"History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time – and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened."
-- Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, 1971 (from 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas')
I am now three weeks into my final year of college for what seems like the third of fourth time, and it doesn't seem to get any easier. You'd think that after seven or eight years of this shit, I'd be at more of an advantage, but that's not the case. I am trapped in the American Nightmare, the American Dream gone terribly awry.
The thing about the American Dream is, everyone wants a piece, so therefore the world is a more complicated and competitive place to live in. We're not just competing amongst ourselves anymore, but with the rest of the world. We live in an America without borders, without limits, without a chance. But that's okay with me. I had my shot and now it's someone else's turn to try and do what I failed to do three times prior.
I'll just do what everyone else has done when the going gets tough. I'll just plug in and drop out. I'll become some anonymous avatar, so caught up in my own individualism and so impressed with my self-expression that I conform to the crowd without even realizing it. I'll be that rebel who had the balls to face "the man," tell him to fuck off, and to cram that American Dream right up his ass. Yeah, I'll be that guy, just like every other drop-out. Good luck to the rest of you. Most of you will be down here with me sooner or later, so dream big while you still can.
So what happened anyway? Where did we go wrong? Did we really think that we could take on the whole world and come out unscathed? I think that we failed to realize what the American Dream means nowadays. The American Dream isn't something that can be taken, at least not anymore. It can only be given, and then only to a select few. You either have to be very rich, like some Beverly Hills valley-girl heiress, or very poor and a minority, the type of person the Affirmative Action crowd likes to place up on a pedestal.
Otherwise, it would feel broken and irrelevant. It's cool, though. I understand. I get it. It's one part hard work, one part luck, and three parts good, old-fashioned political correctness (or privilege, if you happen to fall into the first category). But it also has to maintain the illusion that it's somehow attainable to anyone who wants it bad enough. That's why we have college and other institutions of higher learning. They're around only to make people think that they're really going for it, that they're going to get the big house, the luxury car, and they trophy wife if they do their work right. The great irony is, 9 times out of 10, the folks who graduate from college fail to reach their goals of fame and fortune and remain in the same socio-economic status as before. In a way, that has become the new American Dream, to maintain the status quo and let the better, more qualified people do all the hard work. Live in a nice house, but not too nice; drive an affordable car, but not too expensive; marry a nice girl, but one who's not too attractive (because all the hot girls are either too bitchy, too high-maintenence, or both). Bring home a girl who's just like mom. Shoot for the middle and hope for the best. Just as long as I have the freedom to express myself and live a pleasant life, I'll be happy.
Not that I believe in absolutes. You know what I think? Fuck 'em. Fuck 'em all. Fuck the system, fuck "the man," and fuck anyone who gets in my way. Who needs the American Dream anyway? Every man for himself and everyone else be damned. Why should I suffer just because some loathesome prick wasn't hugged enough as a kid? Or because someone's great-great grandfather couldn't get a break? Or because my grandfather wasn't Conrad Fucking Hilton? The American Dream may be dead, but the American spirit hasn't been broken, at least not beyond repair. Who gives a shit if I have to step on someone else's toes in order to get ahead? Perhaps my views are a bit Macchiavellian for today's polite and PC society, but maybe Macchiavelli was onto something. There's a reason why he's endured for so long.
Ten years ago, the United States was at the height of its power, and everyone within and outside its borders marvelled at its greatness. Only in America could the leader of an entire nation get a blowjob in the most tightly secure office in the world, lie under oath about it, and get off scott-free. That's power you can't buy, and the great irony in all that was that the guy's reputation actually rose in public opinion. People actually envied the bastard, not because he got his dick sucked by some overweight intern, but because he, "The Man," faced down an entire legion of blood-sucking lawyers out to get him, looked every American family straight in the eyes, lied about said blowjob in a wink-wink/nudge-nudge sort of way, and, in the slickest possible way, brought himself down to our level without sacrificing one iota of his power. He was no longer "The Man" in the Orwellian sense, but "The Man" in the grand and affectionate sense. As in, "You da man, home boy!" He was no longer just the leader of the free world, but our friend, our ally, one of us. Before that, he was just another corn-fed, All-American Arkansas white boy, a guy who "smoked pot, but never inhaled," and whose wife was the quintessential "ball and chain" that every man fears hooking up with. But no more. No more.
