Rich Hall's Working for the American Dream (2018) Movie Script

The American dream.
What does that phrase even mean?
Cos it's wildly open to
But I think to a lot of Americans
it's being given the chance to do
your work with dignity.
So, for the next 90 minutes or so,
we're going to examine the old
American work ethic,
and try to understand how,
far too often, labour
seems to get in the way of work.
If you don't know the difference
between labour and work,
it's like the difference between
sleeping and dreaming.
In other words, the American dream
is littered
with a lot of lumpy mattresses.
Did you like that metaphor?
I did. There's going to be plenty
more, so stick around.
The notion of the American dream
has been embedded in America's
creation myth
since the day the first Pilgrims
planted their buckled boots on
Plymouth Rock. Which actually never
because Plymouth Rock is the
size of a small garden feature.
But the hard work ethic and the
very definition of success itself
has mutated over the years.
From something spiritual,
to something material,
to something that nowadays seems
almost undefinable.
Still, it's the cement that unifies
From industrialists... politicians... artists... writers... the everyday working stiff,
the message is the same.
Put in a little elbow grease,
and your efforts will be rewarded.
But it doesn't always
work out that way.
Sometimes the dream
turns into a nightmare.
America was founded on the idea of
redemption, second chance,
a fresh start, if you're willing to
put your back to the plough.
No country has condensed its
creation myth more than America -
you were a slave, or an indentured
lazy, alcoholic, landless,
impoverished, riddled with typhoid,
or accidentally
tomahawked by a Mohican,
guess what? You're not making
it into America's history books.
Americans celebrate
exceptionalism and progress.
It's a reason that we call ourselves
"the" land of opportunity
and not "a" land of opportunity,
because apparently most Americans
have never heard of New Zealand.
But here's the thing - for every
industrial achievement,
for every rags-to-riches story,
for every great invention,
from this incredibly pliant but
durable jacket, to this smartphone,
somewhere scores of people are
hunched over workbenches
trying desperately not to stitch
or solder their fingers together.
If hard work is so ethical,
how come there's seldom
anything ethical
about making people work hard?
When Americans talk about
a work ethic,
what they mean is hard effort
is its own virtue.
It's a doctrine that came
across on the Mayflower
the day the Puritans set sail
for Plymouth Rock.
The Mayflower sailed into Cape Cod,
in November of 1620 after
a 66-day voyage.
Now, it's generally noted about
half the people on the boats were
separatists, Calvinists - but here's
a more specific breakdown.
33 of those people were elderly,
and pretty much wished
they'd died on the boat
before they ever arrived.
Another 57 realised immediately
what a horrible,
horrible mistake
they made leaving Europe.
The remaining 42 set about making
the lives of the other 90
excruciatingly miserable.
It's kind of like Butlin's,
but worse.
The first couple years
were really hard,
they came over, and the first year
they planted their crops
and enough of them came up that they
could survive another year.
But the following
year it didn't do so well,
and it looked like the crops
would fail
and that would have been the end
of the colony.
So the Puritans
who settled the colonies
in North America
were predisposed to misery.
They believed they were the people
that the Book of Revelations
had chosen to go
into the wilderness
because some shit was
about to go down.
So they were willing to flagellate
themselves with toil because that
is an inherent Calvinist principle.
OK, in essence, Calvinism goes like
this - God has predetermined who's
making the team and it's the hardest
But just because you're on
the team
doesn't mean you're in the
starting line-up,
but if you don't act like you're
in the starting line-up you're
not even going to make the team.
Man's character, fate, and morality
are determined by his labours.
If you were educated or
you were called master or mistress.
If you were a craftsman like
a wheelwright or glass-blower,
you were a goodman.
Beneath the goodmen
were the indentured servants.
Beneath the indentured servants
were the kids,
who were exploited beyond belief.
Put out to labour from sun-up
till sundown.
So a typical day in a Puritan kid's
life would probably consist of
awakening before dawn,
sitting down to a hot steaming bowl
of grubs and larvae,
then they would be sent out into a
field where they might be strapped
to a large immovable
boulder in the hopes that
a sudden growth spurt
would dislodge the thing.
