Leading Article: Why not re-evaluate the American Dream?

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The Independent Culture
FROM PARIS to Peking, from Sao Paulo to Moscow, the world is agreed on one thing, at least: American culture is a pervasive and corrupting influence on young and old alike. Now, in a surprising twist, the US Congress is taking up the theme. At least, in the person of Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, who has proposed setting up a Congressional inquiry into the subject.

Jokers will aver that this will be the shortest inquiry in US history, the subject matter being so exiguous; and pundits will note that the Republican Congress is desperate to find something to blame for the worrying spate of high school shootings other than the obvious cause, the widespread availability of guns. But, in fact, there is a widespread mood in America that the nation's values are out of kilter.

The economy may be booming and the nation's security may be free of serious threats from both abroad and within, but even Americans need to live by more than bread alone. The American Dream has been variously described, but it always includes winning security through making a lot of money. What do you dream after that? And in particular, what do you strive for, if you find your children fear for their lives at school, your sportsmen are on drugs and your leaders are more known for their sexual partners than their political policies?

In fact, things are not all that bad in the US. Not every film-maker may be a Hitchcock, nor every pop star an Elvis; but the Fifties didn't look so good to those living through them as they do now in the nostalgic glow of selective hindsight. And it is not a bad thing, if a nation wants to look at itself through a self-critical mirror. Cultural life - from art to social mores to education - always needs renewal. And self-examination is itself a vital activity, as Western students since the time of Socrates have been taught.