Each of us has heard of the American Dream, but do we truly know what that dream is? The American Dream is common to all people in that everyone hopes for positive change and that the change deals with our place in society. Everyone has a different view on the American dream, but everyone aspires for it even if it is hard to accomplish. And like many people have different views of what the American Dream is, people also argue whether or not this dream is still attainable; and if it is, is it worth it?
For generations, families have come to America in hopes of a better life and success. For me, I envision a big house, with a fancy car in the driveway, along with a beautiful family. In order to attain this dream, it is understood that one must work for it, and that it is not just handed to them. To each of us, the dream is different, therefore we take different paths and go through different struggles to get there; some attain it, however, most don’t.
John Mellencamp expresses a somewhat versatile and unique view of the dream based on class, time, situation, and society in itself, in his song “Pink Houses”. In the first stanza, Mellencamp describes what a day in the life of a poor black man would be like. Some of us would view the “Interstate runnin’ through his front yard” as a terrible thing. After all, who wants to live right beside a busy highway? However, the black man seems content to have a roof over his head and a hard working wife, regardless of where he lives. It seems as if Mellencamp subtly addresses the poverty of America as an entire body of people through the black man. He takes the time to look at the negative side of America instead of glorifying it. Even though we would not be grateful to be in this man’s position, we see that it is all he has ever known; why should this not be his dream?
In the second stanza, Mellencamp shifts views, describing the hopes and aspirations of a “young man in a t-shirt.” The young man tends to be carefree as he listens to a “rockin’ rollin station.” The young man feels as if he has reached his destination in life because he feels within himself. However, we soon learn that he was told he could become president one day, but never lived up to that expectation. Mellencamp refers to these unfilled dreams as old and crazy. I believe that what Mellencamp means by that is that the American dream is unattainable.
In the third stanza, Mellencamp reveals the point of the song. As he describes the American population, he specifically points out the ones who work in high rises and “vacation down at the Gulf of Mexico.” Perhaps these are the people each of us strive to be like. However, Mellencamp views them as knowing nothing about life or hard work because they have it easy.
The chorus is the meat of the song. In it, Mellencamp describes America as a whole. The view he offers is not a very positive one. Mellencamp speaks negatively of our country as one of being dependent on the hard work of the lower-class people to support those who run it. Because of the situations people are born into− be it poverty, wealth, hard work, or an overall simple lifestyle− Mellencamp proves that the dream is truly unique to every one of us.
Overall, Mellencamp does not view the dream as being worth achieving in the way society portrays it. To him, the dream varies based on an individual’s position in life. As society changes, so does the American dream. Everyday, people add to it. They want a bigger house, nicer car, more pets, a longer vacation or a better paying job. Is this true happiness, or a waste of time trying to fill a void that merely keeps growing? Mellencamp portrays an amazing view on how there are several different factors that affect the dream.
Today, the American dream seems almost impossible for one to obtain. Bob Herbert, a columnist for The New York Times, argues that there is “not much of it (the American Dream) that’s left anymore.” (564) Herbert doesn’t believe that the American Dream is attainable due to the fact that our country is in such a poor state:
Wherever you choose to look- at the economy and jobs, the public schools, the budget deficits, and the non-stop warfare overseas-you’ll see a country in sad shape. We’re in denial about the extent of the rot in the system, and the effort that would be required to turn things around. (564)
The point that Herbert is trying to make is that if we fail to recognize the weaknesses in our economy, how are we going to make it better? If the economy is in such sad shape, then how is one supposed to get from the bottom to the top of the social classes? Herbert brings up the problem in the public school systems, specifically in New York. He highlights the fact that there is a need to improve the public schools, however, teachers are being let go from their jobs, strictly due to budget cuts, and not on their ability to teach. Fewer teachers mean larger classroom sizes, and as a result children are not getting the best education, or one comparable to how children used to have it. As Herbert has noted, “Politicians across the spectrum insist that they are all about job creation while the employment situation in the real world remains beyond pathetic” (566). As a country, we are not doing anything to create jobs, in fact, the unemployment rate keeps increasing. Without a job, is it capable for one to attain the American dream? Herbert would say that it is time for us to open our eyes, recognize that we are not in the greatest shape as a country anymore, and a lot of effort has to be put into making this country better so that the American dream can be attainable again one day.
Herbert believes everyone has a different view on the American dream, and Cal Thomas, a panelist on Fox News Watch, has his own definition of the American dream. He claims that the American dream has created and sustained America for over two hundred years; this dream would be for each “new generation to achieve a better life than their parents and grandparents.” Like Herbert, Thomas doesn’t believe that the dream is attainable anymore due to the poor shape we are in as a country:
Setting aside war, which was imposed on America, the eclipse of liberalism’s American dream has been largely caused by expanding, encroaching, over-taxing, over-spending and over-regulating government. This has produced a country of government addicts with an entitlement mentality. These twin maladies have eroded self-reliance, individual initiative, and personal accountability. A monopolistic government school system keeps the poor man from achieving their dreams… (Thomas, 568)
Thomas views the American dream as simply unattainable due to the way the government is ran. The government is set up to keep the poor man down while it encourages and helps the rich get richer. He agrees with Herbert in the fact that we, as a country, fail to recognize that we are in such a deep hole, and it is going to take hard work to turn things around. It is understood that it will take time and effort to get things back to the way they used to be, however, if no one takes initiative to make things better, it prevents the fulfillment of the American dream.
I would have to agree with Thomas’ claim: the economy is at a place where it is very difficult for an individual to truly succeed. In todays society, with many people losing their jobs due to budget cuts, people are living day by day, pay check to pay check, and it is no longer a dream to have a big mansion with the expensive car in the drive way; at this point the dream is simply unattainable. Herbert does bring up a point where he states, “it is time to open our eyes” and see that we are in such poor shape. I believe many people do recognize that our economy is plummeting, however, I believe that the only individuals who recognize it are the ones who are in jeopardy of losing their job, or their house, and the ones who do not have much power to make a change. Close to seven in ten Americans think people who work hard still have a hard time maintaining their standard of living and cannot get ahead.(Marist Post.)
Graff, Gerald, and Cathy Birkenstein. “Hiding from Reality.” They say / I say: the moves that matter in academic writing. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010. 564-567. Print.
Graff, Gerald, and Cathy Birkenstein. “Is the American Dream Over.” They say / I say: the moves that matter in academic writing. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010. 568-571. Print.
“Pink Houses.” Lyrics. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 May 2014. <http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/johncougarmellencamp/pinkhouses.html>.
“Marist Post.” unattainable. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 May 2014. <http://maristpoll.marist.edu/214is-the-american-dream-still-attainable/ keyword…>.