Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The American Dream: Past, Present, and Future

“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…”
 -- The Epic of America, James Truslow Adams

What is the “American Dream,” exactly? We use this phrase a lot, but seldom pause to take a closer look at it. James Truslow Adams popularized the now-ubiquitous term in his book The Epic of America, published in 1931. (And yes, I’m also surprised that the term “the American Dream” is a relatively recent addition to our vocabulary.) 

The Epic of America by James Truslow Adams, 1931

Different people have different definitions of this phrase.  To some, it means “making it big” or “striking it rich.”  To others, it’s associated with “intangible ideals like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, optimism and family ties.”*  Still others think the American Dream is now a myth; an unattainable goal that’s overly idealistic.

Poster from the 1983 film Scarface: “He loved the American Dream. With a Vengeance”

 The American dream is often understood to mean that each generation will do better than the previous one and that with hard work, anyone can improve his or her economic situation.  But after the worst recession in almost a century, is the American dream still achievable? Burdened by debt and an uncertain future due to the faltering economy, many Americans find their dreams more and more elusive. For some, the dream has become a nightmare, or “the American dream in reverse,” as President Obama describes.

A recent study by the Pew Economic Mobility Project Poll, "Economic Mobility and the America Dream,” revealed some interesting--and surprising--statistics:

• 70% of Americans believe the American dream is still “very much” or “somewhat alive.”
• 37% of the surveyed people said that s/he will achieve the American dream in their lifetime and 31% indicated that s/he have already achieved it.
• 59% of American parents say they think it will be “somewhat” or “much” harder for their children to achieve the American dream.

Advertising the American dream in the 1950's...

...And today

Please share with us: What is your American dream? Has it arrived yet? Is it still achievable? Is it a myth, reality, nightmare or simply a sales pitch?  We’re curious to hear your responses.

-- Posted by Lokki Chan

* From National Public Radio: "Sizing Up The American Dream"

For further reading on this subject, check out:

• Rethinking the American Dream by David Kamp, Vanity Fair, April 2009  
• Pew’s Economic Mobility Project
• Obama: ‘It’s Like the American Dream in Reverse’  by Huma Khan

1 comment:

  1. The American Dream is an ideal that we've convinced ourselves is exclusive to our country. In actuality, achieving this ideal has been proven MORE difficult and elusive in the United States than in many other countries in the world.

    Socially, the American Dream is that all races and creeds live side-by-side without conflict. That, in my opinion, is also a pipe-dream. However, New York City proves that living side-by-side, WITH a bit of conflict, makes for a more realistic, yet fulfilling life experience for those willing and brave enough to submit to it.


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