Sunday, May 2, 2010

American Dream Pizza

So Sunday is rapidly coming to a close, and suddenly the urgency of my blogs due tomorrow and my early morning finals is becoming a reality. I’m definitely past the point where I can say, “I’ve still got x hours” and still feel relatively calm, and I’m nearing the panic attack stage. I knew I had to write these blogs, but I just couldn’t think of any more topics. I stared at the blank screen when I should have been studying for chemistry, waiting for some kind of miracle or inspiration to strike. And strike it did.
Just then, my phone rang, and it was a blocked number. Normally I would pick up, assuming that it was one of my friends using the old *69 trick, and humor them. With the impending doom of finals, I didn’t think I had time to spare for any shenanigans. But my curiosity got the best of me, and I picked it up.
“Hi, Bianca, my name is John from American Dream Pizza, and I’m calling you back to respond to your email the other day.”
I was floored for at least 3 seconds as my brain slowly registered what the caller just said. This was the last thing I expected to hear on the phone.
“Are you still doing that project on the American Dream? I can tell you the story behind how we named our pizza shop.”
Like I said in my response to Stephanie’s blog, I thought her blog entry on this little Oregon pizza shop was very interesting, and I too wondered what the real story behind the restaurant’s name was. I checked out the American Dream Pizza website myself, and upon finding a contact email, I decided to inquire about the restaurant’s history. I mean, why not? I had nothing to lose. I had written this email about two weeks ago, though, and I had lost hope in ever hearing back from them. In fact, right before I received the call, as I sat staring at my computer screen, I had gone through all my old brainstorm list and sadly erased the possibility of “American Dream Pizza follow up?” from it.
Anyway, here is the real story: The name of this American Dream Pizza place is indeed legit. John cofounded American Dream Pizza with his partner in 1989. While they were starting up the business, they were deciding what to name it when his partner’s father suggested “American Dream” Pizza. His partner’s father had immigrated from Argentine in 1985, with nothing but the clich├ęd clothes on his back. Once in America, he went from rags to riches and built a new life, went through medical school, and eventually became a successful doctor with a family. His son and his son’s friend starting a new business reminded him of the chances he took in younger years, and he felt that this name was very apt.
“Sorry if it wasn’t really that interesting, but that’s the story behind it. It was based on a true American Dream. Does that help you finish your project?”
Yes, it did, perfectly. Thanks, John! And thank you, Dr. Baptista, for a great semester!

Urban dictionary

My roommate and several of her sorority sisters were in our room getting ready for a fraternity formal the other night, and within the many conversations floating around our tiny dorm (that wasn’t going to be ours anymore scarily soon), I heard someone discussing the word “jank.” This slang word wasn’t one that I had ever heard of, and apparently most of the other girls hadn’t either. The ones who WERE up to date on their lingo explained it to us, but the skeptics decided to verify this. Where would you find the definition for such a word? Urban dictionary, of course.
Urban dictionary is notoriously questionably, and not very reputable because of the types of words it contains and the fact that anyone can add their vulgar 2 cents’ worth. Nonetheless, I was wondering what would come up, if anything, if I looked up the phrase “American Dream.” I wanted to see how the people our own generation defined it, despite the high probability of crassness. The good news is that it was defined. The bad news is…well, we will see in a minute.
The first three definitions that came up were as follows (and these are very censored and edited):
A) to sue someone for something incredibly stupid and live off of the money.
B) to otherwise make a lot of money for not a lot of effort and spend the rest of your life being rich and getting plastic surgery
C) the ideal American life as fed by the media: 2.3 children, white picket fences surrounding a split-level house with a dog and a cat, and a station wagon or a minivan to take the kids to sports practice; impossible by its nature

Related words, again omitting the inappropriate ones: house hunters, dogsprawl, american nightmare, suburbanites, hgtv, freedom, illegal immigrant, amexican, freedom, success, lottery
What struck me was how terribly pessimistic these definitions were of the American Dream. There is so little faith in the intentions of people, their materialism, and the impossibility of the American Dream evident in these definitions. It is pretty sad that the writers of these definitions feel this way about the “ideal American life.” However, I do realize that they are not too credible, judging from the lack of education that their pre-edited posts indicated, and the fact that they spend their time on a site like Urban Dictionary.