When he left the White House, the country was never the same. The dream was gone. Our man, a President not of the people, but one of the people, the legendary lothario, the smoothest motherfucker ever elected to the highest position in American politics was gone, and all that was left was the ball and chain. And with him went all the fun, all the color, all the flair that represented American politics for at least the last 3 years, maybe even the last 8. Adios Slick Willy and hola Mr. Dubya.
Then it was all business as usual. Life was still seemingly good, but people were ready for a change, or at least 49.9% of people were. 50.1% of us kinda-sorta wanted to put up the appearance of consistency, but that wasn't enough to stop the change. The next President won the election without winning the popular vote, which was fine for about ten seconds maybe, but then there was a backlash that would define the political landscape of our country from then on. The folks who wanted Al Gore to be President just couldn't seem to move on, even though some of them created a website devoted to just that. But ironically, even they couldn't. The nation was split, and no amount of trying to smooth things over could change that.
Admittedly, Al Gore, even though he was Bill Clinton's vice-president, was never going to be a suitable replacement. Where Clinton was fun and interesting, Gore was the exact polar opposite, the typical dry and boring politician. And Bush, in a way, was closer to Clinton than people might imagine. Bush, like Clinton, was a character, entertaining to watch and even more entertaining to haze. But while Clinton took the hazing in stride, Bush took it like the fraternity initiate who attends Rush Week and doesn't make the cut. He was totally out of his element, and people loved it. The more shit everyone dished his way, the more flustered he got. The guy was nervous, inarticulate, and had no idea how to fit in. And I suppose that a lot of people found him endearing, not quite one of us, but colorful and interesting all the same. An easy target at the very least, but more than that, a guy onto which we could channel all our anger and all our frustration, just to see how he took it. And in the process, everyone was saying, "Let's see just how stupid we can make this guy look."
And that, in the end, was our undoing. The fact of the matter was, for every person who hated the guy, there was at least one other person who loved him with equal intensity. And therein lay our destruction. A house divided among itself cannot stand. The entire system collapsed on us like a shitstorm in a fan factory. Our world was blowing up all around us and nobody could agree on the right course of action to take. And since we'd already done such an admirable job of making our President look like the world's biggest dumbass, the world could no longer take us seriously.
Which brings us back to the American Nightmare. The American way of life is still basically the envy of the entire world, but it doesn't mean what it used to anymore. People don't have to leave their homes or their countries anymore in order to experience the American Dream. It's one of our primary exports. People may hate America, but they love the American way of life. However, when the look at us, and I mean really look closely, like under a microscope, they see a nation of extremes. A nation of spoiled whiners. They see a country without gray areas, a country with a "you're either with us or against us" mentality. You're either one of us, or you're not. You're either rich or poor; white or black; religious or atheist; victimizer or victim; straight or gay; man or woman; pro-life or pro-choice; pro-war or anti-war; dumb or smart; Republican or Democrat; this or that, and where you stand determines whether or not you belong in our club. Now, I don't personally subscribe to this line of thinking, but that seems to be the direction we're going in, whether we want to admit it or not.
In America, the American Dream has become attainable only to those in one club (the ones who reside at the proverbial bottom), and if you meet even one requirement on the other club's checklist, you're out. According to the PC police, you're already there, so why not give someone else a chance, whether they deserve it or not? Haven't you kept them down long enough? If you're disenfranchised in another way, we'll go to bat for you, but you can never fully taste the fruits of the American Dream. That dream died back in the '90s. Get with the program and welcome to the new millenium. Things are changing. Progress is coming. Go with the flow. Don't fight it. Once you get used to it, you'll agree. Life is better now.