Replay 203: American Dream

All this week, we’re replaying five episodes about different facets of being in the USA. For more of an explanation on why, see the 4th of July message. Today’s replay is 203, The American Dream.


Full episode script

In 1931, John Turslow Adams presented in his Epic of America the idea of the American Dream, in saying:

“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.” He went on to say 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.”

In the 85 years since, the idea of the American Dream has become practically an intoxicant… and one that some say has a nasty hangover. Mr. Adam’s idea of the dream, though, has also been expanded quite significantly.

Sociologist Emily Rosenberg identified five components of The American Dream as it has shown up in countries all around the world. These five components are:

Belief that other nations should replicate America’s development.
Faith in a free market economy.
Support free trade agreements and Foreign Direct Investment.
Promotion of free flow of information and culture.
Acceptance of government protection of private enterprise.

Yet ask Americans what the American Dream is, and answers you get are quite different. Frontline asked Americans about their American Dream. Two defined it as:

The American Dream used to be a home in the suburbs, a good job, raising your family. Now we have been relegated to survival mode.

I think at one time the American dream meant having a place to call your own, get a house paid for, have a job you liked, transportation, take a vacation now and then. Those things didn’t seem so out of reach.

And a Brit living in the United States pointed out in Time magazine that the whole idea of the American Dream may be destructive, pointing out that:

we have internalized the idea that we are all exactly where we deserve to be. In this story, success is the result not of luck or privilege, but our own personal qualities, talents and hard work. Similarly, failure can never stem from systemic obstacles or difficult circumstances—the fact that good jobs are increasingly scarce, wages are hitting poverty levels and rents are sky-high—but is simply a mark of personal inadequacy.

Like mean dreams, a little dose of reality may not hurt on a societal level. On an individual level, though, the dream is just as individual.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.