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Posts Tagged ‘American Dream’

I think Las Vegas is an American icon for several reasons, by Maurane Prezelin.

First of all, money reigns in Las Vegas as money is a very important value in American society. Money is a symbol of success, a symbol of the American Dream. Las Vegas is like the easy way to money, therefore to the American Dream. Moreover, gambling is about always making more money, which is also the main activity in Wall Street, one of America’s biggest symbols. Being in Las Vegas also makes people feel rich with all the luxurious hotels, the limousines and the casinos. In Las Vegas, people feel like they can have the American Dream right here, right now and not after a lifetime of work
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Second of all, I think Las Vegas is symbolic of American History. Indeed, Las Vegas is a relatively new city (it was founded in 1905) as the United States are a relatively new country compared to the European ones. Las Vegas was built in the middle of a desert where there was nothing before and the United States were built on a virgin land. Moreover, famous casinos are inspired from monuments from around the world as the United States’ people have origins from all over the world.

Third of all, Las Vegas is the symbol of a American paradox. Indeed, it is nicknamed “Sin City” and its slogan is “What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas” whereas it is in the middle of a puritan society. The city is famous for gambling and drinking in a country where these activities are still quite frowned upon.

And finally, Las Vegas is represented in many movies and series such as Las Vegas 21, Hangover or Friends. Thanks to these movies, Las Vegas is known around the world as a symbol of one side of the American society.

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In 1964 Muhammad Ali became the World Heavyweight Champion by defeating Sonny Liston. This is the feat that made Ali famous. He was the underdog in this bout. Winning this match meant that Ali achieved the “American Dream.” He took full advantage of “the land of opportunity.” However, the road to success, like most, was not easy for Ali. He changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali after converting from Orthodox to Muslim. He was Black and although that fact alone made living in America more difficult, he was not going to take the ordinary path just to live the so-called “normal lifestyle.” He was different and embraced that fact. Colored, poor, and born in Louisville, Kentucky, the odds off becoming success were slim at best. He had seen and experienced true segregation. He witnessed how segregation affected everyone around him, including friends and family. Ali knew he had to find a way out and boxing was his way. He loved the confidence that boxing gave him and never minded the hard and rigorous training. When people began to follow him, he began to receive more freedom in and out of the ring. This is when he started talking to the press. He expressed his views on anything and everything that was on his mind. He is famous for challenging political issues on live TV. Ali soon became a role model for not only African Americans but for all Americans and fans around the world.

However, one issue that raised a lot of attention was Ali’s Draft Dodging. He publicly protested the war and refused to serve because Vietnamese never did anything to him personally. This caused major controversy. Some people praised him and others resented him. The people that resented him argued that there were a large number of men that did not believe in war or killing, but when their country called, they manned up and many paid the ultimate sacrifice. Those soldiers were, in my opinion, more manly and courageous than Ali, dubbed one of the greatest fighters of all time.

On the other hand, it is an undeniable fact that the years Ali spent in the heavy weight division were spent among the most powerful and fierce men who ever boxed. Sonny Liston, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Jerry Quarry, Floyd Patterson, and Ken Norton are just a few of those men. In 1984, Ali would be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Although Ali formally retired in 1981, this diagnosis would “put the nail in the coffin” of his career. This disease is a neurological disorder, which causes symptoms such as muscle tremors and slowness of speech. This devastating diagnosis caused Americans to fall in love with him all over again. Many felt bad for him due to rapid and polar lifestyle changes he faced. This is love is evident from the audience’s response at the 1996 Summer Olympics, when he carries the Olympic torch and ignites the cauldron to initiate the games.

Ali may be famous for achieving the “American Dream,” but I think he better represents the aftermath of the American Dream. What happens after you achieve the American Dream? Isn’t the American Dream the pinnacle of a person’s life? Why would so many people strive for something that essentially ends their life? What is left to desire when you have accomplished your ultimate goal? Ali was left with an untold amount of physical and mental injuries. He went from being an idol to becoming an invalid. If I could ask Ali one question, I would ask him, “was it worth it?” Is achieving the American Dream worth the fight?

