United State of America By D.I. Jolly
Frank downed his beer and looked at the barman through one closed eye.
“Buckle in son, I have a lot to say, none of it’s nice and some of it probably doesn’t make sense.”
The barman stared at him for a moment, then shrugged, opened himself a beer and leaning against the back counter, gestured for Frank to begin.
“Some people will tell you.
‘Everything happens for a reason.’
‘God has a plan.’
And then, of course, there’s the old favourite,
‘When one door closes another will open.’
The problem with it is, they all hinge on the idea that life is totally out of your control, and! That something good will always happen. Which is bullshit! Go tell the hobo living on the corner that ‘when one door closes another will open, he just needs to be patient,’ tell him that ‘everything’s going to be just fine’ and see what happens. Life is hard work, it’s unfair, and people born into privilege normally stay there, and the people born into poverty do the same. The lines sometimes cross, but not as often as these pseudo-philosophical optimists like to say.
I think that my most and least favourite is the curse.
‘You can be anything you want to be when you grow up.’
I like it because it’s kind of true. Not for everyone, but there is a lot more truth in it than a lot of other encouraging sayings. But I hate it because it leaves out a very key part. It leaves out that you have to pick something and stick to it to get there. It’s implied sure, but no one is saying this shit to 40-year old’s who understand subtext. This is fed to children who take everything literally. So instead of guiding them towards a specific path, we’re giving the curse of options. So what happens?
“If I can be anything I want, then I want to be Batman.”
“Oh no, you can’t be Batman.”
Dreams crushed. Illusion of parents being Gods, crushed. Lies are real and everything real is a lie.”
Frank lifted his bottle only to realise it was still empty, then huffed and continued.
“And another thing. You know the philosopher Zack Hemsey? Well, he once said,
“If you just want what you have, then why are you sad?”
Which brings us neatly to the real problem with the American Dream. The simultaneous desire to live a humble life with 2 kids and a white picket fence, to be the president one day, and to really make it in Hollywood. Personally, I don’t think it matters which, because in the USA the real dream is in how you sell it. Success and personal value are based on the opinions of others. People gauge power and standing by how much money you have. A rich person is more important than a smart one. Even democracy is a popularity contest rather than a test of skill. If you live on the streets, but you can sell it like its gold, people will line up to buy.
And I do understand the need for comfort, these nice lies that something good is coming, and that you deserve it because you’re nice. The balance that something bad means that something good is going to happen.
The truth is, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen to you. Something bad happens to you, something good happens to someone else. If we were honest, we’d say things like:
‘Everything happens for a reason. But most of the time that reason is not grand or philosophical, it’s matter of fact and doesn’t have a higher purpose. Why did that person die? It’s not to be in a better place, it’s because cancer made their organs stop working.’
‘If one door closes, nothing’s going to happen until you open another one. And you’ll probably have to try a few before you find one that stays open, but chances are you never will.’
‘You can’t be anything you want when you grow up. Even if you spend your whole life dedicated to one thing, you can still fail.’
‘God probably doesn’t exist, and if it does, all evidence points to God not answering prays and granting wishes like a genie.’
‘The American dream is to make sure that everyone watching thinks you’re better than they are.'”
The barman stared at Frank in stunned silence for a few minutes wondering if he was going to say more, then let out a long breath and said.
“Are you alright old man?”
Frank twirled his empty bottle on the bar and said quietly.
“No, not really.”