Afterwards, four or five hours
in a dank schoolhouse,
where the only books were a Bible
and a trilogy called Thousands
And Thousands Of Mohicans,
Not So Many Mohicans,
Last Of The Mohicans.
And afterwards, chores such
as sewing by candlelight
until you went blind,
or assisting Mom through yet
another stillbirth.
Good times.
Everyone knew their place,
and everything was achieved
for the greater glory of God.
If you think about it, there is no
more effective incentive to work
than the notion that when a flashing
white-hot streak of lightning fills
the sky, and a blindingly bright
figure of Christ descends to Earth
to pluck his chosen ones,
you don't really want to be caught
goofing off at the water cooler.
The belief in personal salvation
through work
is how the Plymouth colony
Work, work, work, work, work.
Idle hands are the devil's workshop.
They proved that you could tame
the American wilderness,
but the flood of people who
followed - the Amish, the Quakers,
the Lutherans, the Protestants,
the Catholics - they didn't
adhere to that same aesthetic.
Probably because they looked at
these right-wing religious zealots,
and thought to themselves,
"Hey, wait a minute,
"if hard work is
the core of spirituality,
"how come the most
spiritual people of all -
"monks - don't work at all?"
Major paradigm shift.
Religious freedom gave way
to personal motivation.
By the middle of the 18th century
in America,
a good deal of secularisation
had taken place.
The idea that one worked for the
glory of God
was slowly replaced with
the byword "usefulness".
America was still
a spindly legged puppy,
and the only way it was going to
survive was if every man, woman,
and child expended some dogged
Benjamin Franklin,
more than anyone else,
condensed this idea
into the kind of aphorisms
that stuck easily
into people's heads.
He invented the bumper sticker
before there were bumpers.
Franklin was America's first
exemplary model
of the self-made man.
He was born poor in the
Massachusetts Bay colony in 1706.
At the age of ten, taught himself to
read Latin,
but dropped out of school.
He invented swim fins for the hands.
So you knew this guy was going
Then he became a printer's
and that the age of 24 started
publishing, under a pseudonym,
Poor Richard's Almanac.
A compendium of idioms and weather
forecasts and predictions,
written in a vernacular
that regular people could relate to.
"A penny saved is a penny earned."
"Fish and visitors stink
after three days."
"I believe that once all the hoopla
has died down,
"that The Dave Clark Five
will be bigger than The Beatles."
1730, he was elected official
printer for Pennsylvania,
cranking out state currency.
The man was literally given
a license to print money.
He would go on to invent
the Franklin stove, bifocals,
American independence,
and something else but I
can't quite think of right now.
It'll come to me.
He was an abolitionist
and a vegetarian.
It would have been useful if
Franklin had invented the wristwatch
because his exhortations
about time equating money
would have been lost on most
18th-century New Englanders.
They didn't know what time it was.
They knew when the sun came up,
when the sun went down,
they knew when it
was planting season,
harvest season, fallow season.
It was a self-employed nation.
Industrious but not yet industrial.
It was a very simple
economic tenant.
A man's efforts are his to exert,
and the successes
are his to be reaped.
For a short period, this pure
fiduciary equation worked.
But then that pesky old southern
bugaboo, cotton, raised its head.
Cotton. It's hard to believe that a
huge chunk of America's problems,
racial tensions, the Mason-Dixon
line, the Civil War, Reconstruction,
Jim Crow laws,
the KKK, civil rights,
some bigoted 20-year-old kid running
a Dodge Challenger into a group of
protesters, every dumbass, redneck,
cracker-barrel shred of racism that
exists in America is the indirect
result of a fabric - a fabric.
God, if only northerners
had been happy wearing wool
or hemp or muskrat pelts, America
would be a different nation.
A nation itching and
scratching its sweaty ass off
but a less racist nation.
In our historically redacted world,
we like to think that the north was
anti-slavery and thus morally
superior to the south,
but that's not remotely the case.
