It’s called the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.
– George Carlin, Owners of This Country
The American Dream is a bizarre paradox that holds the weight of American success. It works, sometimes. It allows the forlorn to hope, the dejected to dream, the downhearted to act, and the achievers to stress. The American Dream insists that the status quo is indeed not enough, that there is more, and that if you don’t get that more you’ve failed yourself and your society.
But what is that more? When have you attained it?
The answer to the second question is simple: You can’t. You can’t attain it, because you can’t define it. And you can’t define it, because as soon as you’ve defined the American Dream you’ve lost it.
So we fight a blind battle, searching and lusting for something more, something else, something better… We obtain the better, we get the more, but only to find another better and another more lies just down the road.
We try to make something of ourselves, something great, something big. A name, or recognition. Something, anything. Anything that will leave our own unique mark on the planet; anything that will allow us to feel like we haven’t wasted our life. We don’t know who we are, so we attempt to follow those who, in our minds, have achieved the American Dream. Perhaps becoming the next American Idol? Thousands upon thousands of people were shown last week on national TV attempting to be just that. The catch? Most of them can’t sing. Have they failed in the American Dream? Or a better question…Can you win the American Dream? No. No, you can’t.
I imagine if you walked up to previous American Idols and asked them if they’ve succeeded in life, completed all their goals, and feel completely content with where their life is at they’ll answer “no.” There’s always something on the horizon, something new and better. A carrot dangling on a stick just inches out of reach, and no matter how far you go it’s never far enough, the carrot’s still there, still just out of reach.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Success has become the postmodern Law. Much like what the Biblical Old Testament Law gave many of the Israelites, success gives us purpose and motivation. Most of us, like the Old Testament spiritual leaders with the Law, define ourselves by our success compared to that of others.
But just like Israel did with the Law, we again miss the point. In a society where self-help books have their own section in Borders and Joel Osteen can get millions to watch him speak, where supermodels starve themselves and still need to be photoshopped, and where our millionaire stars check themselves into rehabs; we’ve obviously never been able to beat the American Dream.
But maybe, just maybe, we’re not supposed to.