You see, the American dream isn’t actually everyone’s dream. It was concocted by a bunch of white, male slaver-owners who claimed they wanted justice, liberty, and that pursuit of happiness (or property) for all. It’s been fed to me at every turn, and I believed it.
Ever since World War II – Everybody’s wanted to be American, the Japanese, the French, the Russians, even the Canadians, and especially me. Why? Because they’ve established this dream. Why? Because they’ve had more success. Why? Because they stayed out of a war they felt was none of their business for three years while the rest of the world had a complete breakdown. Because let’s face it, that’s what war is – a complete breakdown of civilization. In war everything is backwards – instead of instinctively avoiding pain, men are trained to seek it. In most of the countries involved – its people didn’t want to fight. No one really wants to fight – not unless they’re insane, or buying into a myth of patriotism.
So the Americans became a super power, with the only surviving large economy in the world. All the while, Hollywood became stronger, and stronger, and stronger, and for years it’s become this odd kind of mythical standard, to which we all aspire. For years I wanted to get to Hollywood. I wanted to live the dream. I wanted to be among those who made the dream strong.
Why is that coming out of me now? I don’t know. Nine years ago, an old film prof gave a class on myth and ideology, but I didn’t get it back then. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it. To be honest, I didn’t get most of what was taught to me by my Film studies BA, and I think it’s because my mind was too isolated from the proper contexts to truly understand. Or maybe when I was 20, I was just really stupid, but I don’t think so. Maybe I was too caught up in my dreams of becoming a Hollywood Hero to want to break it down.
A few days ago, my mother told me, “I didn’t get my appointment again.” I didn’t ever know she was still trying to become a judge again, but I was sorry just the same. They got their woman judge for now, from among the defenders. And she’s really waspy and tough. The next appointment might not be for years, and then they’ll want a crown attorney. I’m paraphrasing somewhat, of course.
Now the US has a black president, and the myth is stronger than ever. Now more than ever, people seem to believe that if you work hard, you can persevere, and achieve your goal. But for every success story, there must be at least a thousand failures, or at least, a thousand tales of compromise and acceptance of something far less that you’d originally dreamed. Perhaps my mother and I are realizing this at the same time, or perhaps we already knew – but we were happier in denial.
My dream has been shrinking every year. When I was ten, I figured I’d be something awesome, like the prime minister or maybe a movie star or something, and then I got to be the lead in my school musical. Big deal, so what, who cares? In my teens, I decided I wanted to write, direct and star in movies. And I really did make a few, but once my Film BA finished, I was still a nobody, and I was still in Canada. At 23, I figured I could write the next great screenplay, and dash off to Hollywood and woo them all with my brilliant plots and witty dialogue. I studied screenwriting for a year, and I really did get good at the form, but I didn’t know anything of real substance – so I moved to Toronto, wrote a few mediocre screenplays, made very little money, and my worthlessness continued. But at least I had a girlfriend, and she believed in me. And I still had this dream of having children.
It was all myth, and it was my myth that I’d written for myself, but now I feel like everybody knew it was a myth, except for me. Now I’m 29, I live with my parents, and I know I’m a big joke to everyone – because that’s what we all do, isn’t it. That’s also part of the myth. We make our failures feel bad about themselves. We teach our children to fear failure. I still have a haunting memory, at age eight, of my dad telling me that if I didn’t do my homework, I’d be a loser with a shitty job, or no job, married to “a fat mattress of a woman.” On one hand, I can appreciate he was trying to help push me toward success, like his scary dad did to him, but that again, I never responded well to scare tactics. Their effect was always the same. As a child, I’d shut down, and now, as an adult, I retaliate. The homework kept piling up, and I was still expected to do it all, and it became terribly daunting. “Everyone else did theirs,” they told me. “Everyone else has a job. I got one.” they tell me now, and of course, if you really look around, it isn’t true at all. It’s a myth. I know lots of people who don’t work, can’t find work, and/or settle for low-wage jobs they can’t even retire from. The homework assignments were stupid and meaningless, and we all knew it. It’s easy for those with government jobs to criticize the rest in this town. They think guys like me are lazy, stupid, and a drain on the economy, and funnily enough, that’s exactly how I feel about them too. They’re actually paid to sit around and do nothing. I’m not.
We were all born indentured to our ancestors – to the extent that our entire reality is constructed to keep us from really understanding that. I’m not saying we shouldn’t work. I’m not saying I shouldn’t work either, but given the current structure of society, simply putting on an apron and going out to a job I hate, making minimum wage to prepare food for lazy investors who do nothing all day, and civil servants who do nothing of particular value to society all day, who spit on me, or call me lazy, is no way to live. Now it’s no longer whites doing it to blacks, or men to women, but we’re still doing it to each other. Now we perpetuate the myth that if you work hard, you can change that, but it’s a lie – and those who profit need you to believe that lie, so they can continue to collect their dividends, and their pensions, and so that people like me, can’t. And they’ll lie to you as long as they can, because they’re callous, ignorant, lazy, and satisfied, as long as you keep calling them sir, bringing them a plate, and cleaning the toilet after they’ve pissed all over the seat. (And yes, I’ve had jobs just like this.) And they say “If you don’t like it, go to college.” I’ve been to college. It’ll be three times when I finish this English degree. It’s a lie.
The other day, my folks told me that more years spent in school only translates to marginal increases in salary, statistically speaking, and that a Masters and PhD actually loses money in the long run. Of course, this isn’t exactly true – I mean, it may well be technically true – but it isn’t the correct way to think about it. You see, today, I really feel like I’m on the verge of something with this degree, but it has nothing to do with my personal success, and I think that’s okay. I’m tired of it all being about money. I am tired of people telling me to succeed, without really knowing how – just trying to get me to be neurotic about my current state, by telling me their own stupid story about how they essentially lucked into a job, thirty years ago, or fifty years ago, as if these tale bore any resemblance to useful information.
What I’m getting from this is knowledge, not money. But really, what got us all to where we are today is knowledge, not money. Well, money had its hand in it I suppose, but for the first time, I’m in university actually enjoying what I’m learning. I’m actually interested in what I’m learning. I’m enjoying studying the American authors who spoke out about the myth, even if they may not have fully understood it themselves – the implications are all there, in their writing.
Ironically, in becoming the mouthpieces of dissent in their respective generations, they too, became part of the myth. That’s okay. That doesn’t make them wrong, and it doesn’t make them hypocrites. It just makes them pragmatists and opportunists. And that’s okay. Maybe Professor B, the woman who opened my eyes to this myth, is also part of it. She’s got a sweet job, and she can skip off to Florida for a week and have a PhD student fill in for her, while she gets a sweet tan. And that’s okay. And maybe I’ll even find a cozy position someday, and succumb to the dream, and that will be okay. Heck, that’s what everyone else around me insists they want for me too. But I mustn’t ever forget this responsibility that we all have, to deconstruct this dream – and if I do, I’m going to need someone to remind me, or the cycle will never be broken. Until it’s a dream all people have a fighting chance at sharing, it’s nothing. It’s false hope, and I’ve never had any patience for false hope. Not when I know that there’s real hope.