The myth that I chose to analyze is that of the American Dream. The American Dream varies in definition from era to era, person to person. In the past, you were usually considered to be living the American Dream if you worked your way up from the bottom of society and are now sitting at the top (or at least the top of the middle). Nowadays the living the American Dream is considered providing a better life for your children than what you had growing up (How Do Americans Define the American Dream in 2015?, 2015). And the definition again begins to change as a new generation ages up; Lana Del Rey states in her song Damn You that “living life on the run” and “getting messed up for fun” is the American Dream, having nothing to lose and just enjoying oneself (Damn You, 2012). Such a hedonistic approach to life has become commonplace in today’s younger generation and has begun to warp the American dream once again to fit the new ideals or the millennial generation. Seeking nothing but pleasure and excitement may not be the American Dream for everyone, but to be comfortable with one’s place in society seems to be the unfailing similarity between all these ideas, whether that means making a lot of money or having a lot of fun (or both) depends on the person (and maybe the generation).
The song Pink Houses by John Mellencamp describes two different men who both have grown comfortable in their lifestyles. The first man, the “black man with a black cat living in a black neighborhood”, thinks he’s got it made. He has “an interstate running through his front yard” so he can’t be living in a great neighborhood where you should have more property and be far away from disturbing noises. The “woman in the kitchen cleaning up evening slop” he has been with a long time (it may be his wife, it may not be), long enough for him to remember her when she was young and beautiful and he tells her that “I remember when you could top a clock”( Pink Houses, 1983). He is not unhappy with his partner, he is not unhappy with his home, he even has a cat, yet none of it screams middle-class, or mentions upper-middle class, or even whispers upper-class lifestyle. The other man mentioned in the song is the young man; he is described as having “a greasy hair, greasy smile”. He used to be told that he could be president some day but he is happy with his current status in society, stating that “Lord, this must be my destination” and has given up on any dreams like being president, calling them “crazy dreams”( Pink Houses, 1983). This man shows that the American Dream for him was simply that—a dream. The idea of pursing something like being president came and went as he grew older and became content with his current life. We don’t know anything else about the young man’s life, but he sounds like he is happy. And the black man, he may have had dreams too, but they may have faded away and having his woman and his home are now his dream because they made him happy.
The movie The Wolf of Wall Street has both the traditional “rags to riches” American Dream and the millennial “life of fun” American Dream. The main character in this movie, Jordan Belfort, loses his job and takes a lousy job at a brokerage firm where he learns some shady dealings and begins to make a lot of money selling stocks. He opens his own firm and eventually becomes a billionaire, but not all by legitimate means. He had a huge home, tons of money, plenty of expensive cars—and came from nowhere. Though the rags to riches idea is usually for those who worked hard to make their money—those who became rich my legitimate means—the rags to riches American Dream can still be applied to him as he literally went from nothing to being a billionaire. Jordan Belfort can also be included in the millennial view of the American Dream as he has a heavy reliance on Quaaludes, alcohol, and an extravagant lifestyle. His company was shown partying and drinking during their workday—there was even a parade in the office at one point in time—and Jordan’s closest associates were encouraged to partake in alcohol and drug abuse along with him. He lived a life of excitement, blowing his money on yachts, parties, expensive toys (like his Jaguar) and seeking ultimate pleasure (The Wolf of Wall Street, 2014). A life I’m sure Lana Del Rey would find extremely enticing.
The American Dream has survived generations though it has transformed over the years and will continue on to the generations to come because it is something that gives us hope. The American people are not limited to the social class that they are born into, we have the opportunity to better ourselves and move up in society—maybe with athletic ability, secondary education, or just dumb luck—we have an opportunity that other countries may not offer. That idea that we can move up, that we can offer a better life than we had for our children, that we can become rich and famous is what keeps us striving for a better future. Some countries do not have the same opportunity as we do—in India, there is a social caste system that you are born into and are not capable of moving up or down in. You can not marry into another caste and your caste determines what kind of work you are able to do (India’s Caste System). A system like that does not allow you to hope to change your future by bettering yourself, it does not give you reason to pursue higher education, to develop a special talent, to hope for a better future like we have in America. While the rags to riches American Dream through hard work may not be the ideal American Dream for today’s society, the idea that we can do anything, be anything no matter our place in society is something that will continue to inspire generations to come.
While I may a millennial, I do not adhere to the life of fun and excitement American Dream but I also do not adhere to the rags to riches American Dream. I grew up with hedonistic ideals—I did what I wanted regardless or others opinions, sought only to enjoy myself, though not in a drinking and partying sense like others my age. But as I grew older, developed relationships, my values changed. I used to think marriage was a useless social convention and that it would never happen to myself—I was having too much fun by myself. But then I found a serious partner. We discussed having children, we got married, and now we’re house hunting. I still struggle with wanting to do things by myself, wanting to spend time by myself, by expensive toys (like Xbox’s or PlayStations) for myself, but I have to refrain and discuss it with my husband. I now have to think long-term and not just go out and buy whatever I want. The American Dream for me used to be living by myself, making money by becoming a famous author, being surrounded by nature, and just enjoying life. Now, I want a brand new car that has high safety ratings for my future children, I want a suburban house in a good school district, I want my children to be sporty and intelligent, hell—I want children. Sometimes people can change your ideals, sometimes you just grow out of them. I think in the future as I watch movies I will be able to see how the American Dream is transforming. As new movies come out, the transforming American Dream will be visible over the years and I can see if my own dream has changed along with the changing opinions of the time. I’m sure it will continue to change as I get older and the world changes around me.
Scorsese, M. (Director). (2014). The wolf of Wall Street [Motion picture]. United States: Paramount Pictures.
Mellencamp, J. (1983). Pink Houses. On Uh-Huh [CD]. Jackson County, Indiana: Riva.
Manian, R. (n.d.). India’s Caste System. Retrieved February 28, 2016, from http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/indias-caste-system.html
Fernández, O. (2012, September 13). Lana del rey – Damn you Full Version. Retrieved February 28, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nChgJXiO9U
Vanity Fair. (2015, April 16). How Do Americans Define the American Dream in 2015? Retrieved February 28, 2016, from http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2015/04/what-is-the-american-dream