|Prof. em. Dr. Dr. h. c. mult. Peter Freese
University of Paderborn
“The American Dream: New Approaches to an Old Topic”
Prof. Freese, who enlivened his lecture with pictures, music and video clips, approached his theme, which is a favorite topic in the German advanced EFL-classroom, in five stages.
(1) He surveyed some, mostly one-sided, working definitions of the ‘Dream’ offered in dictionaries and encyclopedias, used selected Internet advertisements to show that in public parlance the Dream concept has become a marketing instrument related to material possessions and personal well-being, and demonstrated that there are hundreds of books about the Dream which prove that the concept is as alive, and as many-faceted, as ever.
(2) He made use of his young listeners’ interest in pop music by playing selected songs for them and showing that the Dream is not only dealt with in musicals such as West Side Story or Miss Saigon, but also commented upon in sundry pop songs from Frank Zappa’s “Bobby Brown” and Afroman’s “The American Dream” through Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” and Madonna’s “American Life” to System of a Down’s “ADD (American Dream Denial)” and Bad Religion’s “American Dream,” and he pointed out that many pop stars, as the very products of the Dream, often feel called upon to criticize it.
(3) He showed that in an increasingly multicultural American society there is no longer one Dream shared by all, but that now the concept has to be differentiated into a spectrum of diverse ethnic dreams. He then illustrated this development by briefly sketching the Korean, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Chicano, the Black, the West Indian, and the Native American Dream, insisting, however, that despite the many new variations the Dream is still very much alive and remains what Cullen called “an idea that shaped a nation.”
(4) He outlined the basic ingredients of the Dream, namely, the belief in social progress, individual success, American exceptionalism (manifest destiny), the challenge of ever new frontiers, the promise of liberty and equality, and the possibility of peaceful togetherness as expressed in notions ranging from the melting pot to the multicultural quilt. He explained that most of these ideas have European roots, which can be arranged in the three layers of the mythic projection of America as a land of milk and honey and an Eldorado in which the Fountain of Youth bubbles forth in a pastoral landscape; the religious concept of America as the site of the New Jerusalem and a land in which Christ’s Second Coming would establish as new paradise on earth; and the political promise of America as a country where the tyrannical restraints of the Old World would be replaced by human equality, liberty and brotherhood. And he illustrated the lasting influence of such beliefs by comparing Drayton’s “Ode to the Virginian Voyage” (1606) with the Pet Shop Boys’ popular song “Go West.”
(5) He illustrated one of the best-known ingredients of the Dream, namely, the notion of personal success, by tracing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career from bodybuilder to California governor. And he let Schwarzenegger’s have the last word by concluding his lecture with a video clip of his speech at the Republican National Convention of 2004, in which he offered his personal definition of the “American Dream.”