But a dream is really a fantasy and this is how I see the American Dream. Close your eyes and imagine a world that does not exist as you see it, and likely never will. The way the "American Dream" is frequently used, it would best be described as the American Fantasy. You're as likely to see a street paved with gold in America as you are to go from the shipping docks to the executive suite. Horatio Alger's rags to riches stories fit this category. More on this American Fantasy later.
Others view the American Dream as an aspiration. This is something to strive for that is attainable but difficult. Maybe you hope to get that promotion where you'll have your own office and be able to afford that house in the burbs. In other words, these people want to move up one notch. Maybe they hope to have that "middle class lifestyle" that originally was the hope of the American Dream. (Unfortunately, this is less and less considered to be a respectable goal or lifestyle.) To some, moving up one notch is making the American Dream come true. But it's not a dream -- here we have the American Aspiration. With a combination of luck and hard work, anyone can achieve that smaller aspiration.
Still others "dream" of even less. I saw a commercial yesterday for a new show of TLC about migrant workers. The "host" said that these workers (who toil all day in the heat at some of the worst jobs possible) are living the American Dream. If they are dreaming they may in fact wish to wake up. This is not the American Dream in the same sense as the American Fantasy. Here we have the American Life. You can work hard and probably be paid what you expect for any given job. The police will probably protect you. A bank will let you invest the money however you like if you accumulate enough. And you get to enjoy the "freedoms" of this nation. All that migrant worker wants is to make money today while he can and then hope he can make more tomorrow. There is no hope for rising in the ranks and becoming the farm owner, or one day driving a Mercedes. This is quite simply the American Life. And as the host says, they are living it.
But most hold onto the first option mentioned here. People dream in this fantasy world -- increasingly detached from the way America truly operates -- and yet have no idea that they are dreaming. The world of fantasy and the concept of reality blur. Is this "American Dream" really an American Fantasy? Yes, and I'll explain that more in my next post. And, assuming it is a fantasy, why can't people start to realize that the American Dream is grounded in nothing more than tradition? Well, I have answered this to an extent in discussing myths and realities towards welfare recipients. Many of the same concepts hold true here as well as some new ones.
Robert Rank spent 10 years investigating welfare on a policy and invididual level before writing Living on the Edge. In the end, he gave us his subtitle: The Realities of Welfare in America. This is a great place to start when examining the American Dream. Horatio Alger didn't write books about the middle class teacher who wanted to be a rich banker. The American Dream, as it has been used for the past century (and more), is focused on the poor becoming middle class or now, I'd argue, the poor becoming rich. So the dreams of welfare recipients, and the realities of how those dreams pan out, is a good place to examine whether this is a complete fantasy after all. More next time.