English 1010-024 (11:30)
5 Dec 2013
Exploring the American Dream
Being a huge movie buff, when I think of the American Dream, a couple movies pop into my head. I think about movies like “Coming to America”, “Scarface”, and especially “An American Tail”. These movies, while all are incredibly different genres and ratings, all have one thing in common; someone looking to the United States of America to solve a problem in their life. In the movie “Coming to America”, actor Eddie Murphy was a prince who looked to America, the land of opportunity, to find the perfect woman to be his bride. In “Scarface”, Al Pacino was a political refugee from communist Cuba looking to find money and success. In “An American Tail”, a young mouse and his family came to America from Russia to pursue a better life for their family. This is what I always used to picture the American Dream being, people from a foreign country looking to America to make a better life, find happiness, or to have the opportunity of success. What I found out in this synthesis/exploration experience is that it can be a lot more complicated than that.
In my studies, I looked at 5 different sources to help me more directly define the American Dream. I first looked at an article called “Is the American Dream Over?” Written by Cal Thomas and included as readings in the book “They Say/I Say” 2nd edition. Next I explored an article called “For Many, ‘American Dream Is Struggling’” by Steven Thomma published in the Detroit Free Press. Next, I studied the article “Middle class gets priced out of American Dream” by authors Julie Schmitt and Meghan Hoyer from USA Today. I then engaged in the article “Keeping the Dream Alive” by Jon Meacham from Time Magazine. Finally I discovered an interesting speech by Senator Marco Rubio called “Opportunity Isn’t Bestowed Upon Us By Washington” in the journal Vital Speeches of the Day, which was the Republican Party’s response to the Presidents 2013 State Of The Union speech. Let me show you how these specific articles shaped my opinion of today’s American Dream.
I began with the article “Is the American Dream Over?” In which author Cal Thomas explores why the American Dream is disappearing. He explains that the American Dream is being diminished by “expanding, encroaching, over-taxing, and over-spending government” (569). He discusses how failing school systems, failing leadership from liberal politicians, and people who believe politicians can fix the situation are the reasons that there is little chance for the American Dream today. Much of his article is based on how difficult it is to succeed when the government and the economy of the country are failing. Thomas believes this is making the American Dream so difficult because most people have a flawed view of what the American Dream is. His opinion of the American Dream is finding happiness in life and gives a list of simple things that will help you to accomplish that task; things like staying in school and living within your means. Yet I still wonder, is happiness really the only element in the American Dream?
Much talk in Cal Thomas’ article was how the government and economy are failing, but that wasn’t really addressed in his conclusion. I started to consider if government and economy really did have an impact on the American Dream, and if so, how? So, I began searching for articles that related the two thoughts. This brought me to the next article, “For Many, ‘American Dream Is Struggling.’” In much of this article, Steven Thomma presents recent statistics that suggest there is little movement between economic classes. His major thesis statement is that, “Working people have been watching their paychecks stagnate or shrink since the 1980’s. Healthcare costs have risen steadily. Jobs have migrated overseas. The dream of upward mobility has slipped from many people’s grasp” (Para 3). As you can see, Thomma mainly defines the American Dream as upward movement between economic classes. This was the case for many articles that I read through (this one just defined it better).
This brought me to the conclusion that much of the American Dream involves being able to accomplish movement from lower/middle class to middle/upper class economic standing, but how do I accomplish that when so many things are against me? The difficulty is made plain in the article “Middle class gets priced out of American Dream.” Authors Julie Schmit and Meghan Hoyer outline recent changes in housing affordability for middle class Americans. They explain middle class income families have a much shorter list of affordable housing options available to them. Meaning these families must squeeze into smaller spaces to afford housing. The prices for real estate are going up while middle class wages are staying relatively stagnant. In my opinion, this expansion of prices versus income only widens the gap that people have to cross to make that movement between middle and upper class. For me, this news article brings most of my questions together. The American Dream is more than just the pursuit of happiness or living within your means or even attaining a higher income or economic class. It’s an equal balance of all these aspects together; happiness, economic security, and the pursuit of a better life. Without that balance, it’s hard to fulfill any of those goals.
