The idea of the great American Dream finds its roots in the hopes and dreams of European explorers who sought out to create the New World. In fact, during the Great Depression, people actually wrote about The American Dream and they codified the concept as a crucial part of American identity. Basically, it is a set of ideas that is mostly rooted in equal opportunities, hard work, and prosperity. Yet, just like the economy, the meaning of the American Dream is always in a constant state of flux.
So, what did the American Dream stand for in the 50’s to the 80’s, and how did its meaning change over the years?
In the 1950’s, promising opportunities began to surround Americans at every turn. With the World War II being over, women took more jobs in the workplace, therefore household incomes increased and everyday spending almost doubled. Plus, parents did not only greatly encourage their children to be anything they wanted to be, they were also more ambitious and more hardworking. American companies were quick to capitalize on this economic shift and focused their advertising on reinforcing the “perfect American household”, which was a house in the suburbs, a steady job and keeping up with the Joneses. For the common folk, it meant a greater desire to keep up with the newest technology and fashion trends, only this time they had the financial means to back it up.
By the 1960’s, America further strengthened its involvement in the Vietnam War and it greatly shifted the concept of The American Dream from the opportunity to peace, freedom, and equality. Anti-war rallies and back-to-back campus demonstrations were popularized by the hippies, plus women and African-Americans were also fighting for equal rights.
The struggle of the American Dream in this decade could be best summed up in the his famous “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King’s, where he says “One day, this nation will rise up and live up the true meaning of its dream. Sons of former slaves will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
With the Vietnam War finally over by the 70’s, indulgence took over and a lot of people lived life in the fast lane. Recreational drug use grew dramatically and so did music evolve tremendously. Using credit cards for everyday goods was also coming into the mainstream. This meant a dissonance between The American Dream for the older generation and the younger generation. For the older conservatives, they still believed in working hard and in building bigger businesses; while the liberal youth focused on self-expression and hedonism.
Unsurprisingly, the indulgence took a whole new level in the 1980’s and films such as Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps greatly exemplified what The American Dream stood for in that decade. By this time, having it all became the focus of The American Dream and consumerism was mostly left, right, everywhere.
At the end of the day, the American Dream is deeply rooted in American history. Even if its meaning can change over the years, its essence to promote life, freedom, and happiness will live on forever.