The American Dream

Opening scene

Convenience store, second scene

The Poem

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

by Langston Hughes

The roots of a nation

To properly understand the US you have to study its history and the conditions under which Americans have developed. The people that came to colonize northern America were typically very daring and enterprising people. They had dared to cross the Atlantic in order to reach the New World. Many of them were very religious people who had fled the religious repression of many of the European states.

A great may of the settlers who came to America actually thought of themselves as God’s emissaries. They saw themselves as establishing His kingdom on the new continent. To these people America was the Promised Land, a New Canaan.

Some of the colonists came to speak of themselves as citizens of the City upon a Hill. A phrase they had got from Matthew 5:14 ”Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid”. The colonist thought that they were chosen to build a new nation which was to set an example to all others. These beliefs – that the Americans are the chosen people living in a country reserved for them by God and that they have been set there to be an example to others – have continued to live through American history and are still, in a secularized form, very much alive. In actions and in words, in foreign and domestic policy Americans have often looked upon themselves as a model for the world and as both savior and police with divine sanction

An expression of this belief is the fact that many Americans shared the conviction in the nineteenth century that it was the manifest destiny of the United States to expand all the way to the Pacific Ocean. One of the many literary expressions of this is this passage from Herman Melville’s White-Jacket: ”[a]nd we Americans are the peculiar chosen people— the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of liberties of the world”.


Progress and problems

The first colonists’ dream of a blessed land, a land of plenty, was soon discovered to be something quite different. The hardships of these first Americans were many: they died of all sorts of diseases, the land was wild and they had a hard time to survive.

The overall economic success of America, however, has many good reasons: the rich natural resources and the vastness of the country, people were allowed to compete on their own merits (in Europe the feudal system was very rigid and did not let people go into business for themselves). In some ways the mentality of the people had something to do with it as well: the colonists were very ambitious and optimistic. They truly believed in the dream of social and material success. They thought that everything was possible.

The firm belief in progress and development met with many problems. Many colonists did not succed, others lost heart and became pessimistic and bitter. Throughout the years more and more people have come to America with their visions and dreams, some have succeded others have not. America is in this sense a country of extremes a land of the rich as well as of the poor. The progress in some fields (space travel or entertainment industry) do not overshadow problems such as segregation, racism and crime.

Manifest destiny in our century

As previously stated the ideas of the City upon a Hill and Manifest Destiny still live, although in a slightly altered form.

The Apollo program in itself represents, in a sense, a continuation of the pioneering spirit of the US; it represents the will to expand, to go forward, to claim, to manifest destiny – to continue, in a metaphorical sense, the journey Westward.

Questions

The US sees itself as special. The Americans feel they have a special role to play in the world.

How do you see this in film, books and in the news?

Sweden has perhaps a different self-image? What would you say is typically Swedish?

10 reaktioner till “The American Dream”

  1. In films, it is usually an American that saves the day, or the US that give an extra hand in a different situation to help a ”helpless” country. In books it´s the same, in 9 out of 10 cases, America or Americans saves the day or become the hero.
    When you look at the news, or read a newspaper, it is always something about America. Some problem with their celebrities, or something the President has said. I get the feeling that the Americans always want everything to be about them and their country.

    In Sweden, we don´t have, more or less, anything purely ”Swedish”. Mostly everything we eat, do or say comes from another country, foremost from America. The one thing that I can say is typically Swedish, is that we always use the word ”lagom” and eats meatballs with potatoes or macaroni.
    As a sum-up we doesn´t do much that is our own invention, simply.

    Gilla

  2. Since most media centered companies (including most major companies like Coca Cola) is now more or less owned by the U.S (not by the United States directly) we have become more prone to encounter information in all forms angled to reflect the U.S agenda, when we watch a movie or read a book we rarely see a U.S citizen as the villain since they want to appear like the good guys no matter what.

    I´ve come to notice that its getting a bit more discrete but when I noticed the American influence I can´t really un-see it.
    When I look at how Swedes and the world views Sweden its way different, Swedes complain a lot about about their country and its history, on the other hand we have the international view that considers Sweden as the ultimate Socialist state.

    A typical #SwedishProblem is complaining about long waiting times, about subjects they aren´t really even concerned about getting more knowledge about over what the news says of course, because Swedes think that the news can’t lie about anything.

    Gilla

  3. I would say that the swedish self image is more or less the exact opposite. The norm in Sweden has for a long time been that everyone is equal. You should not try to stand out, you should definitely not make yourself seem as to be above anyone else. You should behave ”lagom” so to speak. To say that you believe that Sweden and the swedish people have some kind of special role to play for the rest of the world is considered hubris.
    Do not make yourself out to be more than you really are.

    In the popular culture you can often see what the Americans value the most. Most American movies I’ve seen focus on the white upper middle class. The successful person is most often the lead character. And the most usual American news are about celebrities. It is no news that the US dominates todays popular culture, movies, music and even books are big on the US market and the outside world as well.