Southern slavery and King cotton
were inextricably intertwined with
the north.
The founding of the Merrimack Mills
in lower Massachusetts in 1822
changed the industrial order in
It was the first mega-factory.
All that cotton picked by bonded
slaves from the south came here,
where it was loomed by wage slaves
or, as we like to call them, women.
The way the mills first got their
employees was Francis Cabot Lowell,
the founder of the Lowell
manufacturing industry.
He went out to farm communities
throughout New England,
himself, and he would talk to groups
of farmers, and say, "Send us your
"daughters, we're going
to take care of them,
"we're going to keep them on
the morally straight and narrow,
"we are going to make sure
they're educated,
"we're going to pay them well.
"Send us your daughters and they'll
be working in our companies, making
"American products, and you
can be proud of them."
Ranging in age from seven to 35,
the mill girls - or mules,
as they came to be known -
worked an average of
73 hours a week.
They slept six to a room in
dormitories and after work they were
encouraged by the mills' matrons
to read and write and paint -
you know, to improve their
standing in society.
They even had their own publication
- the Lowell Offering -
full of poems and short stories
celebrating the enlightened culture
of being strapped to a card spinner
for 14 hours a day.
When the girls first came here
it was really seen as
this revolutionary
new way of running America.
This new industry,
this new opportunity.
I'm not sure if they were looked up
to but they were applauded -
they were applauded
for taking the chance
and going to work for themselves.
Almost immediately, a kind of
proto-feminist argument arose.
Were these mill girls
being exploited,
or were they emancipated because
they had paying jobs?
As opposed to staying on the farm
and earning zilch.
Sure it was a lousy wages,
they were medically misunderstood,
they were an nonentity at the ballot
box, but they were making money.
SHOUTS: It was shit!
Imagine listening to
this for 16 hours a day.
This is worse than a Kasabian album.
The more highfalutin members
of New England Society
took the term "mill girl"
and turned it into a class slur.
There were rumours started
about loose morality,
that they were going out
and doing things
that girls of New England
shouldn't be doing,
so the reputation started to change.
As the decades went on and more
and more mills were built,
wages went down,
and it was the immigrant women
who started to work in the mills.
Then it was seen
really as dirty work
that only dirty people would do.
Because these women weren't home
scrubbing and baking and ringing
and washing, they weren't fit for
breeding or marriage,
and that's where we get the term
So, off the backs of slaves
and through
the gnarled fingers of young women,
America entered its industrial age.
The self-employed enterprises
gave way to factories.
People engaged in mind-numbing
specialised tasks
making things for the nation to use
when the nation wasn't working.
Which was practically never.
The work ethic had become
a maze of paradoxes.
On the one hand, it impelled the
restless energy of a young nation.
America had become a powerhouse
and there was a sense of mission.
But these same workers were trapped
in a cycle of monotony,
forced discipline. Where was
the individual creativity?
Where was that sense of usefulness
that Franklin liked to talk about?
By the mid-1800s,
the northern United States was
one giant steaming workhouse.
Consumed by the idea that
a man's physical output
determined his destiny.
So, there was no excuse
not to bust your butt.
Now maybe you're thinking,
"Geez, Rich,
"didn't people ever
lighten up back then?
"They couldn't have spent
all their time working."
Well, of course
there was leisure time.
There was baseball
and cracker jacks.
A day at the track. Parades,
capades and county fairs,
where the gals dressed in gingham.
If you had a little cash
you could take in the follies.
Now, if you were a kid, you might
spend a lot of leisure time
sitting down
with your McGuffey Reader -
the most popular
schoolbook at the time,
full of wisdom and lifestyle tips.
"Lucy has a new box, a big box,
let us go and see it.
"Lucy's box is red.
"It is a hot day, let us go out.
"Let us go out with our dog, to the
new cut hay.
"Let us put hay on our dog.
"It will be fun. Let us go."
And in the evening, the family would
sit around and play a wildly popular
board game called
The Checkered Game of Life.
