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The American Dream: Western Society's Perspective of Success

Media Assignment #2 - Will Brown - MDSA01 - UTSC
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Will Brown

on 4 December 2012

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Transcript of The American Dream: Western Society's Perspective of Success

Media Assignment #2 - Will Brown -
MDSA01 - UTSC The American Dream: Western Society's Perspective of Success Cultural Analysis Rhetorical Analysis Marxist Analysis So what? In today's western society, people have many similar goals. One most common goal is success. So often the image of success is portrayed in an economic sense. Fortune, capital, seniority and respect are some of the aspirations among men, women and children in North America and beyond. These goals can be linked to the American Dream - traditional social ideals, such as equality, democracy and material prosperity. In this analytic essay, the concept of the American Dream will be broken down and applied to various critical media studies theories, which will create an understanding of how social classes behave in western media using cultural analysis, rhetorical analysis, and Marxist analysis. Presented by: Will Brown
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Introduction to Media Studies
MDSA01: Michael Petit The American dream: western society’s perspective of success The Image of Success What is the American Dream? Is it just an ideology or an unnoticed truth in the eyes of today's global workforce? Authors Brian Ott and Robert Mack describe the American Dream as an idea that a person's success is related to the effort and drive they put forth in attaining a specific goal (2010). It is said that money cannot buy happiness. With today's economy, lots of people may question that statement. Happiness is wrongfully linked to success, and as a result, material goods have given people a sense of accomplishment and pride. Ott and Mack explain how conspicuous consumption challenges the role of happiness in comparison to money: "[Conspicuous consumption] is the belief that one can attain the kind of happiness or completeness often conceived of as upper class through the purchase of material goods and services" (Ott and Mack, 2010, p. 137). There is no doubt that people can be greedy, selfish and individually motivated as a result of acquiring wealth, but this statement introduces a new concept. Shift Cultural The cultural revelation now seems to be that happiness and love can be attained with our possessions, instead of our family and friends. This is an ultimate shift in our culture as the need for money has become so apparent due to the falling economy, particularly in the United States. "Culture is simply what human beings produce and the means by which we preserve what we have produced" (Ott & Mack, 2010, p. 124). Michael Richardson's previous statement reveals the change we are beginning to see. People in this era believe that their success comes from the amount of material possessions they have, and that when you buy more, you are worth more. This need for possessions has also caused a division of social classes in American society and some other countries around the world. Ott and Mack state that the wealthiest 1% of American households controlled a larger share of national wealth than the entire bottom 90% (2010). In the eyes of the bottom 90%, American citizens who are able to afford more are happier than they are. Should they be? There is nothing wrong with saying that having money can help solve problems like debt, but does more money means less problems? According to Brian Kim (2008),
"Some people may say that only those who don’t have any money declare that more money leads to more problems in order to justify themselves for not having any but ironically, it’s the people who say that money can solve all problems that don’t have any" (The Meaning Behind "More Money, More Problems", para. 6). The previous statement shows how money impacts our thoughts, opinions and beliefs. In general, people who are richer have a much different lifestyle than those who are less wealthy, but it is debatable to say that life is any easier for those with a higher income. Since both sides of the "wealth spectrum" will never fully understand the position of the other, without experiencing it first-hand, the division of classes remains. "As such, the ideology of conspicuous consumption works hegemonically to blind the majority of Americans from realizing what true upper-class wealth looks like. This is turn works to solidify class distinctions" (Ott & Mack, 2010, p. 138). It is not only American citizens who have been blinded by the belief of the "American Dream." For citizens of western societies and economies, the hope of being successful and wealthy remains a dream, and may always be. Not everyone will be as wealthy as another, even with the right drive and effort. It is important that we cling to what matters most: the journey we take to understanding the love we find from fellowship with family and friends. It is there that you will find true happiness. But even in this people can be robbed of these basic needs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_hPnCz-CVQ What things come to mind when you think of the United States of America? Some of these include freedom, abundance, democracy, diversity, and strength. These and other adjectives promote America in a lot of different ways. There are also arguable negative connotations: debt, crime, division (racial, cultural, etc.), misinformed, corruption. The media has mislead those who believe America is a positive and healthy