Homer Simpson, Normal Rockwell and the American Dream
Americans have this collective ideal that we creatively call the American Dream. It’s worth pointing out that there is no Ukrainian Dream or Kenyan Dream … but we have labeled this unique dream the American Dream and it’s built into every aspect of our culture. I am convinced that most of the time we aren’t even aware of the American Dream because it’s a part of our life like breathing is a part of our life.
I just re-read a fascinating article called Rethinking the American Dream. As I was reading, I was powerfully reminded of how events that unfolded over the past 200 years have an impact on my attitude towards life today.
Consider these handful of events in our American history …
- Our Declaration of Independence states that we have the “right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” as citizens. This was a radically different philosophy of life and government than any other place in the world and in history. From the beginning our collective dream includes the promise of freedom and happiness.
- Our 1800′s are marked by wild west expansion that promises land and gold.
- In 1931 a book coins the phrase “American Dream” to describe a better, richer, and happier life for all our citizens of every rank.
- Social Security Act of 1935 set in motion the idea of retirement at age 65. Our collective dream now includes the goal of retirement.
- In 1940 Norman Rockwell paints 4 famous paintings in a series called Freedoms …. Freedom from Want is most popular. This painting depicts the ultimate dream … to never want again.
- GI Bill in 1944 offers affordable loans for homes – new home business skyrockets from 124k in 1944 to 1 million in 1946 to nearly 2 million by 1950. Home ownership is now a part of our collective dream.
- GI Bill also offers tuition money to returning vets … college degrees doubled between 1940 and 1965 … college became attainable and not elitist. A college education is now a part of the dream.
- As early as 1958 economist John Kenneth Galbraith declares that America had reached an almost unsurpassable and unsustainable degree of mass affluence because the average family owned a home, one car, and one TV
- 1958 is also the year the credit card is introduced. Consumer credit shot from $2.5 billion in 1945 to $105 billion in 1970.
- In 1982 the average household saved 11% of its disposable income. By 2007 that number was less that 1%.
As I wrote last week, I have a new appreciation for the history of our country. Specifically the dedication and commitment our founding leaders had in creating a new system of government. I am thankful for my home. I am thankful for my college degree. I am thankful for my freedoms.
But I am scared about what our new American Dream has become. Look at the TV lineup. Shows like Jersey Shore, the Bachelor, American Idol, Deal or No Deal and many others … we are a culture that wants to get rich quick, find love instantly and stretch our 15 minutes of fame into a lifetime of fame. Homer Simspon is the caricature of our country (doh!).
Something as honorable as the rights outlined in our Declaration of Independence birthed an attitude of entitlement. From the beginning we were taught that being human gave us these rights instead of acknowledging that life is a gift from God given to us to steward.
If you are living in America you can’t escape it. Our collective dream has accelerated to this point in history. Entitlement and consumerism permeates every aspect of our lives.
We all need a place to live and a way to make money. Having a home isn’t wrong. Having a job isn’t wrong. Being wealthy isn’t a sin.
At the end of the day we all have a choice to make. What will be the ultimate pursuit of our life? Some place hope in a home. Others place hope in a job. But it seems that deep down we know that there’s more to life than the pursuit of temporary things.
As Paul says in 1 Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”
- How is the American Dream impacting you?
- What other events in our history are shaping the way American’s view life today?