# The game of life... #
It was invented in 1860, by a man
named Milton Bradley,
and quickly became the favoured
parlour pastime in America.
The object of the game was to reach
successful old age -
which, at the time, was about 45 -
along the way trying to avoid such
misfortunes as disgrace, property,
crime, prison, the fat office,
and suicide.
Fun for the whole family.
That's life!
The game is still popular today,
but it's been updated a bit.
For instance,
you now achieve success
by graduating college,
getting a job,
finding a spouse, finding a home,
buying a car,
the suicide option has been replaced
by bankruptcy,
but you can work your way out of
total financial devastation
by merely helping the homeless or
Just like real life.
The whole notion of the
American dream,
the land of opportunity,
is predicated on cultivation.
Anyone who's ever seen some
fossilised septuagenarian
pottering around their sad allotment
can see how elated they are
when they coax a few
runner beans into existence.
Why? Cos dirt makes people happy.
The notion of owning the proverbial
40 acres and a mule
was irresistible to a lot
of Americans. In 1860,
true freedom for a lot
of Americans lay out west.
The famous John Gast painting,
American Progress,
sums it up pretty succinctly.
Old America was a greasy mechanic
trapped in a mind-numbing production
line with some fat, rich boss
breathing down its neck.
New America,
an ethereal female spirit
stringing telegraph wire
like a Wichita lineman.
If the Wichita lineman was wearing
a diaphanous negligee,
shepherding steam engines and
wagon trains across the Great Plains
towards untold riches,
while terrorised buffalo and Indians
scampered off into the margins.
Who wouldn't want a piece of that?
As America expanded, more
and more Europeans followed,
trailing in the celestial prop wash
of that floating female
godhead of fortune.
I told you there'd be
more metaphors.
One group in particular made the
most of their new-found opportunity.
46 million Americans have some kind
of German ancestry,
and that makes them the largest
ethnic majority in America.
How did this happen?
Well, in 1848 a wave
of rebellion broke out
against the autocratic princes
and barons who ruled Germany.
Which at the time was a loose
collection of near-feudal states.
After the revolt, some of these
and organisers hotfoot it
for America.
Fortunately their arrival coincided
with the signing of
the Homestead Act, which had opened
up the Midwest to settlers.
So, these God-centric German folk
moved West,
settling along the Mississippi River
in places like Iowa, or Illinois.
They brought with them a more
precise work ethic
and some pretty nifty
inventive ideas.
A lot of these early German colonies
were very hard-core religious -
Moravians, Waldensians, Amish,
Hutterites - you know, old school.
But even the most pious German can't
seem to help himself when it comes
to work. By God, they've got to
invent something!
That's why here at the Amana
a religious commune which, up until
1939, operated off of a mill race
invented the microwave.
The Amana radarange
is the first home-use
microwave technology ever
invented, and you're looking
at the very first model
ever made in the whole world.
So this actually wasn't
called a microwave,
this is called a radarange.
It's a Radarange, yes.
They trademarked the technology and
everything, and eventually of course
that technology was taken to other
and so they obviously couldn't
call it a Radarange,
otherwise that was copyright
infringements and so people
called it a microwave, and that's
what it's been called ever since.
Right. But it's really
a Radarrange.
Correct. There's radar in there.
By the 1960s,
Amana appliances had
become a household name -
what every housewife and game show
contestant dreamed of.
So, while some Germans made a life
for themselves in the Midwest
trying to revolutionise
how we eat popcorn,
a good number moved to big cities,
trying to revolutionise
the labour movement.
The Germans who settled in Chicago
in the 1800s were a completely
different culture than those pious,
prune-faced Puritans
who settled in Massachusetts.
Let me put it another way - Germans
don't take a lot of shit.
The atmosphere of labour relations
in Chicago in the late 19th century
was a tinderbox to say the least.
There were relentless strikes,
raw-knuckle demonstrations.
Flash-point confrontations
between workers and owners.
Often organised by outside agitators
who wanted a radical change
in how America worked.