    Gilla

  4. The US sees itself as special. The Americans feel they have a special role to play in the world.
    How do you see this in film, books and in the news?
    If you take the typical Hollywood-movies, such as Armageddon and the like, a common thing was, and still is, the United States saving the rest of the world. In the movie you learn that there is an asteroid the size of Texas headed our way, and it ends up being up the US to save the entire planet.
    They don’t discuss the situation with any other nation, or show us any of their leaders, but when it comes to the sad emotionally provoking montages you get to see thousands of people praying in front of significant monuments in other countries.
    Somehow it is all up to the USA, and naturally they save the day against impossible odds with heroic sacrifices.

    Sweden has perhaps a different self-image? What would you say is typically Swedish?
    The people usually represent the country, and I’ve been told that we are seen as a pretty up-tight people, especially compared to the loud Americans. We don’t talk to strangers; we preferably refrain from even having eye contact with them. We despise public disturbances, and I’ve frequently heard people discussing how we’re mistaken for Switzerland (we have IKEA; we’re not famous for our chocolate).
    However, when we are forced to converse and/or engage in social activities with unknown people a typical Swedish thing is to be polite. Whether or not it comes from the kindness of the individual, a fear of conflict or to avoid further disturbances is irrelevant.
    Despite that the Americans aren’t alone in being overly patriotic, but Sweden’s got a good portion of people here who love professing their affections when it comes to their country.

    Gilla

  5. A lot of American books/movies that I have read or seen tend to portray the Americans as the heroes and tries to persuade the reader to become more sympathetic towards the Americans than it´s counterpart. Even if it might be more attractive for an American audience to watch war movies, for an example, where the Americans are the protagonists instead of the Russians, I still get the impression that Hollywood is trying to avoid showing the negative things Americans do and trying to make them look like superheroes without any flaws.

    In general, Swedish people are not as nationalistic as the Americans. Swedes tend to have a somewhat negative picture of what ”Swedishness” means. I would say that the stereotype Swede would be shy, reserved and quiet. Swedes are more socialist, while Americans are more capitalist.

    Gilla

  6. The Americans try always to show how they live, eat, play and work. They think they are good examples for other people in different country. They try to show how a businessman live and work or how a perfect lady looks like. They show it clearly on Hollywood films, TV shows and books. The president of America says often in Media that USA is the greatest country in the world.
    I think a Swede is quite and not like American people so social and likes to talk. Sweden is also a more socialist country which tries to help all population of the country but America is a nationalist and capitalism which doesn’t care much about the population and everybody has to take care of themselves.

    Gilla

  7. The first thing that came to mind is the fact that almost everything on TV, whether it is a movie, TV-show or a TV-series has English as the spoken language. The vast majority of video-games, books and etc. have English as the main language. So basically what I’m trying to say is that America kind of controls everything that has to do with these things.
    Now I’m not entirely sure if it is bad or good, but in my opinion it is a combination of both bad and good. Many amazing movies have been produced and made thanks to the huge industry in America, movies that left marks in people’s lives, as well as maybe even be the entire childhood of some people.
    On the other hand there is the negative side of this whole “Hollywood movies are the best and they should be the only ones that makes it to the public” kind of thought. Movies that we never heard of because of the control America has; movies that maybe would’ve left huge impacts on some people’s life. If that’s the case, which I believe it is, it really is a shame. And we can’t do anything about it, unless you have money because with enough money everything works. Literally.

    Gilla

  8. The US sees itself as special. The Americans feel they have a special role to play in the world.
    How do you see this in film, books and in the News?

    In traditional media America is often depicted as the land of freedom and justice. Some American films show the perfect example of how you should live the American dream. Where someone grows up in or comes to America to live a successful life. Some films show Americans as heroes or saviors. What you can see throughout different media is that

    Sweden has perhaps a different self-image? What would you say is typically Swedish?

    I think that Sweden doesn’t have as much of a nationalistic self-image as America has. Our self-image is more neutral. We see ourselves as the people that don’t want to engage in conflict or take sides in different

    Gilla

  9. The film industry is manly dominated by American movies. Often in the movies the hero is represented by an America and it is often an American who saves the world or solves the unsolvable problems. The American flag and other similar things representing the US can often be found in the movies. Producers of many movies directed to children are American, for example Disney. It is enough by only these movies for the country and the language to become a role model for the child. The news in the US often affect us and many other countries directly, for example economically, therefore the news in the US often becomes as important as news in the country you live in.

    I would not say that Sweden have the same self-image, In Sweden we have “Jantelagen”, which we often strictly follow. However when we compare ourselves with developing countries we tend to show a very high, sometimes even arrogant, attitude. I would say that the typical Swedish self-image is to be polite, to not boast, to not talk to strangers and to always follow the rules, the written ones and the non-written.

    Gilla

  10. The film industry is manly dominated by American movies. Often in the movies the hero is represented by an America and it is often an American who saves the world or solves the unsolvable problems. The American flag and other similar things representing the US can often be found in the movies. Producers of many movies directed to children are American, for example Disney. It is enough by only these movies for the country and the language to become a role model for the child. The news in the US often affect us and many other countries directly, for example economically, therefore the news in the US often becomes as important as news in the country you live in.

    I would not say that Sweden have the same self-image, In Sweden we have “Jantelagen”, which we often strictly follow. However when we compare ourselves with developing countries we tend to show a very high, sometimes even arrogant, attitude. I would say that the typical Swedish self-image is to be polite, to not boast, to not talk to strangers and to always follow the rules, the written ones and the non-written.

    Gilla

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