Naomi Maeve (she/her)

artwork by rebecca guthrie

Gatsby’s infamous toils; the inaccessible bane of the Philly gangster, and the flighty pinnacle of the Wall Street broker’s aspirations. The American Dream is a holy scripture that has coloured the thoughts of anyone that ever heard Sinatra’s anthemic mantra, ‘If I can make it here, I’ll make it anywhere…’. Perhaps the genesis of Tiktok manifestation culture. Embraced by the naive with lusty desire, and dismissed by the self-aware with disgust and disdain. So where do the fateful few fit in that have read Fitzgerald and mocked those unattainable snow-globe Hallmark fictions, chastised the dreamers, but are still enraptured by that glittering diadem of Hollywood? I am appalled by it, and yet, I want to be part of it (New York, New York).

Those that wholeheartedly invest their time, paychecks, minds, blood, and tears into this fabricated reality are – honestly – delusional. To worship at the altar of the high-rise, that Mecca of the consumer, is to surrender yourself to the hamster wheel of hierarchies that we call capitalism. Don’t forget, the Dream isn’t sneaky – it warns us of its impossible distance and fictionalisation. In movies, it is marked by stupendously surreal big-band explosions and over-choreographed flash mobs, like those so dotingly satirised in La La Land and The Muppet Movie – or, in the chaotic downfalls of hedonism less sweetly showcased in those acclaimed biopics of Belfort and his Merry Band of Brokers. It presents itself almost pleadingly as a whimsical illusion; the reality of the one percent, the warning wives’ tale that precedes the sirens’ call on the marshes; ‘join us, deep under the water’ – the pursuit of the Dream is an inevitable self-sacrifice. Gatsby made us aware of its romanticisation, and the idea that one can never fully obtain everything they desire from America. We should be smarter now than the US Government would like us to believe. They present to us a sugar-coated sham of US life, pedalled to attract vistas of potential workers (a.k.a. money-makers), provided you fit their idea of who belongs; that is, European. Our awareness of the Dream’s ephemerality should be enough to steer us away, onto views of greener pastures instead of Greenwich village. So why, knowing the risks, knowing the lies, do we still find ourselves Zoopla-ing flats in the Big Apple when life gets tough and cold at home?

Perhaps it’s all in a name. ‘L.A.’ stirs up images of suntanned influencers and Silicone Valley titans, wielding açai bowls and chrome kitchens, raised to Godlike status in their home of the City of Angels. These people are not like us; they are gorgeous and pure, and we follow their lives like evangelists. New York presents itself as a food; a gleaming Red Delicious that demands a bite, almost as if moving there is an act of consumption in itself. Friends told us that it’s perfectly viable to rendezvous daily in a central café, as if each cappuccino wouldn’t set back Phoebe, the masseuse, $10 a mug. It’s not so much that these fictions of America lie to us, but that they gratuitously skim over the truths.

We seem to have dawned into a new age of consumerist and capitalist ambitions that are doubtlessly treacherous. The aspirations of newer, post-millennial generations have transcended into (seemingly) bigger and brighter futures by the recent influx of ‘lifestyle’ TikToks that centre around the dreamy daily routines of (white, skinny) New York fashion students, who swan into the Guggenheim for a champagne brunch with Anna Wintour before splashing out on four leaves of kale and a seltzer for dinnertime. However, these sixty-second insights fail to address the staggering rise in rent and tuition, of crime and discrimination – they aren’t truthful. Unpictured: black mould behind the marble coffee tables, blood on the sidewalk, and roaches in the clawfoot bathtub. 

And yet, the decadence of the Empire State and the Rockefeller tree, of Marilyn and the Cola bottle; iconographic emblems of America crafted in a Warholian epoch that are blaring representations of mass-production and consumption; this prospective future that just enough average Joes achieve for it to seem attainable – it is essentialist USA. And yet, it’s a lifestyle that hinges on lottery. It begs you to enslave yourself to ceaseless corporations and the conglomerate’s colossal appetite in the vain hope that you will one day harvest the sweet summer fruits of your winter labours, instead of burning out and dying a year into retirement. It tells you to spend what you can’t afford on what you don’t need, to exude a mirage of luxury and success that you don’t possess. A faux-pas culture crafted on ‘faking it til’ you make it, honey’. The American Dream is an abattoir, and yet we all, at some point, wait blindly in line for the chop.

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