The Death of 3 Icons Makes it Imperative to Rethink the American Dream


After writing about Anheuser-Busch, Fannie Mae, and GM over the past week, something occurred to me.

Well, many things occurred to me, but this time, something apart from skipping the country until things get better stuck out in my mind.

It was this: During the past week, several key American icons–the suburban house, the SUV, the ubiquitous can of Bud–have fundamentally changed in some way.

Each of these products communicated an intimate brand or notion. Fannie and Freddie, our friendly down-home lending institutions. The Hummer, which could instantly transform you from monarch to wretch, depending on whether you were a driver or a bystander. The ubiquitous can of Bud, reliably available at any sporting event, bar, or house party.

Witness the havoc a single week has wrought on these pet icons:


Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: We call these lending institutions by their first names, Fannie and Freddie. Franklin D. Roosevelt, affectionately known as FDR, created Fannie to get the United States through an incredible economic trough called the Great Depression. Since then, the dynamic duo has been serving up enough low-interest loans to allow Everyman to buy a house, even a big one, with barely any cash on hand. Fannie and Freddie’s love were pivotal in building the middle class.

Fannie and Freddie, with names reminiscent of overweight, beaming grandparents who still refer to the world in terms of the 1950s, both just narrowly avoided dropping dead. A physician named Ben Bernanke has them on life support.

Anheuser-Busch: AB’s most recognized brand is Budweiser. As in Bud. As in, here’s your bottled buddy, ready to take the edge off after a long day. Immigrant Eberhard Anheuser brought the brewery to its feet in 1860 in St. Louis. Since, a successions of Augusts and Adolphuses (Adolphi?) have held Bud’s hand through a massive expansion.

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Bud, the all-American beer buddy, is staring at his tennis shoes and weeping BHA-infused tears in a large boardroom in Europe, wondering what they’re going to do with him next.

GM, otherwise known as General Motors, proud home of offspring like Jimmy, Hummer, Yukon, and Tahoe. These built-tough thrones with wheels have names like a pack of sled dogs and eat most terrain alive. Hummer, the one with the largest nutsack, can drive through shallow lakes.

GM just admitted that at $4/gallon, the Sport Ute is a goner. Hummer, Tahoe, and their buddies are making big, sad headlight eyes in a distribution garage with the word “Mexico” spray-painted on it. Meanwhile, young people around America are looking at diminutive Go-Kart style gas-savers, confounded as to how Toyota Scion could possibly express their rebellious, hardcore natures.

If the American Dream looked like a big, handsome guy leaning against his silver Hummer, sipping a Bud while his immaculate four-bedroom suburban house towers behind him, the American Dream is finished.

During the past 20 years or so, we have based our identities and experiences around certain iconic products. Those products have changed, on a basic level. As AB, Fannie and Freddie, and GM warp their identities, they make our version of the American Dream unattainable: it will no longer be possible to buy an All-American Bud. Fannie and Freddie won’t be offering easy home loans anymore. The Hummer is going ix-nay.

An entire middle-class identity has, in the period of about a week, indicated its time is up.

We need a dream–and some iconic products–to replace it.

  • Think yourselves lucky.

    In England we’re paying 11 – 12 dollars a gallon and have had to drive tiny motor cars for years to try to stave off bankruptcy every time you require a trip into town.

    Our banks are screwed, mortgages impossible to come by… and beer 6 dollars a pint.

    Tax is 40% for higher earners, Value added tax 17.5% on purchases and national insurance 9% ( don’t let anyone tell you our National Health servoce is free..)

    Feeling better now?

  • Here is an image: a man rides up on a single speed bicycle with fenders, lights, and an enclosed chain guard with his food in a basket or saddle bags. He walks upstairs to his flat, and makes dinner. Later he plays an instrument with his neighbors on their city porch.

    Here is another: a foreign immigrant grows a small surplus to feed and educate his/her family. His goods are sold locally, with a chunk of them moving out on draft animals and then to rail stations heading towards our cities.

  • Nice blog.
    While they may have been icons, I think they were icons of excess… and I’m not sure in the last 30 years Fannie and Freddy were responsible for any building of the middle class. That was what they were in their first 50 or 60 years. I think the SUV and Bud and the McMansion were old relics already. They just had a lot of momentum. Toyota’s were better cars than GM’s in the late 70s, and so were 90 % of the beers on the market (can’t carry that to the Mortgage momsters). So these icons have been dead for a long time!
    Writing from the state with more brews per capita than any other state – Vermont,

  • Lets hope the new dream doesn’t have anything to do with wasteful overconsumption.

    I don’t think products are a good replacement for anything, I guess that means I’m not very American, but it’s about time we start filling the gaping holes in our souls with something other than products.

  • gregorylent

    about bloody time … now, the list is longer, and the faster we get through it, the better.