About this Recording
NA436212 - SARDAR / DAVIES: American Dream, Global Nightmare
English 

Ziauddin Sardar · Merryl Wyn Davies
American Dream, Global Nightmare

 

There is something deeply wrong with America. The American Dream has become a Global Nightmare from which we all need to awake as quickly as possible. In this sequel to their bestselling post-9/11 book, Why Do People Hate America?, Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies explore the myths that sustain America’s belief in itself, and the terrible global consequences to which these myths lead.

Ranging from the vision of the 18th-century Founding Fathers to the contemporary myth-making machine of Hollywood, this audiobook investigates the persistent dream in which America is determined to live, and the dangerous ‘sleep of reason’ necessary to sustain it.

To help both Americans and non- Americans understand the scale of the problem, the authors identify ten ‘Laws of American Mythology’ which operate at times openly, at times unseen, within US culture:

Fear is essential
Escape is the reason for being
Ignorance is bliss
America is the idea of nation
Democratisation of everything is the essence of America
American democracy has the right to be imperial and express itself through empire
Cinema is the engine of empire
Celebrity is the common currency of empire
War is a necessity
American tradition and history are universal narratives applicable across all time and space

These ten laws form an integral part of American consciousness, a collective inheritance that carries the nation beyond the current deep divide in its politics and society. The beliefs behind these laws are held with firm religious conviction, and all segments of American society—Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, rich and poor—are affected by and operate under them. A change from Republican to Democrat in the White House would make no difference, because these rules continually manipulate enduring themes in American history and mythology—they go much deeper than mere star-spangled populism. These are the cultural forces that make America incapable of wrestling with its own problems, of properly understanding the impact it has on the world. They work to reassure Americans that they are a benign people, a force for good, when in fact American policy is having exactly the opposite effects.

America’s cultural delusions are a grotesque imbalance between fantasy and reality, and are now a danger to us all as, propelled by power, mythology and paranoia, the US pursues its dream of empire. As recent events in Iraq and elsewhere have shown, it is a dream whose dark side is death, suffering, perpetual fear, an increasing divide between rich and poor, a squandering of the human future, and the relentless building of more and more pretexts for future wars.

The world’s problems with America begin in America, and the authors identify the root of the problem as the ‘American psychosis’, an imbalance and disorder afflicting the whole nation. At the root of the psychosis is a deep fear and anxiety about threats to the US: the flip side to American confidence and self-belief. What America does to itself, what America is incapable of achieving within its own society and culture, has consequences for people everywhere. But before there can be change, the problem has to be made visible. The aim in this audiobook is to make the cultural psychosis of the American Dream visible as a Global Nightmare.

In a sense, we are all citizens of America. Non-Americans have no choice in this. America is the lone hyperpower; it is a global presence, a determining fact that shapes the life of every person on the planet whether they acknowledge and understand it or not. To affect the condition of our lives as non-Americans we all have to learn how to engage with the problems of America in American terms. This is the reality, the consequence of power, the meaning of empire.

The American Dream begins with a perception that is central to American life. It is the proposition that America is different. What follows from this almost unconscious assumption is that America cannot be judged by the standards applicable to the rest of the world. America is exceptional. This national ethos is shaped by American history and the specific myths taken from that history, and it has a profound impact on the political rhetoric of the nation. As such, it sets the limits of debate within America. It is undoubtedly the most dangerous cultural delusion; an imminent threat to the security, peace and well-being not only of Americans but of people everywhere.

The Global Nightmare is that America has the power to impose the limitations of its Dream on the reality of everyone’s life. The pursuit of the American Dream has increasingly become a substitution of fantasy for complex reality, the development of a callousness that describes itself as humanitarian concern and dedication to the noblest of human ideals.

Hollywood is central to the argument because Hollywood is a dream factory, and the dreams it fabricates are quintessentially American. They are commercially driven to resonate with the sensibilities of Americans, to mirror their preoccupations, interests and view of the world. The dream factory is not all of America, but it manipulates what America thinks it was, is, and could be. This makes the movies a proper and convenient way to analyse American culture. And it is a dimension of American culture familiar to people everywhere. With this in mind, the audiobook examines US culture through the lens of such well-known movies as The Terminator, To Have and Have Not, Sands of Iwo Jima, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, The Player and Groundhog Day. Next time you watch these films, you might find that you look at them in a different light.

America is not different, not exceptional. America is flawed, prone to error that has foul consequences, whether intended or not. Genuine change means awakening from the American Dream to confront the Global Nightmare, and that is not an easy or hopeful prospect. But to think that just being optimistic is enough, without introducing profound change in American society itself, is to cling to delusion. America is not alone in its problems. Learning to see itself as part of the imperfections of an imperfect world opens the possibility of finding new solutions in the struggles of many nations, peoples and world-views, all of whom also have a vested interest in a peaceful, humane and better human future.


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