The American dream for many people today is the embodiment of an impossible ideal rather than real-life aspirations, as it was in the 1960s. Nevertheless, this ideal has not changed much since then, and is still based on material values – a well-furnished house, a car, a beautiful wife, stable work – these are all the main components of the American Dream. This paper aims to provide a discussion of what the American Dream could be and what it turned out to be in the long run.
Today, the American Dream often becomes an object of criticism of modern art, including for animators and comics artists. Chris Wildt, the author of a drawing entitled “Even in difficult times Americans have always staunchly believed in the American Dream,” portrayed a truck driver who bought it looking for his “piece of the American Dream.” Now the driver is “looking for a parking space.” Having made such a remark, the author denies the sacredness of the American Dream and draws attention to the hardships of life associated with its embodiment.
Notably, Chris Wildt is the author of many comics on the social and political life of Americans. His artworks can be found in Harvard Business Review, Reader’s Digest, Cape Gazette. Interestingly, he stepped out from working in the local Cape Gazette in October 2019, after working with the newspaper for several decades (Degg). Thanks to his non-standard vision of the world, the artist allows readers to laugh at themselves (“50 Work Cartoons”). His comics are often depicting relations at the job place, environmental and healthcare issues, and popular holidays – New Year, Valentine’s Day (Olejarz). Therefore, such a famous artist has a lot to say regarding the American Dream.
Another example is an animated film produced and written by Tad Lumpkin and Harold Uhl in 2011 and named “The American Dream.” The authors present a conspiracy theory, revealing the secrets of American banks’ interaction with the Federal Reserve, in particular the credit system. Pile and Hartman’s characters travel through time to find out how Rockefeller bankrupted the UK through inflation, how the First Bank appeared, and what paper money is. Pile, who has lost a home bought on credit, is puzzled and changes his mind about reality (“The American Dream”). The cartoon ends with the victory of Hartman over the “banking hydra” and the liberation of America. Interestingly, the animation contains quotes from American Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy, who tried to prevent and stop the depreciation of money in the banking system.
Historians are also keenly interested in the American Dream theme. Noam Chomsky, the author of “The Requiem for American Dream” book, notes that the American Dream originated when the American state was found (Chomsky 22). He notes that the American Dream was originally an idea of an equal society and arose despite the “ongoing clash between pressure for more freedom and democracy coming from below, and efforts at elite control and domination coming from above” (Chomsky 20). The historian tells the story of his father, who immigrated to America in 1913 from a small village in Eastern Europe (Chomsky 11). He found a job at a sweatshop in Baltimore, and thanks to his perseverance achieved a middle-class standard of living – he went to college, got a degree, and finally even a Ph.D.
In those days, the author notes, no one could even dream of such rapid growth in Europe. However, today the situation has changed dramatically, and Europe is a much more suitable place to implement such a scenario due to the higher level of social mobility (Chomsky 12). The author describes the times of the Great Depression, saying although these were much tougher times than today, people believed in the American Dream. According to the historian, today, “the dream persists, fostered by propaganda” (Chomsky 12). Politicians promise to return the American Dream, but in reality, they continue to destroy it. The author concludes that “a significant part of the American Dream is class mobility: you’re born poor, you work hard, you get rich” (Chomsky 13). He also says that this idea of equality has collapsed by now.
Chomsky also examines the so-called Golden Age of the 1950s-1960s, which is still considered the most prominent growth period in American economic history. Moreover, in the 1960s, economic growth affected both the richest and the most impoverished population layers. The hero of that time was Henry Ford, who raised the salaries of his employees so that they could afford to buy cars (Chomsky 71). However, in the 1980s, Donald Reagan and Margrett Thatcher began to implement the ideas of plutonomy – supporting only the richest, in whose hands most of the country’s wealth concentrated.
This approach was dictated by the fact that the rich are the engine of the economy, and can always afford certain goods. This strategy, however, implied only minimal participation and interest in the life of the remaining 90% of the population, which were called the precarious proletariat, since they could not ensure the sustainable prosperity of the largest manufacturing companies in the country. Therefore, by that time, the citizens’ attitude regarding plutonomy – no point to destroy it, become a part of it – has shifted to the new embodiment of the American Dream. Nevertheless, the author does not exclude the possibility of social backlash, since fewer Americans believe that they can become part of the plutonomy system and enrich themselves. That is why they will prefer to share the wealth between everyone.
Therefore, Chomsky, Lumpkin, Uhl, and Wildt, are talking about the same things. In the cartoon, the idea of plutonomy is embodied by bank owners and employees whose faces are protected by masks depicting an octopus – a Masonic symbol. In Chomsky’s book, the emergence of plutonomy dates back to the 1980s, but in the cartoon, its origins go back to the formation of the American state and the First Bank. The cartoonists believe that “plutons” proposed the idea of creating the Federal Reserve and lending money to national banks, required to pay taxes back to the Federal Reserve interested only in issuing new loans.
Thus, a discussion about what the American Dream could be and what it turned out to be was held. Initially, the American Dream arose as an idea of freedom and equality and came true in the 1950s and 1960s partially. However, with the advent of plutocrats and the open support for plutonomy in the 1980s, American society started to degrade gradually in terms of providing equal opportunities. Nevertheless, there is still hope that the reign of the plutocrats will one day end. After all, its principles are still a somewhat shaky foundation for steadily increasing the prosperity of the nation.
“50 Work Cartoons to Help You Get Through the Week.” Reader’s Digest, n.d. Web.
Chomsky, Noam, et al., editors. Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power. Seven Stories Press, 2017.
Degg, Dennis. “Chris Says Goodbye and Jim Says Hello.” The Daily Cartoonist, 2019. Web.
Olejarz, James. “Strategic Humor: Cartoons from the December 2015 Issue.” Harvard Business Review, 2015. Web.
The American Dream. Produced by Tad Lumpkin and Harold Uhl. The Provocateur Network, 2011.