Amusing Ourselves to Obscurity


I've been reading a surprisingly heady book, Homer Simpson Goes to Washington: American Politics through American Culture, edited by Joseph Foy. It is a collection of essay, some of which look closely at the cultural and political debates that arise in The Simpsons.

While it is amusing at one level, the essayists, would argue, The Simpsons are not a mindless amusement as such. One essay in particular concluded by looking at the assumptions of the American Dream held by the members of the Simpson's household. One essay in particular seemed to drive at our current socio-emotional malaise, which demonstrates itself in our current economic plight. The third essay of the book, "Political Culture and Public Opinion", by J. Michael Bitzer is striking for its present applications.

The work of James Truslow Adams is cited in analyzing the notion or the reality of the American Dream. Interesting to note is that his study took place at the beginning of the Great Depression, publised in 1932. It would also make one wonder if amusing ourselves with a mindless pursuit of the American Dream might mitigate toward a depression, or a grand recession. James T. Adams writes: "There has been the Ameriican Dream, that dream of a land in which life should become fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or acheivement." But noting the conflicting realitiy of classism, he continuted, "those on top, financially, intellectually, or otherwise, have got to devote themselves to the Great Society, and those who are below in the scale have got to strive to rise, not merely economically, but culturally. We cannot become a great democracy by giving ourselves up as individuals to selfishness, physical comfort, and cheap amusements."

With those last lines, I wonder if we've lost sight of an American Dream that is worth dreaming about? While there's a pull in public education to become culturally more sensitive and strive "upward" by challenging thinkers, is there a similar trend among the "have-made-it" crowd to become sensitive toward those that are "below?" While James T Adams indicated in 1932 a two-way flow toward a meeting in the middle, we seem to thing the middle is not the meeting ground of the American Dream. If it is not, then the "dream" is only attainable to a certain class. But, at the same time, is there a acquiesence to the elusiveness of the dream. If we never can attain the American Dream, can we just lower our sights a bit and just be happy where we are. In this scenario, it seems that we become slaves to the marketers who will define happiness for us. In James T Adams words, "by giving ourselves up... to selfishness, physical comfort, and cheap amusements."

In conclusion, the essay quotes de Tocqueville,

In democratic peoples, men easily obtain a certain equality; they cannot attain the equality they desire. It retreats before them daily but without ever evading their regard, and, when it withdraws, it attracts them in pursuit. They constantly believe they are going to seize it, and it constantly escapes their grasp. They see it from near enough to know its charms, they do not approach it close enough to enjoy it, and they die before having fully savored its sweetness.

Perhaps, not only is de Tocqueville correct, but is describing a healthy disregard for simple satisfaction of attainment.

Just a thought...