Tobias Peterson, College Writing II
07 November 2004
Their American Dream
Living in America, everywhere people look they are faced with the “American Dream.” What is this American Dream? One definition, being pointed out in a review of Death of a Salesman (by Arthur Miller), claims it is where someone “indubitably and deservedly acquires the material comforts offered by modern American life.”(“Death”). In essence, it is the pursuit of the almighty dollar (Warshauer). However, this “Dream” is not so much a unanimous goal of each person’s own volition: it is a direct product of the incessant corporate and capitalistic influence that fuels this nations economy and runs the lives of nearly all of its citizens. The incredible influence of the corporate machine, as depicted in the fictitious world of Will@Epicqwest.com, a book by Tom Grimes, is also reality in the non-fictional realm of American’s everyday lives. Not only is it palpable, it is mentally unhealthy.
Let me start with a recollection of my own introduction to the American Dream. At age eighteen, I had not yet fully understood the meaning of this ‘Dream;’ then I was approached by someone involved with a business venture called Quixtar: also once known as Amway. The way they introduced it was by tickling my fancy on material items of typical desire: “luxury homes, fancy cars, yachts and private planes” (Hansen). These were things that I had grown up to want because corporate society had appealed them to me, just by the nature of the advertisements for them. In fact, the majority of time in the information session I attended that day was spent selling this “Dream.” Needless to say, the presentation succeeded in its goal of selling me and I started on my way down the Quixtar “business plan” path to this American Dream they talked so highly of.
Although I didn’t do well with the venture, those material desires stuck with me.
Those desires are apparent in almost everyone’s everyday life: everybody being consistently fueled by the constant exposure to the corporate world. Not only do the advertisements beckon people to want and buy, they pressure people to make lots of money like Russ Whitney who “became one of America’s self-made millionaires by age twenty-seven:” to “Make [their] Financial Dreams Come True!” and afford the luxurious lifestyle they are being sold to want (Whitney). Get-rich-quick schemes are a household name: popping up in web-advertisements, newspapers ads, and infiltrative e-mail. Spam e-mail, itself, has taken up over 40% of the 31 billion daily e-mails sent, with the number one subject being products, with 25%, and the second being financial (business ventures), with 20% (TopTenREVIEWS). People are also constantly brainwashed by all the clips of extremely happy recipients of lottery winnings, or people on late night TV telling all the viewers how they, too, could make lots of money and experience “financial independence, abundance, … it's the American dream!” (Brillante). Especially the media, outside of the commercials, contributes in it’s own filtered way. It has “a bias that filters our news through the lens of the privileged”(Hightower, 145). Stock quotes, expensive cars, fame and wealth of movie and music stars: these are all things that those “privileged” want to sell us. Will in Will@Epicqwest.com alludes to how even women “substitute materialism for maternalism” (Grimes, 109).
Many argue that there’s no problem with the way things are, and that the “critique of capitalism is off base” (Richman). All’s fair in business, right? It’s a good dream that will make people happy because they have all these material things, right? On the surface, this American Dream does sound appealing, but there are a couple flaws there. First of all, who says that people are going to be happy with all these material things? It is very a common view that money can’t buy happiness, but yet, the burning desire for it has been spoon-fed to us from the beginning when our parents would complain about paying bills. This is just the tip of the iceberg of contradictions and paradoxes that subsequently leads to the need for people to start thinking for themselves: discover their own, true source of happiness.
The second flaw is that people should have the right to their own dreams. In a world where “we have a luxury of not having to think” we are faced with the result of our “objective reality,[being replaced with] subjective autonomy” (Grimes, 101). This leads us all to be “ metaphysically confused” as we battle between our autonomous Dream and our paradoxical battle in finding what makes us truly happy.
My first encounter with this flaw was early on in my blindly guided path. As I had the Get-Rich-Quick blood rushing through my veins, I started to feel the immediate effects of pursuing that “American Dream” with the fervor that I did. My happiness was starting to wane as my friendships were getting compromised from my attitude and actions. People who had already discovered themselves and what they wanted warned me of succumbing to the poison of instant-wealth desires. And when I ignored them and tried to recruit them, in return, I started to be resented. The most devastating was when friends would stop answering my phone calls due to their fear of me trying to sell them something or sucker then into some scam. My shiny new Dream had a flaw.
Following their lead, I returned to a life non-pursuant of the typical American Dream. However, the few that hold that alternate position get looked down upon: being called lazy or unmotivated: more victims of stereotypes, like the oppressed nerds, or shunned transients. I was suppressed like Will is while on his own quest. One example is Will’s film professor, who, although initially disapproves of Will’s quest due to his failure to turn in his homework, eventually gets excited about it and offers him an A, upon successful completion of the quest, and a “movie deal” because of the lucrative future of the story in the box office (Grimes, 55)
The message people get is that if they think for themselves and choose to step out of that corporate norm, they are cast out and looked down upon by the larger part of society that blindly follows that norm: that American Dream. A prime, and unfortunate, example of this happened “on September 17, 1992, when Diane Sawyer used her Prime Time Live pulpit to scold a single mother who was trying to keep her family together by working two piss-poor, part-time jobs while also taking a monthly welfare check of about $600, [which] she was not entitled…and [, therefore,] was [considered to be]‘gouging the taxpayer’”(Hightower, 145).
Faced with this oppression, social on one side of the teeter-totter, and metaphysical on the other, I was forced to retreat to the park as a whole and take a subjective view of everything. Desperately attempting a mindset devoid of media and corporate influence, I set out on my own quest: a quest to find my own vision of success. Afterward, I returned a much less confused individual because I knew what I wanted and why, and I could recite them easily due to my own rationalizations.
No two people should return from such inner-reflection with identical dreams because everyone is different, and there is “no such thing as a single truth” (Grimes, 182). In a corporate-led life of blind material pursuit of the American Dream, we are fed certain single truths. Best soap to use ("Aren't you glad you use Dial? Don't you wish everybody did?”), favorite drink (“Coca-Cola: It’s the Real Thing”), even political preference (“How could 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?”) are all “single truths” which imply that if someone rejects them, they are looked down upon by the social majority (Richards, “How”).
Corporate and societal pressure for the American Dream and the pursuit of the almighty dollar has been a constant burden on everyone, especially myself. And although I’ve faced some adversity and friction with my decision to follow my own path toward my own dream, at least I can at once be happy with having a firmer understanding of who I really am. As Will puts it, he “let [his] old form die;” and although he is temporarily unsure of the “new being [he] would become…[he does] know it will be all right” (Grimes, 182). Hopefully more people will come to terms, think for themselves, and start looking for that meaning. And if their dream does coincide with The American Dream, then at least their metaphysical confusions and paradoxes will be settled as a result of reasoning it on their own.
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Hightower, Jim. There’s Nothing In The Middle of the Road But Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos. New York: HarperCollins, 1998.
“How can 59,017,382 people be so dumb?” Front Page. 04 Nov. 2004. Daily Mirror. 07 Nov. 2004, <http://images.icnetwork.co.uk/upl/mirror/nov2004/1/0/000ADF94-E181-1189-B6E080BFB6FA0000.jpg>
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