Every American is more or less familiar with the concept of the American Dream, yet today, probably none of them agree on what the American Dream really is. Nonetheless, the theme of the American Dream has always been fundamental to the American society. Traditionally, it was the media that introduced the American people to this belief that as long as they worked hard, they were free to pursue prosperity and success, a better life for themselves and their families. For generations, the media has been powering the aspirations and hopes of the American people by present this dream. Initially, the media began by promoting this American Dream for what it was: a plan yet revolutionary idea that every American individual has the right to pursue happiness as a creative drive and a fair ambition. However, over time, the mass media deceptively twisted this very simple notion into powerful consumerist and materialistic notion.
Today, the mass media can be regarded as a part of the same ideological military industrial Establishment, collaborating in the great scheme of brainwashing America through films, the press, and television (Mailer 169). Newspaper editors lie on behalf of those who are in authority and audio/visual mass media is full of nothing but “totalitarian communications.” The conception of reality of the people of today, especially the reality of the American Dream, is being systematically altered by the mass media. Today, Americans may read ten million words in the print media and they may watch ten thousand hours of television, however, the mass media blatantly misapprehends each and every little detail of institutional life that they read about or watch on their TVs. Today, the mass media is not encouraging the people to live the American dream; rather it has become a tool of instructing the nation what to think and what to do.
The mass media of today can be deemed as a dictator of consumer behavior rather than a promoter of the American dream. One example of how the preferences of consumers, who once believed in the American dream, have been affected by mass media is seeing groups of teenagers on the streets dressed like high school children from Hollywood films and television shows. A part of every American wants to believe that the America we see in family television does not exist, but of course, it does, and it has the power to direct the manners and the styles, and also the ideas of America, such as America-is-always-right, cleanliness, conformity. The ideology of the authority continues to seep through everyday commodities, especially through the mass media. By using the mass media to guide the manners and styles of Americans, the Establishment is promoting its conservative and patriotic values that do not even belong in this decade.
The concept of the traditional American Dream was prominently established in the minds of the American people by family dramas and sitcoms. It is clear that the “ideas of America” enforced by the media of today no longer represent the traditional American Dream. Today, the American Dream has become more abstract, and it is no longer as potent as it once was. The mass media may seem harmless but the ideas, values, and ways of viewing the world they are presenting are far from what was once recognized as the American Dream and are powerfully affecting actions and decision in the real lives of Americans, drawing them away from the true American Dream. By the 1960s, mass media had become an everyday commodity in public places and homes. For a long time, media manufactured experiences or “pseudo-events” (Boorstin) have been dominating social reality of America, such that the American Dream is nothing but an American illusion.
Commercial mass media has also been increasingly shaping the perceptions of the American people for a long time. For instance, Coca-Cola, by making use of mass media, has been successful in selling a bottled American identity back to the American people, colonizing ever more space in the United States. So the media has a tendency for self-conscious reflexivity. When assessing the influence of media in changing the American Dream, the entertain industry can also be viewed as a part of the hegemonic machinery. After the 60s, television has been brining nothing but unspoken promises in the guise of the American Dream. In this sense, the entertainment industry and the television can be viewed as an essential tool that maintains the hegemony: as long as the “bottled American identity” and illusionary American Dream manages to satisfy the American people, the power structures shall remain as they are.
Apart from the fact that the entertainment industry and the media are guiding the preferences and tastes of the American people, even news reporting tends to have a misrepresentative nature today. The press is guilty of lying and misrepresenting. In the past twenty years, the press has created a psychology in the average American that has made wars similar to Vietnam possible. The mass media is not only to be accused of changing the American Dream, not only telling the American people what to think, what to wear, rather, it is also to be accused of feeding them view of foreign relations and military operations that the Establishment wants them to have. An example of the fact that America is a power that is built on deceptive or misleading nonsense is the newspaper report that covered the protest at Pentagon. Moreover, this leads to the obvious conclusion that the press are naturally on the side of the authority.
Similarly, when talking about reporters, they can be labeled as the silent assassins of the Republic. Reporters alone have made a major contribution to destroying not only the American Dream but the nation itself, far more than any force within and outside it. It is quite apparent that the media is a section of the Establishment, promoting the Establishment’s views and versions of reality, especially the reality of the American Dream, to the American people. The mass media of today, in the process of pursuing objectivity, quoting sources and relying exclusively on Establishment views fails to present the ideas and nuances that were once a part of the traditional American Dream. The truth is that the reporters of today do not even take the American Dream seriously. In the intellectual world, reporters are nothing but practicing players, and as they go on, they unwittingly work assumptions about the American Dream into their work.
Advertising, which surrounds us everywhere, is another form of mass media that has contributed to the change that has taken place in the traditional American Dream. Advertisements that were once aimed toward giving us information about products are now creating and stimulating a buying public whose demands for an array of goods and services seems never-ending. Today, advertising is shaping the consciousness of the American people and rather than encouraging them to pursue the American Dream, it is telling them what to dream. The concept of the good life that is being provided to the American people of today is not what the American Dream promised them and they are now being told that this is the only good life that is available to them. Contrary to the American Dream, advertising is telling the American people that the only way to achieve happiness, emotional fulfillment, self-satisfaction, freedom, and security is through shopping and acquiring more materialistic goods.
The disappointing fact is that the sales pitch of advertising of making the American people more consumer-oriented is actually working. Unlike the previous generations that were pursuing the traditional American Dream, the generations of the recent years have been growing up in a consumer culture that has been enticing them in different ways. However, it is not surprising that the generations of today are finding it difficult to reach financial stability in adulthood like their parents did who believed in the tradition American Dream and set their sights on pursuing it. While it may not be the mass media’s fault that the generations of today are stuck in a difficult job market, but at the same time, they are also under the burden of loans and debts, especially credit card debt (Draut). The media is definitely to be blamed for this, and drawing them away from the traditional American Dream.
Thanks to the mass media, the traditional American Dream that it once promoted as the pursuit of prosperity and success has now degraded down to merely consuming things. The media has forced the American people to become consumers and their American Dream has become a more of a consumerist dream. It took years for the American Dream to transform into the consumerist notion that it is today and the mass media, which introduced this dream in the first place, played a vital role in bringing about this drastic change. It may seem that the traditional American Dream has consolidated its hold, however, the truth is that the mass media has promoted the slow erosion of the American Dream, slowly pushing it away and shifting it from the very idea it was based on. The change that the mass media has brought in the American Dream has replaced it with nothing but a consumption-oriented notion.
Boorstin, Daniel Joseph. The Image, A Guide To Pseudo-events In America. Vintage, 1992. Print.
Draut, T. Strapped, why america\'s 20- and 30-somethings can't get ahead. Anchor, 2007. Print.
Hoberman, J. The Dream Life: Movies, Media, And The Mythology Of The Sixties. New Press, 2005. Print.
Mailer, Norman. The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History. Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1968. Print.