Friday, June 27, 2008

The American Dream

When I say the American Dream, I don't mean the one about owning a house in the suburb, with 2.5 children and a minivan.

What I mean is that distinctly American belief that things work themselves out.

Perhaps this unabashed optimism isn't unique to the United States. I couldn't say, as I have never been outside the U.S. But I do notice that even the most cynical Americans I know, when faced with an impossible problem, shrug on occasion and say, "It'll all work out."

I found myself believing the exact same thing in spite of there being no evidence I would be able to pay the rent. In spite of rejection, in spite of everything that's gone wrong this month, I still believed things would work out. Why? I'm not a Believer. In the last few years, I've generally become an atheist.

I once saw, on the Sopranos a scene where the MC and a Russian woman had sex. (The scene was the afterglow.) The Russian woman had one leg. The MC (Tony Soprano) was impressed with this woman's ability to figure out how to build her own website. "You lose a leg, you start makin' websites," he said, in typical American fashion, as if making websites somehow served as an inspiration to him. Her reply was interesting. "Is that what you think? You think people like me exist to inspire people like you? You Americans always expect something good to happen. The rest of the world expects something bad to happen, and they're not wrong."

That struck me as a timeless truth.

And yet, it did work out, as it always seems to. I've got rent, bills, and a good start on next month's rent.

What do you think? Do you think Americans could do with some healthy cynicism?

EDIT: Whenever things go really wrong, I start to hum that awful tune from American Splendor. "Where is my American Splendor, in a world that's cloudy and grey . . . " People hardly ever get the joke, but I guess you have to see the movie to get it. Then again, I must admit I have a very strange sense of humor. Not as strange as Arlyle's, but strange.


Robin S. said...

That last line of yours gave me a good grin!

Whirlochre said...

I have no idea whether Americans are any more optimistic than anyone else, but in terms of what the future holds generally, it seems to me to be better to believe that things will turn out than that they won't. The gnashing of teeth is no preparation for anything — especially if it does in fact turn out to be bad.

Having said that, the rent swirls overhead following the same cycle as the moon but looking distinctly blacker and more vulture-like and it's difficult to deny its long shadow sometimes. But I haven't been pecked to death yet.

fairyhedgehog said...

WO has said it so much more effectively than I can, as usual.

I do think that being an optimist is healthy. When you're right and things turn out well, you haven't spent useless time agonising about them going wrong. When things go wrong, agonising wouldn't have helped anyway in all probability.

I think I'm half way between the two. I do worry needlessly about health: every pain, itch or cough is surely a sign of cancer. I don't worry about money though, I'm always convinced we'll have enough. If I could find a way to take the same attitude to health I'd probably be a lot healthier.

freddie said...

Robin - ; )

WO - You're right. And that's a conclusion I've had to grow into in my own life. The only dark side to that is when that optimism turns into lazy optimism. I meet a lot of Americans who still think America is numero uno on health issues, and we are SO not. Our infant mortality rate rivals third world countries. That kind of optimism bothers me. Except I guess that's not optimism, but self-delusion.

I love your comparison of the rent to the lunar cycle. You're really good, you know that?

FHH - I too am a worry wort when it comes to my health. Bad health runs in my family. But I gotta say since I've been more disciplined about the yoga, it's done wonders for my peace of mind. Mostly I just worry about my ears anymore, but I try to keep up on my supplements—which are known to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.