Just to clarify some of the unfamiliar related words:
Yuppie scum: those who tend to be separated from philistines by a greater income, a higher intelligence, higher education, and a greater appreciation of the arts. But like the philistine, people who are yuppie scum are big time conformists and often times care little for the environment (unless they somehow feel that their monetary gain is significantly worth their efforts.) They are very materialistic, constantly over consuming that which takes relatively little time to get tossed in the trash. Yuppie Scum buy, or build, a newer, larger house every two or three years with little concern for the effect this has on the land (see McMansion). They love, and are a driving force behind many of the demolition, renovation and “anti-clutter" shows on such channels as TLC, HGTV…

Amexican: an illegal immigrant from Mexico that works in the fields or in a factory and is here to accomplish the Amexican Dream.

Dogsprawl: A widespread phenomenon whereas a person will buy a house based on its expansive lawn because they own, or are intending to own, one or more medium to large sized dogs.

HGTV

The last weekend in March, my dance company went to Washington, DC for a dance festival. Somehow, we got UPAC to fully back our trip, and we stayed at this extremely swanky hotel in one of the nicest districts in DC, with a 50’’ plasma TV and fur on the beds in every room. Friday night we crashed at around 10 pm, exhausted after the long trip down and the prospect of an early start the next morning. We turned on the TV and decided to watch HGTV. It was one of those many house hunting shows, and as I half listened to the dialogue, I was struck by how much this made me think of the American Dream. Or rather, the newly evolved materialistic version of the American Dream.
It reminded me of this quote by Will Smith: "Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like." This is one of the truest statements I have ever heard, and it is especially relevant to society today. HGTV is a prime example of that.
The couple on the show was obviously looking for a new home. The husband said things like, “what I come home to that I worked so hard for,” which is definitely related to the American Dream of owning your own home. However, later on, he explains the rest of his American Dream: “In the future, I’ll be working toward a plasma,” and “What do you I like about this space? Well it would be better if it was bigger.”
So evidently this guy is just like the other Americans today, who just want more and more stuff, and bigger and bigger houses, to show off what they’ve worked for to others. And HGTV seems like it’s just perpetuating this attitude. I mean, it’s a cable network that devotes its themes to planting gardens, home improvement, and real estate. Many of its shows--especially the real estate ones--are produced to promote materialism and superficiality. All of the episodes for any of the shows – Curb Appeal, Designed to Sell, House Hunters, etc -- are about upgrading their homes to a larger home that is probably above the financial means of the ordinary American, for no real reason other than that they want a bigger house. This wasteful behavior on home and garden network epitomizes the American Dream, and although these shows are admittedly interesting to watch, it is promoting consumerism and greed.

Joe Biden

I had the privilege of meeting Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday, April 18. He came to visit near my hometown, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The reason why he came shows one of the best examples that the American Dream is still a strong driving force in the lives of many people.
Biden came to the Lehigh Valley for two reasons: one was to attend the groundbreaking of a new building, and the other was a fundraiser for the local democratic Congress candidate. The former was the event that I attended, which really struck me as embodying the American Dream. My boyfriend’s dad runs a company called Ben Franklin Techventures, which is an incubator company that provides start-up companies with funds and office and lab space to grow and develop. The federal stimulus plan allotted a good chunk of money to Techventures: a hefty $6-million from the federal government for the $47,000 square-foot expansion, which will create as many as 200 highly paid technology jobs and retain another 100 jobs.
This has been such a success that they are starting to construct Techventures 2, which is the groundbreaking event that Biden attended, no doubt as evidence that the stimulus money was being put to excellent use. It is a really excellent example of the American Dream come true: entrepreneurs putting everything on the line to pursue dreams of starting up their own business. A sector of Texas Instruments is one of the companies that came out of Techventures.
The location of the new building was on the campus of Lehigh University. During his Biden addressed the audience on the economy, jobs, and stimulus money. He also spoke about continuing to foster fledgling companies to bring more American Dreams to fruition. According to Mr. Biden, it's a success story coming from recovery act stimulus funds. It was very promising and reassuring that not only are people succeeding, but the government is facilitating that success.

