Depression: An Affliction of the American Dream
The “American Dream” is an ideology that is spoon fed to citizens across the country from birth, reinforced by reality TV shows such as any of the Real Housewives and The Kardashians. The push to make it big, afford huge houses and be prosperous is one that many try to achieve. With the propensity towards failure being the usual outcome, Americans plummet into depression. Aspirations such as driving a Bentley down Rodeo Drive is unrealistic for the average American and, for most, unattainable. With these unachievable dreams, Americans suffer through depression.
In the movie American Beauty, the average American man, Lester Burnham,played by Kevin Spacey, is living the “dream,” repeating the same monotonous steps day in and day out. Here, in the opening scene, viewers witness what Lester’s life has turned in to, plus his disdain towards most aspects of it.
At the beginning of the movie, he is seen as a man who is bored of his lifestyle, even though he technically has it all. He is married to a beautiful real estate agent, has a teenage daughter, and lives in a white picket fenced house in the suburbs. From the outside, they look like the perfect family but, on the inside, they are dysfunctional. The wife is struggling with her career, the husband loses his job, while the daughter starts dating the neighbor’s son, who has a sordid past. At the risk of spoiling the film, the story of the Burnham’s has a tragic ending.
Clearly American Beauty is an illustration of the opposite side of the coin, that having it all does not guarantee happiness, nor prevent depression. Lester is struggling through a midlife crisis during the movie, pulling him further into a depression that he can not see out of. Lester shines a light on clinical depression even when one has it all, raising the real question of whether the American Dream is really a dream after all.
Having millions does not bring happiness as many reality television shows lead us to believe. Shows such as The Kardashians and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills portray a lifestyle that is fake. Viewers envy the lifestyle that these people are living, wishing that they too could throw money away like yesterday’s garbage. What viewers are missing is that production crews carefully film only what they want to appear on the show to bring in viewers and ratings, and cutting out the bad parts.
Audiences only see the good parts to these lifestyles, glossing over the negative parts. For instance, Kourtney Kardashian’s long-term boyfriend, Scott Disick, is struggling with sadness and loneliness since the loss of his parents a little over a year ago. The show reveals the sorrow in Scott’s life but, in the next scene, will show a still of the huge mansion that they are living in. This leads viewers to think that even though Scott is sad, he will be okay because he has a lot of money.
This is not true. Robin Williams (1951-2014) took his life only a few months ago. It was discovered that this actor and comedian was struggling with depression and decided to take his life. Anne Cooke, Angela Gilchrist and John McGowan of The Guardian say, “Those who live ordinary lives may find it hard to fathom that someone like Robin Williams could be miserable enough to want to die. We forget that celebrity inevitably brings its own problems. And once you’ve reached a star-studded pinnacle, there’s nowhere to go but down.” The cost of having it all has a downfall which means that the American Dream does not solve problems, but instead only creates more.
Back in 2013, The Wolf of Wall Street hit theaters, stunning audiences with the lavish lifestyle of Jordan Belfort played by Leonardo DiCaprio. This film is based on of real life events, surrounding Jordan Belfort, a real life stock broker. Jordan is a man with many wants and a hearty appetite for the expensive. Throughout the film, audiences witness the sprawling mansion that he lives in, the gigantic yacht that he owns, and his super model look-alike wife. He is essentially living the American Dream and, as seen before, his life crumbles around him, ending in divorce,the loss of his money, and ending up with a stint in prison. One would think after seeing the many examples of the failed American Dream, that Americans would stop attempting it, but many are still convinced that money is the way to go.
Depression is a mental illness that takes its toll from every segment of American society. The idea that wealth bestows happiness creates the illusion that depression is merely the lack of wealth, when nothing could be further from the truth. For Americans to think that they will be cured of their chronic depression through the acquisition of wealth is aptly disproved cases such as Robin Williams: money and celebrity cause as many problems as they cure. The American Dream that we are force-fed through mass media is not a dream after all. It’s part of the American nightmare.
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