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By Orane Réveiller, Thibault Thierry and Pierre Viau from the University of Angers (France)

Freedom. A very important and powerful word. A strong idea that everyone has in mind! An idea that Edouard de Laboulaye wanted to represent when he first had the idea of the Statue of Liberty in 1865. Indeed, this French politician opposed to slavery supported Lincoln’s ideas but also wanted to convince France not to be too repressive and therefore, the idea of a monument dedicated to Freedom was born.
Gustave Eiffel took the place of Auguste Bartholdi, who was supposed to create this masterpiece at first. And so, from 1880 to July 1884, the statue was assembled in Paris. On June, 17th 1885, the statue arrived disassembled in New York and was finally reassembled on its pedestal on Bedloes Island (aka Liberty Island nowadays) on October, 28th 1886. The event was covered by Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and by The New York Times as well.

This monument has inspired many creations; for example, on the pedestal, one can read a sonnet (The New Colossus) Emma Lazarus wrote about the statue of liberty. Her sonnet depicts the Statue as a symbol of immigration and opportunity. But those two ideas are not the only one the statue of liberty depicts. This is also a symbol for a democratic government, a symbol of independence (July 4th 1776 is written on the tablet), a symbol for the abolition of slavery (broken chains are at its feet) and finally an opening to the world. An opening to the world because the statue faces Europe with which USA shares a common past but also because of its location: Liberty Island is close to Ellis Island, a place where every immigrant has to go through before entering the US.

But not only does Lady Liberty symbolizes freedom and the American Dream, she also represents New York around the world. Miniature Statues of Liberty and crowns are probably the most common gifts bought in the Big Apple. She is so wildly famous that she has appeared in countless movies, from Alfred Hitchcock’s to Michael Bay’s, but also in some video games. She is on the front line of any catastrophes or invasion threatening the East Coast and she most of the time never gets out without a scratch. Not to mention of course all the times she has been parodied in commercials or caricatured.

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By Alexia Gonzales and Camille Grandguillotte, University of Angers

The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of the United States. But if one is asked why the
Statue is an American icon, the answer can be hard to find instantly. In France, most
people see the Statue of Liberty as an emblematic representation of the US and of
New York; but what do they really know about it? That it was built by Gustave Eiffel?
That it was a present from France to the US?

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The Statue of Liberty was indeed a Franco-American project, but it is more than just
that. The iconicity of the Statue of Liberty resides in its first symbolism: the welcoming
of immigrants to the US, to a land of hope and freedom. Nowadays, this symbolism is
a little lost because immigrants don’t necessarily arrive to the New York harbor, but
one of the first “roles” of the Statue was that of a reassuring “Mother of Exiles”: “A
mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles […] Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to
breathe free.”

Many years after the Statue’s construction in 1886, the United States have changed
dramatically: it is no longer a country needing immigrants to survive. With each
immigration act and with the way the country treats its minorities, it feels like the US
have forgotten their roots. No need to know history to say that the country was built
from the ground by immigration, especially since the first “American” settlers were
themselves immigrants.

The US has always been a destination of choice for immigrants, a way of achieving
their “American dream” and the Statue of Liberty embodied everything they needed:
hope and freedom. Is it still true nowadays?

Seeing the numerous cartoons on the blog, we were made to ask ourselves if this
symbolic emblem still had the same resonance it once had. However, the answer is
not quite so simple. Though to us, the Statue seems to have become reduced to
these two main aspects: business and politics. There is no need to deny the Statue’s
marketing power and its touristic attraction. Moreover, we can see that the Statue is a
recurring symbol used to denounce the actions of the government, especially
concerning immigration, but also the lack of individual liberty or the consumerism
society, as we can see through all the different articles posted on this blog.

Can the Statue of Liberty still be a symbol of hope and freedom, as it was at the
beginning, when it is repeatedly used to denounce the elements previously cited ?
We’d like to think so. Although the image of the Statue of Liberty has changed a lot,
often linked to negative aspects of the American society or government, it remains a
symbol of the American dream, and an American Icon.

