What happened to the American Dream?

People are so busy dreaming the American dream,
fantasizing about what they could be or have a right to be,
that they’re all asleep at the switch.
Florence King

Back in the dark ages when I was a child, I wanted to be a fairy princess. I wanted to sprinkle everyone I met with fairy dust and create golden paradise. As I grew older, I wanted to become a beautiful dancer, a talented artist, a spirited cheerleader that encourages everyone to root for their team. I wanted to be a brilliant student, a fascinating conversationalist, a sugar plum.

Little boys had fiercer dreams. They wanted to be cowboys and bare-chested Indians with feathers trailing down their backs. They wanted to shoot guns, kick puppies and punch each other because that was what little boys were supposed to do.

Those were the days when we all believed our streets were paved with gold and hard work could earn you a rainbow. We believed love and marriage was a right. Every future needed lots of babies, a cute puppy and two cars in every garage. That was the American way.

Attitudes have certainly changed, haven’t they? Newsweek magazine just did a study of what Americans want to be these days and I feel like I have unintentionally moved into a foreign country. Little girls want to be witches, vampires and black swans; little boys pirates and hungry pigs. No one believes in miracles or magic. We want power, money and lots of bling.

Demonstrations, senseless wars and corruption have tarnished us. These days, every American girl realizes that to sprinkle everyone with fairy dust reduces you to a sex object. Little boys know that muscles only get you admiration at the gym. Healthy bank accounts, gas guzzling cars and the ability to hold your liquor are in. After all, Galahads can’t pay the mortgage; and maidens don’t want to be saved. It demeans them.

When you visit America, what do you see? You see overweight human beings guzzling MacDonald’s hamburgers and Kentucky Fried Chicken while they listen to music on their I-pods, texting on their cell phones. You see huge shopping centers, clogged streets and no children playing on the streets. It is too dangerous here. We put our children on school buses and worry that they will be kidnapped if they walk home from school. And no wonder. 2,185 children disappear every day in this country.

We think that the world has homogenized and we are all alike, but I know that is not so. In Britain, someone will help a stranger. Dogs are allowed on buses. People who cannot eat are fed. Those are not priorities here. Life moves too fast to worry about someone else. People awake before dawn to drive on packed freeways for hours to a job that pays too little and demands too much. They battle traffic jams to get home too late to say good night to their children, turn on TV with a beer in one hand and a remote in the other. There is no time to admire the daisy that bloomed in the garden or the pink dragon their child made in school. I see women dropping off their children at day care so they can go to an office, work until five, pick up the children, do the grocery shopping, clean the house and make dinner with no time to enjoy the money they have earned or get to know the children they have created. I see families buying gadgets they don’t need, wearing clothes that turn them into carbon copies of everyone else and I wonder if they know what they are missing.

There is a lot of good in the American way, of course. I love that women have choices and men do the dishes. I love that, in California at least, you can be gay or straight, black, white or yellow and still have a shot at grabbing the gold ring. I love that little girls play football and little boys are allowed to cry. We pride ourselves on our modern appliances, our streamlined life styles and or democracy. We are so absorbed in what we call progress that we have enjoying each other.

Not long ago, I was visiting a family in Edinburgh and when I opened the front door, their little girl was sitting in the hall singing to her dolls. The first thing that occurred to me as I watched that child so wrapped up in her fantasy she didn’t know anyone else existed, was ”This could never happen in America.”

Just last month, I lost my way on a Brighton street and a woman I did not know walked me several blocks to my destination. If you are lost in my town, it is your bad luck. Do not bother to ask a policeman. He is too busy giving tickets and arresting people for possession to help. People here have deadlines. They do not have time for compassion.

I love progress and I know that dreams change with the times. I just wonder if California dreaming is fun anymore. Sure, there’s lots of notoriety and plenty of action. We make headlines every day. You can’t beat us for glitter, but something awful has happened to the gold.

We must stop talking about the American dream
And start listening to the dreams of Americans.
Max Beerbohm