The Potency Of The American Dream (Video and Essay)
Written by Sebastien Samson
Ralph Lauren has taken the American Dream and brought it to the runway. His campaigns show the beauty of American life- perfectly groomed and dressed families sitting in beautiful homes, doll-like children at play without a care in the world. The ads give us a glimpse into an American life we wish we had, one that allows us to enjoy nature and excess with our family without thoughts of struggle. My American life is different from what I see in Ralph Lauren campaigns.
One Ralph Lauren print ad recently stuck out to me, it featured a young black boy playing lacrosse for a Polo Kids ad. I was stopped from enjoying the beauty of the photo as I remembered a story my older cousin told me years ago that he brushed off as a joke. He would wear a lacrosse lanyard from his former high school, only to be questioned by other students “You're black, you don’t play lacrosse.” The irony of this story is reflected in my film “The Potency Of The American Dream.” While one image evokes feelings of optimism and the American dream, the other is of a less attractive, more authentic American life. America is a bull, a torture machine, and a greedy nation. We should be wary of anything that feels truly “American”.
The distance between my America and the one in a Ralph Lauren ad speaks to the class struggles that we deal with every single day. While my idea of the American dream is shaped by people who struggle and have been treated unfairly by the world around them, these people are not a part of Ralph Lauren’s idealizations. At one point, Ralph Lauren was a poor boy from the Bronx who managed to work his way up. The people in his advertisements are the people he aspired to become. It’s a bit strange to see these same clothes on the backs of people who could never afford to live like anything displayed in a campaign. My whole life, I’d see it on the backs of older cousins and peers, people who are intentionally omitted from Ralph Lauren campaigns so as to not disrupt the brand image.
It is irresponsible to make an attempt to sell the American dream, when America is in the state it’s in. Campaigns such as these are another form of American propaganda, which has led us to believe we’re a nation of great wealth and prosperity when the people wearing the clothes do not reflect that. Many people see the American dream as something that anybody can obtain as long as they work hard, without any mention of the struggles and hardships many people face solely because of the color of their skin, their family background, the people they love, the list goes on and on. This is not to say that I don’t believe success to that level is something people should strive for, but we need to be honest with ourselves and the American people about what America is- ripping the mask off of the Scooby-Doo villain.