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The line from this week’s reading that most resonates with me when thinking about why Superman is so american is: “Superman raises the American immigrant experience to the level of religious myth. And why not? He’s not just some immigrant from across the waters like all out ancestors, but a real alien, an extraterrestrial, a visitor from heaven if you will” (Gary Engle). For me, Superman is seen as so American because of the internal struggle he has to deal with as an immigrant. Similar to Superman, I have had the privilege of being part of two cultures that have come to shape my identity of who I am today (Krypton is way different than India). Superman grew up on a farm in Smallville and eventually moves into the city. His life is full of contradictions and is constantly living a double life. He is American because he firmly believes in doing the right thing, but has to lie in order to conceal his identity. He stands for social justice, but does not mind bending a few rules. Superman is someone who is the perfect example of who would be considered the perfect human (physically, socially, and values he stands by)…but he is not human at all! Our guest speaker hit the nail on the head when he said, “Superman is so American because his story is all about aspiration”. An illegal immigrant who grew up on a farm and represents ideal human characteristics that we all should aspire towards is what makes Superman so darned American.

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Having never actually watched Crossroads, I took the opportunity to relive the glory days that were the early 00’s while visiting the concept of the American road. Crossroads typifies a classic American road trip movie as a symbol for America. Three best friends, Lucy, Kit and Mimi, lose touch over the years until a road trip after their high school graduation promises to reunite them through achieving their childhood dreams. Ironically, the realization of the ladies’ dreams is found in California and Arizona, in the West, making it once again an opening for opportunity. Just as the journey to the old West was filled with danger, Crossroads is as well, but in the form of car trouble and destitution. The girls had to overcome the dangers of travel using cooperation to reach their destination and ultimately fulfill their American dreams.

After their travels, the girls were then faced with the danger of their dreams. Lucy dreamt of reconnecting with her estranged mother who left her as a three year old. Her mother rejected her, calling her a mistake. Kit dreamt of getting married, only to find that her fiancé was a cheater and rapist. Mimi dreamt of leaving their small hometown in Georgia, and traveling the world, but having been raped and impregnated, she had to rethink her dream to travel. After falling down a flight of stairs, and miscarrying, however, she now had the freedom to continue her travels, and had successfully left her hometown. Mimi is the only one whose dream came true, albeit in a horrible fashion.

All three girls went through traumatic events while trying to accomplish their dreams. In the end, those dreams shifted through the experience they gathered on the road, and while in the West. Their road trip transformation about the transition from girls to women mirrors the transition into Americans experienced by the pioneers. Much like other road trip movies, Crossroads presents the American road as a place full of opportunity, leading to the West, to follow your dreams, and to experience life-changing danger.

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The mythic idea of the road is everywhere in America, even today. Reading Eyerman & Lofgren’s Romancing the Road, one realizes just how prevalent this idea is in his or her own life. Even favorite songs, evoke the road without notice. Tracy’ Chapman’s Fast Car is one of these favorite songs.

Fast Car is a celebration of the road as an escape. The road becomes a chance for a new life. It also is a journey between two people and possible romance. It evokes traditional views of the road, but it also speaks to mainstream America, known more often than not as the opposite of the road – opposite of freedom.

From the beginning of the song, Fast Car takes on what Romancing the Road describes as, “car travel itself becam[ing] an adventure saga of magical quality”. (59) The car for Chapman is an escape, a magical thing that is “fast enough so we can fly away.” Fly away like Peter Pan flying away from adulthood. The article states, “Road’s liberating potential…. [is] possible to push the accelerator to the floor and leave all that was petty and bourgeois behind” (58). Like films in the road trip genre, Chapman’s car is an escape. Instead of escape from “claustrophobia of petit-bourgeois life” (62), Chapman’s escape is from, “injustice and from an intolerant ‘normality’” (62). This injustice and intolerable normality is her father’s drinking problem, her mother leaving and the responsibility she must take on by quitting school to take care of her father. Chapman’s responsibility of taking care of her father represents the traditional role of women as caregivers. Here she is escaping the confines of mainstream culture. The escape is so urgent Chapman sings, “Leave tonight or die this way.” The road takes on “a therapeutic role” (64).