This way of thinking struck me as slightly odd. How did the American Dream change from the perspective of a foreigner coming to America to solve a problem, to today’s general perspective of a better life? “Keeping the Dream Alive”, by Jon Meacham, discusses the changed perceptions of the American Dream throughout the generations. As Meacham explains, the term ‘American Dream’ was coined by President Adams in 1931, defined as “a better, richer, happier life” (Para 3). Though, in Meacham’s opinion, that same idea had been present for a long time. The only thing new about it was the phrase. Meacham shows how it has always been the same idea, “from John Winthrop’s ‘City upon a hill’ to Benjamin Franklin’s ‘The Way to Wealth’” (para 4). His main focus is that even though we may have many dips in history, such as the Great Depression, there is always an upward line graphing our history. As far down as we may go, America always comes out better than before. Though I can’t imagine, at this point, how America will pull itself out of the rut we’re in with the government and economy, and I see things getting much worse before they get better, it does bring hope to know that we have persevered much worse. I think that is a huge element of the American Dream, and I think it was the point Meacham was trying to make, that hope for the future helps you to plan out a strategy to get from where you are in life to where you want to be.
Final question: is the American Dream unobtainable? Like the old saying goes, hope in one hand and crap in the other, see which one fills up first. Is it all just a pipe dream? Everyone so far has been talking about what it is and how hard it is to obtain it, but I think the real question is, “does it even still happen today?” This final thought led me to the most touching and memorable article I had read. In the midst of all the economic and government problems we are facing today, there is still at least one politician that remembers his roots and encourages them. I found this article in a journal called Vital Speeches of the Day. Titled “Opportunity Isn’t Bestowed Upon Us By Washington” is Senator Marco Rubio’s response speech to the Presidents 2013 State of the Union speech. Much of this speech regards the Presidents goals for improving the economy and how he, Senator Rubio, disagrees and has better ideas. The part that really caught my interest is where he discusses his background. Senator Rubio’s parents immigrated to America before he was born. They had to work hard to make a living and give him better opportunities than they had. It was this dedication for a better life that he inherited from his parents. Near the end of his speech is a very touching and detailed outline of the American Dream. He states, “Tonight, all across the land, parents will hold their newborn children for the first time… When they look into the eyes of their children for the first time, their lives will change forever. Because in those eyes, they will see what my parents saw in me, and what your parents saw in you. They will see all the hopes and dreams they once had for themselves” (107, para 20-23). This account from Senator Rubio moves me for two main reasons. I have children and I know exactly what he’s talking about, and he himself was born into a middle class family from parents who started out as low class immigrants, and has fought and worked hard to become a Senator of the United States of America. While the American Dream is very difficult to see and even harder to attain, it is still very possible to accomplish with hard work and dedication.
Many sources, including Steven Thomma, assume that the American Dream is simply accomplishing a higher economic class than your previous generation. I relate this version of the American Dream to the movie “Scarface”. He was a low-class refugee that wanted wealth and success. The downfall was that he used very evil means to accomplish this dream. So evil that it was his downfall. Additionally, he wasn’t truly happy at the end. He found that his success had driven away all the people he cared about. While others will say that the American Dream is having the opportunity to find finding happiness. Such as in the movie “Coming to America” where actor Eddie Murphy comes here to find the perfect woman to be his bride, and finds that happiness. Still others will say that the American Dream is the ability to make a better life for your family and provide more opportunities for your children. I say that the American Dream is a combination of all these things. It’s a constant system of checks and balances; each one needs to be assessed against the rest to find true happiness and success in life, which gives your children a better chance for more.
Meacham, Jon. "Keeping the Dream Alive." TIME Magazine. 07 FEB 2012: 26-39. Print.
Rubio, Marco. "Opportunity Isn't Bestowed Upon Us By Washington." Vital Speeches Of The
Day. APR 2013: 105-107. Print.
Schmit, Julie, and Meghan Hoyer. "Middle class gets priced out of American Dream." USA
Today 22 OCT 2013, 05b. Print.
Thomas, Cal. "Is the American Dream Over?." They Say/ I Say, With Readings. Ed. Gerald Graff, Ed. Cathy Birkenstein and Ed. Russel Durst. 2nd Edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 568-70. Print.
Thomma, Steven. "For Many, 'American Dream Is Struggling'." Detroit Free Press. 27 Mar
2011: A.18. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 05 Nov 2013.