There's a term in the United States
for the lethargy and the lack of
productiveness that Americans feel
at the beginning of the workweek -
it's called Blue Monday.
The saying goes, "Never buy
a car made on a Monday."
Well, Germans had the
same term - blaumachen.
But it describes the restlessness
that Germans feel
when they're sitting
around on a Monday
waiting for indigo dye to dry.
Germans don't like
not being productive.
Do you understand? Chicago in 1880
was full of Germans and Bohemians,
companies like Pullman
and MacCormick
paid them $1.50 a day,
they worked 60 hours a week,
six days a week, and because Germans
expect to be paid for their efforts,
things weren't exactly
The Haymarket tragedy of 1886
is probably the singular most
critical event
in the history of
American workers' rights.
May 4th 1886,
when a protest was held against
police brutality in Chicago
with the hope that
20,000 people would come.
The background of all this,
of course,
is a fight for the eight-hour day,
the right to organise,
the right to free speech,
all the things that were suppressed
by the owners of industry.
The rally is called,
it's disorganised,
it's terrible weather and only
2,000, 2,500 people show up.
So they mounted
these hay wagons to talk,
and used fiery rhetoric about,
"This has to stop,
this attack on workers,
"we are trying to organise unions."
Towards the end of the rally,
most of the crowd had left,
there's 250 people in the crowd,
and the final speaker,
Samuel Fielden, is speaking,
and the Police Inspector Bomfield
marches his 176 police officers
up to the crowd, and says,
"I command you
"in the name of the people
to disperse."
And Samuel Fielden says,
"But this is a peaceable meeting."
And at that very moment,
what is observed is
a five-pound dynamite bomb
that lands at the foot of the
police and kills a policemen.
That explosion blew out the lights,
and the police were armed
and they started shooting.
The bomb blast killed seven
In the ensuing violence,
four workers were killed,
many more were injured.
The next day, martial law
is declared in Chicago,
and within a short period
of time
this great, incredible,
unfair trial takes place
and eight men are
convicted of conspiracy
to commit violence and murder.
Six of them German-born, one
American-born and one from England.
Americans were being told that
long-haired, creepy, socialist
German agitators, bomb-throwers
are trying to ruin our way of life.
That was the rhetoric
in the newspapers.
It's about the basic fundamental
democratic, and what is so much an
American ideal, the right
to freely assemble,
the right to organise,
and the suppression of that
is really what
the Haymarket story is about.
One of the great anomalies of the US
is that, unlike the UK or Australia,
it's never had a Labour Party.
You know, a political party made up
of and representing workers.
Why? Because the first
labour movements in America
managed to let anarchists
slip into their ranks.
Ever since, labour movements
have been infected
with that dreaded word - socialism.
Which in America is a word that
easily morphs into the next
word - communism.
The Haymarket Tragedy
in Chicago reverberated
throughout the world and Chi-Town
was now being perceived
as a hotbed of pink-tinged
Social decay, poverty,
still smouldering from
the devastating fire
that had nearly destroyed it
in 1871,
and even worse, it had never won
a World Series.
Frankly, the place was a mess.
So what do you do when you want a
makeover in the eyes of the world?
When you want to show the big boys
in London and Paris
that you're a major player
on the world stage?
You throw a party!
The 1893 Columbian Exposition in
Chicago was a World's Fair that made
other World's Fairs look like one
of those skanky, syphilitic,
fun fairs in Skegness
on a Friday night.
The city dredged 200 acres of
swampland in South Chicago,
constructed an entire city
out of plaster,
built a midway,
and introduced the world to
carbonated drinks, hamburgers,
indoor lighting,
bearded lady midgets,
the Ferris wheel, ragtime music,
hoochie coochie shows
and the Pledge of Allegiance.
It really shined a light on Chicago
and the work ethic of Americans
because people were aware
of the fire in 1871,
and you're talking that
the city burned to the ground
only 20 years prior to this.