Real life American Dream

At dinner last week with my friend V, I was discussing my remaining school obligations and assignments as I counted down the last few weeks of school. By this point, time was running out, and I was seriously desperate for more blog ideas. Apparently I have a knack for walking into American Dream stories, as I had on the radio before. At dinner that night, I found a real life example of the American Dream story where I least expected to. After hearing about my blog assignment, my friend V described her parents’ emigration from Russia. After arriving in America, they had to start from nothing, a typical rags to riches story. Her father, despite having a medical doctor degree back in the old country, had to attend medical school all over again, as the certifications and degrees didn’t translate in the United States. Hardships abounded: a completely certified physician in another country was forced under the circumstances to pay his way through medical school for a second time, working minimum wage jobs at Au Bon Pain and the grocery store. They were always low on money, and had to make do with cramped living conditions. Now, he is in the highest tax bracket, has that big suburban house, the typical American Dream etc. and “can complain about Obama’s policies.”
This caused us to speculate on how drastically different her parents’ American Dream was from her/our own. V expressed her anxiety about finding the right major, uncertainty about the future, careers, life in general, and the worry that there would be no way to achieve that future. Finding internships was so difficult now, and even getting into a top-notch college had been a nightmare. Would we even make it to the point in the future where we would be anywhere near success and the American Dream?
Upon comparison, the two American Dreams were so different. Her parents’ seemed straight out of a storybook, or at least a feature story in the newspaper. Their hardships were tenfold more difficult than ours, in our opinion, and despite all the pessimism, we don’t think the American Dream has really died. Maybe more young people are competing for the same thing, or maybe we really are lazier and not as hard working and motivated compared to our preceding generation. The American Dream is alive and well, but might the people our age be lacking?

Felix Salmon's American Dream on NPR

For many, the original picket-fence vision of the American Dream has evolved since its humble beginnings: owning your own home, going from rags to riches, etc. One of the ways in which it has certainly changed over time is that it now includes things such as a college education. It has also become amplified in the rags to riches sense, as the ability to make a total Cinderella transformation and become the next Gates/Buffet, or even the means to spend frivolously and excessively. Yet for many, the American Dream still remains deeply rooted in the primary privilege of owning your own property. I was driving the other day, listening to NPR, and I must have tuned in at a particular opportune time. The many blog entries I had yet to write were looming over my head, and incidentally at that moment, financial journalist Felix Salmon came on the air to discuss whether the “American Dream is one big lie.”
He starts by stating a quote that last President George W. Bush said: “Owning a home is a part of that dream, it just is. Right here in America, if you own your own home, you're realizing the American dream.”
Obviously home ownership and foreclosures have been experiencing ups and downs with the economy. Recently, however, people have decided that with the recovering economy, it is not a good time to buy homes. Home ownership embodies the American Dream because one feels like he is in charge of his destiny, not under the watch of a landlord or anyone else.
Salmon goes on to say that the people are utterly mistaken. Even though it’s been engrained in our heads that homeownership is the American Dream, the mortgages and rent that we pay are actually ruining us, and stripping us of our independence. Mortgages and rent, to Salmon, are one and the same. Either you’re renting the house, or you’re renting the money to pay for the house. You’re always at the mercy of someone else, who could snatch away the roof from over your head at any given instant.
From this radio broadcast, I basically got this: the hope of the American Dream of owning your own home is certainly alive and thriving. Whether that is in the best interest of the people, and whether that is behind the times, is a matter of debate. It seems as if America has come a long way, socially and economically, since the first happy little homes in suburbia were springing up. After hearing what Salmon had to say, I have come to think that the American Dream has become harder and harder to obtain – or has changed altogether.