I want a ticket to anywhere

Any place is better

See my old man’s got a problem

He live with the bottle that’s the way it is

He says his body’s too old for working

His body’s too young to look like hi

My mamma went off and left him

She wanted more from life than he could give

I said somebody’s got to take care of him

So I quiet school and that what I did

 

Is it fast enough so we can fly away?

We gotta make a decision

Leave tonight or live and die this way

By the end of the song, the car becomes yet another way to escape Chapman’s disappointment in the new life. She has yet again become the caregiver. Her partner does not have a job and drinks, neglecting his family. Chapman sings:

I’d always hoped for better.

Thought maybe together you and me find it.

I got no plans. I ain’t going nowhere.

So take your fast car and keep on driving.

This part of the song also takes on the risk of the road. In stating:

So take your fast car and keep on driving.

You got a fast car. Is it fast enough so you can fly away?

You gotta make a decision.

Leave tonight or live and die this way,

Chapman alludes to her desire for the car to become another escape; only this time the car will take the problem away. She will not be taken away from the problem. “Leave tonight or live and die this way” can be seen as a challenge for the presumably male partner step up, mature and be a man.

You got a fast car

I got a job that pays all our bills

You stay out drinking late at the bar

See more of your friends than you do of your kids

I’d always hoped for better

Thought maybe together you and me find it

You got a fast car.

Is it fast enough so you can fly away?

You gotta make a decision

Leave tonight or live and die this way

The American tradition of mobility, in the physical sense of the mythical road is a huge part of Chapman’s song. Romancing the Road describes this mobility: “movement itself became a symbol of hope. Going down the road, symbolized not only a way out, a going to and getting away from, it represented possibility, risk and romance” (57). Chapman’s desperate need to find a way out is expressed in the beginning of the song: “I want a ticket to anywhere…any place is better than here.” The lyrics “starting from zero got nothing to lose,” ushers in the road’s symbolism of possibility and opportunity. Chapman sings about the possibility of making something, getting jobs in the city and finally being able to live. Evoking the city as a place to experience life and acquire a job is a common American phenomenon. Throughput history the city has been the place of jobs. And as youth culture came into existence, the city turned into a place of adventure. It was and is a place to experience while you are young. “We go cruising, entertain ourselves,” represents this carefree attitude and continues to paint a picture of the car as an escape, as a way to have fun.

As the song goes on Chapman’s vision of life matures, representing the idea that the road fosters experiences for, “a new person…new sides to their personality, mellowing, maturing” (67). Chapman sings:

You’ll find work and I’ll get promoted.

We’ll move out of the shelter.

Buy a bigger house and live in the suburbs.

This idea represents social mobility as well as physical mobility. Chapman dreams of being promoted and making enough money to achieve the American Dream –moving to the suburbs. No longer does she fantasy of freedom on the road. In its place is the dream of settling down. The desire for maturity can also be seen as Chapman sings, “I’d always hoped for better. Thought maybe together you and me find it. You gotta make a decision. Leave tonight or live and die this way,” urging her partner to mature.

Throughout the song, the subtle hint of romance is witnessed:

And your arm felt nice wrapped ‘round my shoulder.

And I had a feeling that I belonged.

I have a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone.

These lyrics also describe the feeling that the beat generation was looking for on the road in the 1950s and 1960s – acceptance.

If we presume Chapman’s companion is a man, the fact that Chapman is a woman also plays on the traditional idea of the road as a man’s world. In the beginning of the song, she is the one asking to hitch a ride and get away. She has the plan, not the man. By the end though, tradition and mainstream gender roles seems to win out. Chapman wants to settle down in the suburbs with a family. The last two lines, “You gotta make a decision. Leave tonight or live and die this way,” suggest the man will get back into his car and drive away, continuing the idea of solace for outsiders.

(Even the video has roads in it!!!)

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