American culture clings doggedly to the myth of the United States as a
classless society and to the American Dream of upward mobility. However,
in the late twentieth century, the United States of America led all
industrial nations in income inequality (Kerbo 1996). The working class
and working poor suffered as the upper classes accumulated financial
wealth, power, status, and influence. “The result,” states Ehrenreich,
“according to the Census Bureau, is that the income gap between the
richest families and the poorest is now wider than it has been at any time
since the bureau began keeping statistics in 1947” (1990,198). This huge
income gap is in opposition to the dual myths of the American Dream
and the classless nature of American society. As Sawhill (2000,27) points
out, “The distribution of income in the United States is, according to all
the evidence, less equal than other industrialized countries.” Moreover,
DeParle argues that
the rising inequality has grown so familiar that it has lost its ability
to startle. In the salad days of the 1990s, the incomes of the poorest
fifth of American households rose 8 percent; the top fifth gained 40
percent; and the richest 5 percent of Americans received a greater
share of the national income than the bottom 60 percent combined.
Despite these inequalities, Americans continue to believe in the
American Dream and its fundamentally promised equality. But Scott
The American Dream and Contemporary Hollywood Cinema 127
and Leonhardt (2005, 1) explain that the social mobility “which once
buoyed the working lives of Americans as it rose in the decades after
World War II, has flattened out.”
With the classic American Dream economically outdistancing most
working-class people, Americans might begin to question its veracity.
While many Americans admit that social inequalities exist in the United
States and that they lead to the unfair distribution of resources, these
same individuals “deemed their class inferiority as a sign of personal failure,
even as many realized that they had been constrained by class origins
that they could not control” (Lears 1985, 578). As Thio (1972, 381)
explains, the
American ideology


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