What Happened to the American Dream?

Nothing. The problem is Americans. Particularly Baby Boomers, like me,

who’ve had everything silver–spoon–fed to us all our lives.

by Francis Hare

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me like this country has been stuck in a serious mood-funk over the economy for close to three years. Now, a lot of experts are predicting 2011 won’t be any better than 2010. Probably the same experts who told us the recession ended some time mid-2009, but that’s another story.
Accompanying the gloomy predictions has been a lot of talk about the American Dream—and the prospect that the next generation will be the first in our nation’s history to have a lower standard of living than the one before it. Don’t think for a minute I don’t appreciate the fact that a lot of people in this country are suffering—particularly given the unexpectedly high unemployment figures released by the government during the first week in December. Granted, I’m not generating the same income I was before the crash myself. But I have a job, and I thank God I do.
At the same time, I’m having a tough time agreeing with pundits who keep saying we’re in the middle of the worst economic times since the Great Depression—when, for instance, we have 80 percent cable TV penetration in this country.
So what’s happened to the American Dream? I was first asked that question by a Birmingham News reporter during the recession of 1990 to 1991—as part of a story he was writing on what he believed was its impending death.
Bear in mind, in terms of lost prosperity, that recession couldn’t hold a candle to this one—so here’s what I told him: “You wanna know what’s happened to the American Dream? Nothing. The problem is Americans. Particularly Baby Boomers, like me, who’ve had everything silver–spoon–fed to us all our lives—and now, all of a sudden, we’re actually having to work for a living.”
Needless to say, those comments ended-up on the proverbial cutting room floor.
If you asked me, it can all be traced back to Thirtysomething—a TV drama which debuted in 1987, and every week featured impeccably stylish young adults bleating endlessly over the unendurable misery of living in abject affluence.
Honestly, I believe the typical American would rather be rich and miserable than poor and happy. I once said that at a party, and a woman about my age said, “Well sure I would. If I was rich, I could make myself happy.”
“Nope,” I replied. “That’s not the deal: You can either be rich and miserable, or poor and happy. Period. So which is it?” She thought about it for several seconds. “I’d rather be rich.”
That’s what’s wrong with the American Dream. It used to be about the idea that anyone in America with enough ambition, a solid work ethic and (yes) a little luck could rise above their circumstances to become pretty much whatever they wanted in life. Now it’s pretty much about stuff, and how much of it we can accumulate.
To me, there is no more perfect symbol of the American Dream (for good and bad) than the Golden Era of Hollywood. Virtually every major studio of the time was established and run by an Eastern European Jewish immigrant. All of whom were born within a 500-mile radius of each other in Yiddish-speaking Russia, and what is now Poland.
Samuel Goldwyn, who produced some of the era’s greatest films (including 1946’s Oscar-winning The Best Years Of Our Lives) left his family in Warsaw, on foot and penniless, at the age of 15. Five years later, he crossed the Canadian border, still penniless, and walked to New York City—where he ultimately broke into the movie business. By the early 1930s, Goldwyn was not only living the American Dream, he was producing films which, in a very real way, defined the American Dream for the rest of us.
Materially and professionally, he got everything he could have ever wanted in life. And yet, the main thing I took from his biography was that he wasn’t a very happy person. I think it’s largely because he actually got everything he wanted in life—and what he wanted, mostly, was stuff. And you know what? No matter how good it is, stuff just can’t make us happy. At least, not for very long.
Think about this: Have you ever known a truly happy spoiled child?
Which is why I think so many people are unhappy these days: We’ve accumulated more stuff than any generation in human history, and now we’re all bummed-out by the fact that we might just start having to live with less of it.
I could go on all day about this. But the truth is, writing this column takes me away from my paying job—and I’ve got some pretty big bills to pay. Including one for an incredible full-suspension mountain bike, with 29” alloy wheels and hydraulic disc brakes, that I just couldn’t live without.

One Response to “What Happened to the American Dream?”

  1. Kevin says:

    I agree the debt , the economy, the everything is because of the way we do things. Gov debt follows public debt. leading us down the drain. we dont like to work hard anymore and corpate america runs on greed. What ever happened to by the people, of the peolpe and for the people? no where does the constitrution mention lobbist, corporations, or payoffs. They took away the corporate ladder and replaced it with neptism. What ever happened to merit and the most qualified?

    How many people really care to do best anymore? Most just want as much as possible for as little as possible. What ever happened to the pioneer spirit that built this country? They depended only on themselves not the government to take care of them so they had to do their best and be frugal. Even entrepeneurs ate being squashed corprations that lay off peolpe verses creating new jobs.

    The economy is not any 1 parties or Presidents’ fault, it is all our faults because we think we should be entitled to everything now. So we spend ourselves to death while other countries out produce us. Our sick society created this mess and untill we change our ways to be like our forefathers it will only get worse. Technology is great but it is not the answer. we must all be held accountable and responsible again!

    I am not againist taking care of those who are truly needy and unfortunate. but we give millions to those who dont need it. We should all try to be self sufficient and fend for ourselves instead of asking others to. ” ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do fot your country” by JFK has been reversed!

    I am surprised to find this on a site called B-metro because I was raised on a farm where hard work was expected and I was taught the work ethic> I dont think most people even know what that is anymore or brother to take pride in their work. So why do your best if you dont have to? Is it any wonder we all are overweight? Employers have made a job just a job without any reason to go believe in what we do. Little hope of getting there, we are just their pawns to use to line their golden parachutes. This is an economy based on greed not on praise. Self reward and independence work better.

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