country without flaws. Too many people, including Americans, do not understand that is so much more than meets the eye. While this may be in part to patriotism, rhetorical analysis helps identify why people think the way they do about America: "Rhetorical scholars of the media analyze texts for the ways they encourage audiences to inhabit certain moods, believe certain ideas, or undertake certain actions" (Ott & Mack, 2010, p. 99). This analysis works to identify how media influences and persuades consumers and/or citizens in particular ways. To many Americans, these charts are just figures and numbers. But they are much more than that. These statistics are proof that the United States, despite the high debt and crime rates, has convinced its citizens and others globally how great and powerful they are. Of course they thrive in many other areas, but they have also hidden the negatives from society. The American Dream was established on the belief that if you went to live in America, you would be successful. People believe this because of the way the media has portrayed the country and its lifestyle. In addition, they are considered to be the "international superpower." America excels in various business sectors like natural resources, infrastructure and information technology. They have promoted this broadly very well. Consequently, many social classes, both domestic and foreign, have bought into the belief of the American Dream. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcfbdiiEQDM Since the country’s birth, American citizens have demonstrated incredible patriotism. While this is a loyal act, sometimes it can be misinterpreted as superiority. Western media has helped build this attitude by enforcing the belief that the United States is the greatest and most successful country in the world. Foreigners know that these media messages are undeniably persuasive, simply because all media products are rhetorical; rhetoric refers to the ability to see the available means of persuasion (Ott & Mack, 2010). People who pursue the American Dream are expected to conform to American culture. Western media will make others believe what they believe because of the influence that America has across the globe. The American Dream is also relative to the theory of Marxism. Ott and Mack explain that the main idea of Marxist analysis is that the underlying economic structure of a society determines class structure (2010). As we have already learned, the idea of the American Dream deals in large to the importance of the economy (material possessions) and how wealth defines the status of citizens. "Marxism, then, holds that social consciousness, as encoded in institutions such as culture, religion, education, politics, and the judicial system, reflects or mirrors the material conditions of society, which he termed the economic base" (Ott & Mack, 2010, p. 22-23). Despite the fact that this theory/movement was collaborated in the 1800s, the concept of the American Dream is still relevant in today's society. Historical materialism, a term used to describe the underlying method of Marxism, also indicates how the material world precedes human thought. Essentially, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels came to the conclusion that as humans, we rely on economic and material abundance to "maintain consciousness." The American Dream, although different in some ways, is very similar to the ideologies of this theory. While citizens, who Marx and Engels refer to as consumers, earnestly seek success, they fail to realize the amount of effort they put into a specific job for personal economic stability. They produce and they spend but for what? Temporary satisfaction that is eventually damaged, destroyed or revoked. "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness" (Marx, 1994, p. 211). Marxist analysis provides the foundation for which we now call the pursuit of the American Dream. As a result of our greed and desire for success, we sometimes behave irresponsibly, and because of this we lose sight of what should really matter to us: our social and cultural consciousness. The American Dream may not provide the happiness that humans long for, because possessions are temporary. The love and comfort we find in family, friends, art, religion, and more leave a lasting impact that is more than material value. What does all of this mean? Why is it important? As a society, much of our lives revolves around being successful. Success has been wrongly connected to the economic realm of society, which may leave citizens and consumers eager and selfish to own and control. The American Dream has created a desire of material possessions that has divided the classes of society we now see today - the wealthy, the middle class, and the poor. The American Dream began as a mechanism for encouraging the building and supporting of today's workforce, so that goals could be established and met. This paper has proven how the analysis and connections to various critical media studies theories have altered the perspective of society. The American Dream has negatively impacted the behaviour of social classes around the world socially, culturally and economically. Works Cited Kim, Brian (2008, March 27). "The Meaning Behind "More Money, More Problems.“ Web. Retrieved from http://briankim.net/blog/2008/03/the-meaning-behind-more- money-more-problems/

Marx, Karl (1994). Selected Writings. Ed. Lawrence H. Simon. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.

Ott, Brian L., and Robert L. Mack (2010). Critical Media Studies: An Introduction. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell
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