The concept of the great American dream is one that has been constantly evolving since the beginning of this nation. As a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures, America has represented a place where hard work and dedication can achieve great things. Everyone can climb the ladder of success if they only put in the time and effort. While this principle may still be true, America has slipped into an opposite mentality; a mentality of entitlement.
In the “Leave it to Beaver” television show of the 1950s, family, values and honest hard work to earn a living were emphasized. Upon graduating from high school, many young adults would buy the small home they could afford, and seek to find a job to pay their expenses.
According to Associated Content, for many people in the early 1950’s, the American dream involved an “affordable single family house, good schools, and a safe, healthy environment for children, and congenial neighbors just like themselves.” Although there were many disadvantages of the time, the expectations of citizens were relatively realistic, simple, and achievable. Overall, the lifestyle was modest, but people were content.
However, since the era of moderation, America has transformed into a country of excess. Contentment has been replaced with dissatisfaction. Home buyers no longer choose homes they can afford, but live beyond their means to reside in mansions. The average square footage of a new single-family home went from 983 sq. ft. in 1950 to 2,349 sq. ft. in 2004, according to the National Association of Home Builders (Housing Facts, Figures and Trends for March 2006). Everyone is privileged, everyone deserves the best and no one is willing to settle. All school children get a ribbon for their “good effort” and all are taught that they could one day live the life of the rich and famous. With top rated competitive shows like “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent,” the public is flooded with messages about being the best, and achieving wealth and fame quick; the easy way.
This mindset has led to a nation of discontented individuals, and a culture of complaint. With unrealistic goals of being billionaires and “having it all” comes disappointment and depression when those dreams are never fulfilled. While Americans seem fixated on the pursuit of happiness, the expectation is that money and power provide that happiness and should be handed out on silver platters. There is no responsibility for mistakes, or accountability for actions; someone else is always to blame.
This attitude of entitlement rejects the very groundwork of American principles which is patterned on respect for the common individual and hard work. The dream of America should be one of finding joy in the simplicities of life and working hard to accomplish respect. The simple desire for a small house with a white picket fence has become “I want to be a billionaire so freaking bad,” the lyrics of the hit song “Billionaire” by Travie McCoy. While aspirations are good, we need to be realistic. The ladder of success is still in place, we just have to return to putting in the work to climb the rungs to the top. No one wants to be the first to sacrifice, but for America to return to greatness, we need to rediscover the work ethic of the 1950’s, which maybe wasn’t so bad after all.