David Kamp thinks we need to rethink the meaning of the “American Dream.” In a great article in the recent Vanity Fair, he traces the history of this idea from Puritans to the Declaration of Independence to the settlement of the West to Woodrow Wilson to FDR to Norman Rockwell to Levittown to television families of the 1950s to Laguna Beach and The Hills. The piece also reproduces some great photographs.
The American Dream should require hard work, but it should not require 80-hour workweeks and parents who never see their kids from across the dinner table. The American Dream should entail a first-rate education for every child, but not an education that leaves no extra time for the actual enjoyment of childhood. The American Dream should accommodate the goal of home ownership, but without imposing a lifelong burden of unmeetable debt. Above all, the American Dream should be embraced as the unique sense of possibility that this country gives its citizens—the decent chance, as Moss Hart would say, to scale the walls and achieve what you wish.