So the amount of work and the
amount of work even leading up to
even possibly competing
to have the fair was huge,
but this was kind of proof positive
that they had really
risen from the ashes
and had really shone a light on
the American worker,
the Chicago worker,
and what people can accomplish
if they really
put their minds to something.
And really everybody wanted it -
from the hourly wager
to the rich elite people.
It was here that Henry Ford saw
the internal combustion engine
that would give him the idea
for a horseless carriage.
It inspired L Frank Baum
to write The Wizard of Oz.
It was the template
for future prefab wonders
like Disneyland and Las Vegas.
20 million people visited
the Columbian Expo
in the six months it ran.
Shortly after it closed,
it caught fire,
and melted to the ground
like a 600-acre marshmallow.
But it changed the way
the world viewed America
and the way Americans
viewed themselves.
The designers of the fairs
originally wanted this to be
greater and grander than any
other fair.
I mean, when you talk 200 buildings
over 600 acres
just placing your
eyes on everything
would be over 300 miles of walking
and it would take over two weeks.
And this was an opportunity for
someone who had never...probably
never left Chicago to actually go
and see things from, like, over 51
different countries that were
represented at the fair.
What the Expo achieved was to create
the concept of mass marketing
and packaging.
After the Expo,
Americans became brand-conscious -
they didn't want any pancake syrup,
they wanted the pancake syrup
they'd seen at the Expo.
The one that emanated from the
corpus of a smiling black woman
who called herself Aunt Jemima.
America had become
a consumer economy.
The beginning of the 20th century
was the singularly most mind-blowing
decade of progression
in the history of history.
What? Did you get a new iPhone X
in 2018?
Good for you. Do you know how much
things changed
between 1900 and 1910?
Well, in 1900,
an American might be sitting around
trying not to contract diphtheria,
waiting for a horse-drawn cart to
deliver some unpasteurised milk.
A mere ten years later,
conceivably that same person could
be driving to an airfield in Dayton
Ohio in a model T car, listening to
a wireless radio broadcast through a
plastic headset,
wearing clothes freshly laundered in
an electric washing machine, and
taking pics along the way
with a Brownie camera.
While in an alternative universe,
if you believe this guy's theory,
people were doing the same thing,
except they were moving slower and
they would have shrunk somewhat
in mass.
America had become
a consumptive nation.
Its trade output was the largest
in the world.
Stuff, stuff, stuff.
The world could not get enough of
what America was cranking out.
Now, you would think
with all this innovation,
that workers' rights would
have progressed, but no.
Things were rolling along,
but health care?
Forget it. Paid vacations?
Come on. Labour unions had no power
Still they continued to fight
for shorter hours
and better working conditions.
The phrase that became popular
during that period was,
"Eight hours of work,
eight hours of sleep,
"eight hours for what we will."
Right. And the idea that eight hours
for what we will would be to
get educated,
and to be able to finally
have the things that the wealthy
seemed to be able to have.
Of course, the wealthy bosses,
the Scrooge McDucks
swimming in pools of 100 dollar
bills resisted this fiercely.
Most of the captains of American
have at one point or another had
their workers shot.
Go on, named any rich American
George Pullman, school dropout,
invented the Pullman car. Hooray!
Everyone can sleep on trains.
Except for the 30 protesting workers
at the Pullman brand in Chicago, who
were gunned down by federal marshals
acting on Pullman's behest.
John D Rockefeller, school dropout,
founded standard oil.
Everyone can heat their homes!
Except for the 66 striking miners,
wives and children killed by
Rockefeller's deputised militia
in Ludlow, Colorado.
Henry Ford, school dropout. Every
American can now afford a car.
Except for the 64 laid-off employees
machine-gunned by security guards at
Ford's plant in Dearborn, Michigan.
The evil-eyed Thomas Edison,
school dropout.
OK, he never had any of his workers
shot but he once electrocuted an
elephant just to spite his arch
nemesis Nikola Tesla.
When Edison wasn't shooting current
through circus animals,
he was illuminating America,
with his light bulb.
