How to understand the American Dream in 20 minutes

I’m just gathering all my notes on Of Mice and Men to put into an ebook and I struggle to sum up 500 years of history as well as the notion of the American Dream in order to help people really understand the patriotism at work. I’ve picked out five songs which I thought I’d share, in order of writing, to help you get a sound picture of America and so you can understand a little more about what the American Dream entails.

The Star-Spangled Banner, 1815.

 

My Country, Tis of Thee, 1831.

 

America The Beautiful, 1895.

 

The Stars and Stripes Forever, 1896.

 

God Bless America, 1918.

 

This Land is Your Land, 1945

That’s a kind of tour of the patriotic songs that drive the American Dream. Just listen to them and pick out ten or so key words. I’m sure you’ll be overdosing on freedom and bravery and liberty and equality and being God’s chosen land.

So where did it all go wrong?

I think that’s another one that a few American bands can clarify.

Well to start us off, it’s that man Bruce again with Born in the USA, a satirical account of life in the USA.

Now here’s Green Day with American Idiot

Eminem’s White America

Dead Kennedys California Uber Alles

And finally, Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers…

I think you can see from these that something happened in the United States between the last of those patriotic songs in 1940 and the first mainstream protest songs of the 60s and 70s. There are lots of reasons why this is. But I think people had started to wake up to the American Dream and realise that for the majority, it didn’t quite work out. There is often a colossal sense of disillusionment and frustration at the racism that still exists in much of the country. There is still massive poverty, problems with unemployment and issues with illiteracy.

Perhaps, as comedian George Carlin says: “That’s why they call it the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

And, more critically, as civil rights activist Malcolm X said: “I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream–I see an American nightmare.”

I would say there were many undercurrents of criticism already in existence. John Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men is one text that tells you to refuse to believe in the dream, as it leaves you nothing but grief and pain from promised joy. It’s a big theme of Steinbeck’s writing that he feels the paradise that America is supposed to be is in fact a Paradise Lost – a paradise that can never happen. I think the songs give a good indication of both sides of the argument: American Dream or American Nightmare.

Hopefully, this will give you a bit of background behind the patriotism, the belief in the Dream and what some people see as the reality of America. I will upload links and excerpts to my new ebook over the next month or so, but I hope these 10 tracks will give you a sound-image that will help your understanding of the novel.

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