Rich Hall’s Working for the American Dream

What is the American Dream? According to Rich Hall, it’s an idea that’s mutated ‘from something spiritual to something material to something that, nowadays, feels almost indefinable’. And yet it is still, he said, ‘the cement that unifies America’. Even if that cement keeps cracking to reveal the faultlines running through a fractured, fissile nation.

At the heart of the dream is the sacred belief that ‘if you put in a little elbow grease, your effort will be rewarded’. But as Hall set out to demonstrate – mixing his trademark grizzled sarcasm with flashes of righteous anger – reality doesn’t quite live up to the fairytale. 

Then again, for many Americans, work is its own reward. The Pilgrim Fathers were great advocates for personal salvation through labour, as were the country’s early industrialists: forget dark Satanic mills – these guys believed the devil made work for idle hands, so kept their workers shovelling pig iron from dawn ‘til dusk.

The same work ethic drove hardy frontier folk out west, and helped build America’s great cities. But for Hall, the story of the American Dream is‘littered with lumpy mattresses’, fromthe shame of slavery to the Great Depression to the current crisis in the rustbelt that’s led people to ‘pin their hopes on a New York billionaire’. (Our host is clearly no fan of ‘Donny T’ – but in his own way, he argued, Barack Obama was just as guilty of selling a myth of the American Dream.)

Hall also pointed out that much of his country’s great art, from Of Mice and Men’s Dust Bowl view of the Depression to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, has actively pushed against the idea of the American Dream. Even its most famous painting, Grant Wood’s American Gothic, shows a Midwest farmer and his wife worn out by ‘joyless austerity’.

Best of all was his elegant demolition of the idea of America as a classless society: ‘If your name’s on the building, you’re rich. If your name’s on your desk, you’re middle class. If your name’s on your shirt, you’re poor.’

All men are created equal? Dream on.



TV extra:

 

Duran Duran: There’s Something You Should Know

The centrepiece of BBC4’s Duran Duran Night, this splendid rock-doc traced the textbook career trajectory of the 80s’ most lustrous pop heartthrobs. From dingy rehearsal rooms in ‘the armpit of Birmingham’ to tax exile status and glossy videos on Caribbean yachts, it was all here: the girls, the drugs, the clothes, the rows and reconciliations, as told by the Wild Boys themselves, with contributions from celebrity fans including Boy George and ex-Durannie Cindy Crawford. And the soundtrack was ace, obviously.

 

GLOW

Netflix’s hit comedy drama, inspired by 80s spandex spectacular The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, returned in a mushroom cloud of hairspray for a second bout of chokeslams and body drops – and that’s before anyone gets in the ring. An early highlight was the relentlessly perky Ruth (Alison Brie), in her guise as Soviet supervillain Zoya the Destroyer, acting out the Cold War through the medium of breakdance and body-popping – surely a contender for the most 80s TV moment since… well, the 80s.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, July 5, 2018

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