Materialism – Corruption of the American Dream


“That dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”.

This is how James Truslow Adams describes the American dream, in his 1931 book “Epic of America”, which would later win the highly respected Pulitzer Prize.

Nevertheless the notion has permeated the U.S since its Declaration of Independence from the British Empire, in 1776. There, Thomas Jefferson outlined a set of moral values and ideals that the new nation should strive for: “all men are created equal…rights include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.  Part of the congress reviewed over the first draft, and formed the basis of the constitutional rights which still survives today.

Over the course of the late 19th and 20th century many immigrants from Europe including Ireland, Germany, and Russia escaped their own country in search for happier and more prosperous lives. They fled the rising taxes, social/political upheaval and the religious discrimination that pervaded parts of the continent at the time. Along the East Coast the immigrants could reinvent themselves by purchasing land to start their own business and family. They could be whoever they wanted to be.

The dream is now indistinguishable from the one portrayed today. It cannot not be argued that people want to work just as hard today as the immigrants did back in the 19th and 20thcenturies, but what’s changed?  We now live in a society, much like America, where the mass media and entertainment industry advocate the belief that money is synonymous with happiness.

The media is the big machine that’s marketing the idea of consumption. The colourful images on buses, trains, billboards, televisions, magazines tap into our emotions. All human beings suffer from insecurity and low self-esteem, and materialistic goods alleviate those pressures because we feel they will improve our lives.

Our lives are filled with many goods we do not need. Expensive Hi-fi stereo systems, 40 inch televisions, sleek cars and clothes that can set you back as much money as a full day’s work. We are surrounded by gadgets and technology that are designed primarily for one or two of the following reasons: for comfort, and entertainment.

It’s not the goods that make us feel better though, it’s the lifestyles associated with them. Whether its celebrities that are modelling the latest fashion trend, or the young and rich professionals driving the sports cars; we get drawn in because we yearn for the economic and social status attached to the products.

Television programmes such as ‘Cribs’ and ‘My Sweet 16” that run on MTV are somewhat entertaining portrayals of spoilt rich kids and celebrities living out their lives in mansions and penthouses.  Young adults grow up with a wish fulfilment that perhaps one day they can achieve a life of parties, excessive drinking and material excess.

Hopefuls in their droves queue up for X-factor auditions every year hoping to clinch a record deal with Simon Cowell and co. This is all before fighting to release a number one UK Christmas single, and meeting their idols at upmarket parties that require an invite. The message to the masses is that if you work hard enough in life, you can accumulate great wealth and power.

One doesn’t have to look far off the university campus to see how hard the media sells lifestyles to students. Posters advertising nights out in clubs drape the walls of university buildings, and West Quay is brimming with shops selling endless lines of clothes with student discounts. Christmas for instance (aside from its religious roots) is a time to celebrate the coming together of family and friends once a year. It has now turned into a shopping frenzy, whereby hoards of people queue up early morning Boxing Day to secure items slashed down in price.

There’s no question that the American dream has evolved profoundly since the US economic boom in the 1920s, with many people suggesting that the dream is solely what one person hopes or desires for in life. Today’s generation of youth will, at the later stages of their lives, hold the honest truth as to whether there’s anything in the dream at all.



Discussion2 Comments

  1. avatar

    All of what you have spoken about is born entirely from a severe capitalist agenda held by omnipotent corporations. We have surrendered ourselves to commodity fetishism; we think products will improve our lives when in fact they leave our lives devoid of purpose and meaning, distracting us from our potential.

    • avatar

      George Orwell wrote that the privileged classes had created the idea of materialism to cling onto money and property by demonising the desire for those things. I would be much more wary of those who try to tell me what we could live without than those that try to flog us what we don’t need.

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