The Death of the American Dream

A look at the death of the American Dream.

Generally a dream ends when you wake up. For the meaning of dream in American Dream (an ideal or set of goals) the death is, of course, when the promise of that hope is either unattainable or no longer desired.

In the far off reality that was Thompson’s 1970s he embarked on a ‘Dream of the Death of the American Dream‘ that never quite materialized in consolidated form. It’s in Vegas, Campaign Trail, and in his letters, but he never hammered the thing out to its foregone conclusion.

Even in Kingdom of Fear, he was still plugging away about the Death. His coinage of this being the ‘post-American Century’ was one final attempt to nail it down, to grasp with quick hands that squirmy dead flesh and hold it up in triumph.

Thompson never lived the American Dream, maybe no one has. That was one of the problems with trying to write a book about such an abstract concept. Much like our modern & ancient struggle with notions like morality, faith, god, patriotism, freedom, et al., everyone has their own monster of an American Dream.

It’s mercury, that inviting, maddening liquid metal you have to capture, or at least try. Of course the result is a siren’s call to complete and utter insanity. Like global thermonuclear war — even if you win, you’re still rotten and crippled from massive radiation, starving and dried out to a husk of a crawling man.

In theistic mythology, winning the American Dream is as though Lucifer prevailed and defeated, killed god. The whole thing would disintegrate. You can’t snuff the flame and still have light.

Neither can the American Dream actually be received. It is only to be sought. Endless, a snipe hunt for glories that never could last or hold fast.

But it does exist. In the mind of a prisoner, he probably thinks of some never-been day where he is with his wife and kids out back on some big porch tacked on to a big house that is his. He’s cradling his honey by the grill with little ones jumping up and down. And then he’s driving down a quiet, hilly road in the country to visit one of them when their first is born, or saluting him as he marches off the train a hero of war.

It’s wrapped itself around the mind of the Secret Service man guarding the President. He’s ready, hell, even wants, to take the President’s bullet. He’d be laid up in that hospital bed, and his ex-wife would come visit him. She’d squeeze his hand and smile as tears dropped from her eyes. She’d take him back.

That little girl asking mommy a hundred questions a day dreams of the big world she aches to learn about. That’s the world in her head she glimpses when she sees cursive writing, Parades, and fire escapes when they visit the big city.

Some of the dreams are natural, but most erupt out of circumstance. Many are second, third generation phoenixes risen from previous, crushed dreams.

I don’t doubt Ted Kaczynski had an American Dream. A good, true dream of progress and hope. One way or the other it got squelched, and in its absence this other, malformed, mutant dream grew in that fertile ground of a genius mind. Still a dream of hope, but coated in a thick, sappy venom.

Hell, even Fidel Castro had an American Dream that the Pittsburgh Pirates chose not to sign. His dream’s death gave birth to a communist revolution in Cuba, and, depending who you ask, may have been JFK’s death.

At the very least Fidel’s dream was a major bummer for a lot of people. But so was Ken Lay’s.

[Spurious. He was never even scouted, it’s a complete fabrication. -Ed.]

We start to see a shift. What is taken as The American Dream is not singular, but myriad; neither is it restricted to America. It is the crux of existentialism: the dream is what you choose.

Or rather, what you sell yourself or get sold on. It’s the Jonestown Koolaid, but also Jim Jones himself. It’s Wall Street, and Main Street USA.

Alfred Hitchcock would call it the MacGuffin. Quentin Tarantino, the briefcase with a lock combination of 666. Jeffrey Dahmer: human flesh.

For a good many people, it seems, 9/11 hit the snooze button on their American Dream, causing it to regress to white picket fences.

The resulting war, which paved the way to Iraq and its regime change, well that swindled dreams too. Now there’s a generation dreaming of peace, or at least the end of war. Others dream of revolution, or at least a day without occupation.

Palestine still dreams of statehood, while Israel dreams of fearless days of tolerance.

PT Barnum dreamt of a sucker born every minute, as do the Nigerian 419 scammers.

Junkies dream of days without grinding for a fix, and cops dream of days not wondering if there’s going to be an HIV+ needle in that pocket. Some police dream of the big score, crushing an entire dope ring and its dreams. The dope ring dreams of a different kind of big score.

Athletes and the kids that idolize them too dream of big scores, trophies, rings, tv interviews, big fame and bigger money.

The TV weatherman probably dreams of moving to the national network, but also of some father or mother avoiding a catastrophic storm, of evacuations that save lives, and of a cloudless July 4th.

