucked from obscurity to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world.
In 1978, Dave Parker signs a 5-year contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates for $5 million, making him the first million dollar athlete.
In 1987 we learn that “Greed is good.”
I’m not saying that these three events are noted by any serious historian as turning points for the American Dream. But to me, they seem to be examples of a cultural shift.
It seems that this version of the American Dream ceases to symbolize fairness, inclusion and a higher standard of living for all. It pivots. It takes a turn somehow. Now, it’s mostly about becoming rich and famous overnight.
It can happen to anyone at any time. It’s like winning the lottery. It’s #blessed.
Get your money for nothing and your chicks for free.
Today, I honestly don’t know where we are with the American Dream. I’m not rich and famous. And I don’t even know if I really want to be rich and famous. Seems like a hassle to tell you the truth.
So where does that leave us?
Are we an America with no dream?
We certainly aren’t a country to admire any longer. Donald Trump made sure of that. But as much as I loathe him, the fault cannot be placed squarely on his shoulders.
The real Donald Trump is us.
That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight.
Donald Trump did not single-handedly do anything to the American Dream.
He just weaponized it.
And leveraged it.
From there, it’s all on us. We let it happen. We didn’t stop him. Half of us cheered him on and still haven’t stopped.
We are literally watching the American Dream die in front of our very eyes and we barely even look up from our smartphones to notice that the hands around its throat are our own.
Does it even fucking matter?
After sitting here for several seconds and thinking as hard as possible, I’d say it does. I think it matters a whole hell of a lot.
Out of everything we’ve done, accomplished, fought for and won with our own blood, sweat and tears— it was always the dream that the world admired most. It was always the idea that if you could get to America and you were willing to do the work, then you were safe. Simple as that.
But now, America is closed.
We don’t want anyone to come here. Especially if they’re from some “shithole” country. We’ve all been told fairly convincingly that you’re going to take our jobs, rape our children and vote democrat. So we say, “Fuck you and your nine babies. Go home.”
I was walking through an airport two days ago. I saw a man. He looked like a really nice man. He was maybe 65 years old and his bushy grey mustache made him look like he was the best grandfather in the whole world. He looked like the kind of guy you’d love to have as a neighbor because he’d help you figure out how to hook-up your generator at 3 am during a big storm.
This seemingly sweet, completely normal looking teddy bear of a man was wearing a Let’s Go Brandon t-shirt that said, “Fuck your feelings” on the back. My heart rolled itself up into a ball on the floor and started sucking its thumb.
Meanwhile, we are violence and disco.
It consumes us. Distracts us. Divides us. And then kills us.
If the bullets don’t get you then the stress will.
You turn on the TV and it just feels like the same stock footage running over and over.
I don’t know what to do about it so I turn it off.
I go out for a walk but then I have to walk by the guy’s house who still has the Trump sign in his front yard. I want to turn that off too. But my remote doesn’t work. Even Alexa can’t do anything.
“Alexa, turn it off.”
There’s no answer.
Alexa fucking sucks.
Violence and disco.
The American Dream.
Fuck your feelings.
Thanks for reading. I'll see you again real soon.