Shamefully we can all hang our heads at some point when it comes to based much of our opinions of other countries or cultures. Whether it be images of what we except landscapes to be, how groups of people act when they are around us-or even down to how we perceive the fabric make-up of another countries society itself.
The American Dream was always something I’d assume was deeply in-bedded into the DNA of the USA. It was something school boys and girls dreamed of achieving throughout their schools lives-the age of story of work hard, put in the sweat, make your money: You will succeed. With the growth of corporations in the 60’s and 70’s, the rise of modern day capitalism, the boost in the financial and industrial sectors, it was a dream that propelled a nation into the 21st century with hope.
In my travels across the US, something has been a recurring theme when speaking to the teenagers and recent graduates of college around whether the idea and the reality of the American Dream does really exist-and if it does-to whom does it belong?
I met a 22 year old Maths Graduate Alex from Washington DC. According to him the conversations matched those similar to many of those graduating in the UK. What the hell am I doing with my life, where am I going to end up and am I even going to a job? Again meeting graduates in New York, it was all the same story-finding more part time work in bars, shops, restaurants and warehouses to pay the time before something else came up.
I noticed something interesting in their discussion. It was all around how to make money. And make money fast. About what markets needed tapping and who knew what and where about things that have worked in the past. And here lies the problem. Money. Which a middle class reducing in size all over the world, and the USA is no exception, there just in the money flying around for these young people to start their own business or create their own dreams.
And this is the reason I started on shame. I assumed that the American Dream was alive and that somehow Europe and the rest of the world was somehow lacking in the drive and desire of the US. I often felt in a way that the US Dream was soaked in arrogance, that somehow those who could would succeed and those whom couldn’t would fail; even if the fault wasn’t theirs.
So what do many of the US young and recently graduated think about what is left of the American Dream? Much of the response to my question was ‘Oh the American Dream exists. For those whom can afford it’. It was a bitter sentiment. Maybe jealous even. But quietly very sad. It was almost that many felt their destiny was out of their control. And well if you add up the factors it’s easy to see why. up front College fee’s sometimes average $50,000…a term, high interest on loans, a job market that has no protection for minority groups or in fact working rights at all, and a sentiment around a economy that continues to stutter. You need money to make money. Which is great. If you have some to begin with.
But something interesting came up in conversation. Alex made a point about the way much of the cultural beginnings start with that of socialism. “That the fear of the an equal distribution of wealth and still drives this survival of the fittest. If you can win you will succeed. If you can’t you will fail. This feeling of failure is starting to creep up the class ladder; absorbing now what is left of the lower middle classes.
And what struck me finally was the point Alex made about the future for the young people of USA. The wave of hope around Obama and the prospect of a better future hasn’t really washed up in many shores of the country. ‘Something has got to change’ Alex said in a slightly foreboding manner, ‘because for the first time a generation is aware of how bad it is…’
What that will look like however, no-one seems sure.