It’s like defining superman. There are as many meanings as people. Maybe your superman is handsome or hilarious. Maybe she can dance and sing. Someone else, their superman can calculate mersenne primes in seconds.

It all, inevitably, boils down to context. To what is important to you.

You think homosexuality is an abomination, then you cheer at its re-re-re-re-banning. You spend your vacation writing to gay people mocking them. You pray to your god to put them to death.

If you love cars you spend your vacation scrubbing your engine to sparkle, change the plugs. You frame the first gasket you ever put on. You build a shrine to Henry Ford or your buddy Dale, god rest his soul.

And all that’s context. It’s what you think is appropriate given your experience.

Like the drunk brute wailing on his wife, that he loves. A funny way of showing it, yes. But it is what he knew of his parents’ relationship. And he knew his dad loved his mom, he didn’t know why dad hit her, or why he hits his wife.

The tradition for death is to hold a wake. Get drunk and let rip the hidden feelings over the dead, and make sure it’s really dead. Then honor and let go in funeral. Mark it with a stone. This is what is buried. It lasted this long.

That’s what humans do when a thing ends.

Or some get burned and ground to ash, hoisted into some crazy monument and blasted into the air in a final blaze of pyrotechnic glory.

And that’s the end.

But of course it isn’t. I haven’t told you my own American Dream. I haven’t summed up the whole point.

My American Dream falls back to its own context and the very question of why you are able to read this, why an American Dream exists at all. We incorporate ourselves into society for a simple reason: a common dream.

Yes, the mailman and the wino and the politican and hooker and Imam and soccer mom all have very different aspirations. But at the heart is one: a better way. More good than bad, more help than hurt.

And we’ve come a long way to making it happen, but we’ve stalled. There’s still unabated greed and war and money that all serve to separate our dreams. There’s still adversarial competition that causes two to waste efforts for what only one will receive.

If I said to you, �I have two delicious lunches, but if you take one the other goes in the trash,� you’d think I was a moron. But chances are you’d still take one. It’s a divisive game. You play at it knowing how dumb it is. You don’t even know there’s an alternative.

Well I dream of an alternative.

Stop and think. July 4, 1776 was the birth of a nation. It wasn’t the birth of the American Dream. The dreams are what led to the declaration. Hope for a new way. We need a new hope today, one of inclusion, universal human rights that include expression and therefore thought.

Movement, and therefore association. Medical care, life, food, water.

Don’t tell me to accept the way things are — if the founders of the nation had, I wouldn’t be here. Don’t tell me to watch what I say, to keep quiet and obey. If man had done that we’d still live under the thumbs of kings.

Don’t tell me competition, capitalism, are the threshold of human endeavor. We form a society to escape the state of pure competition that exists in the wild. And so do they: ants in colonies, wolves in packs, birds in flocks. Sure there is some ranking amongst them, but that is a far cry from all-out orderless fighting.

Don’t talk to me about what’s destined or what’s impossible. I’ve seen the holocaust, I’ve read of Christs on crosses. These were man’s deeds no more preordained than what you had for breakfast or 9/11. They rely solely on human conditions and their preventions are, were, possible. As is the prevention of the status quo.

A miracle it does not take. A choice it does. We chose to venture to the moon, Vietnam, Iraq. We can choose to right this war, and the rest of our institutions with it.

A journey of any length begins with the choice. We can choose to reevaluate our customs, mores. We can choose to examine the essence of our community, and change what we need. We can choose to plunder our riches or store them. To look at our use of resources natural, human, and otherwise. We can choose to reallocate them.

All of these are secondary to another choice: the choice to change. The recognition that we need to choose that.

Don’t pretend I think the answers are wrapped in gold paper waiting to be torn open. I merely seek to ask the questions, to add them to our agenda and have us make use of our time to work for answers.

Not the congressional agenda, the human agenda that precedes the existence of all nations and governments, religions and banks. That we are men to act as we choose, not as our leaders choose at the bidding of lobbyists. As we collectively choose with forthright, hard-minded discussion and debate. Sharing our thoughts in an environment of truth without rash or prejudiced thought.

With freedom, which at its base is choice, comes the responsibility to exercise care and thought in the choice.

For too long we’ve slipped into complacent and retrograde motions. Allowed evil to take root under our very feet in the guise of morality, security, economic welfare.

It is time to hold a funeral for the American Dream and birth instead that truer, clearer human dream that we must awaken to lest we die in our collective sleep.


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