But technological advances like this
actually had a detrimental effect
on the average worker.
The great saviour of modern
progress, indoor lighting,
just meant that people worked
longer hours.
Manufacturers, who by nature are
cold-blooded bastards,
strived to get even more
out of their workers.
Something called Taylorism was born.
Frederick Taylor was a mechanical
engineer from Philadelphia,
who, while working at the Bethlehem
Steel Corporation in Pennsylvania,
became obsessed with time, motion,
and human productivity.
He invented the term "management
consultant" and then became one.
Now basically Taylor was that
jobsworth twit at work.
You know - the one who insists
there's only one right way to do
Except he took it to lunatic
He watched men loading pig iron and
calculated the most efficient way to
wield a pig iron shovel, so that the
maximum amount of pig iron could be
lifted in the shortest amount
of pig time.
He invented something called the
auto stereo cyclo chronograph,
and ran around the country
delivering his pig iron calculations
and micro motion studies.
So naturally Taylor's studies were
adopted by factory owners and
workers were stripped
of the last few remaining
ounces of dignity that they owned.
Victorian nervousness,
the Protestant ethic, craftsmanship,
pride - they were gone.
In fact, Taylor was so efficient
that he accomplished everything
he wanted to with his life
by the age of 45, so then he retired
and spent the
remainder of his life staring
at his stopwatch waiting to die.
The workers of America were once
again becoming dehumanised.
Reduced to mindless repetition
just like
in those old Northern factory days.
Where had the craftsmanship gone?
To live the American dream you need
to be happy in your work.
Otherwise it's not a dream,
it's a nightmare.
You're lucky enough to have
an occupation
where you're making something
artistic or creative,
you're probably a happy worker.
If you're making something out of
you're probably a happy worker.
That's why luthiers are probably
a lot happier
than people making smartphones.
There's an old saying,
"I hope they make Martins
in heaven,
"cos I know they make Gibsons
in hell."
Actually, I just made that up.
But if there is a workers' heaven,
then it's here in Nazareth,
home of Martin guitars,
where every instrument is still
crafted by hand.
And if you own one, the chances are
the person who made it
is just as happy about that
as you are.
A lot of people have been here
for a long time,
there's a lot of pride
in what we do,
but the question specifically about
the work ethic,
I think they see that when
they come in, nobody is sweating,
but we're working pretty hard and
consistently focusing on quality.
There's a tremendous satisfaction
in working with your hands,
creating something by innate skill,
whether you're carving it
from scratch out of rosewood
or restoring it to its former glory.
The best part of this job is making,
and is
you know,
getting an instrument together
for someone to play,
and enjoy playing music with.
That's what music is all about,
so that's what I get to do.
I get to make people happy with
getting an instrument for them,
you know?
So you worked in England
and you worked in America?
Do you see a difference in the work
ethic between Brits and Americans?
Yeah, yeah, there's a difference.
I think the Americans,
they like to work longer hours.
Several of my colleagues here,
they have two or three jobs,
and I think that's part of the
American dream, is to strive for the
materialistic things in life.
What truly makes work
a happy experience?
Well, obviously, you know,
a positive work environment,
a balance between work and leisure,
being rewarded for your efforts.
But there's something else.
Making something of quality.
Something with a soul.
Look, I don't want to get all
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle
Maintenance on you here,
but when a worker knows that his
efforts are going to result in
something useful, something lasting,
something infused with artistry,
well, it's a beautiful thing.
You only have to look at
a 55 T-bird.
The Golden Gate Bridge.
An airstream trailer,
for crying out loud.
Like, the workers who build them
are rational people -
you're a rational guy, right?
Yeah. And the product itself is
If you get a combination of rational
and romantic, you get quality.
And that's the secret to worker
Love the thing you do.
It's that simple, folks.
1920s America was a time of dramatic
social and political change.
For the first time, more Americans
lived in cities than on farms.
It was roaring, the Jazz age.
Prohibition. Hemingway. Fitzgerald.
Why, if you didn't know better,
you could swear Americans were
starting to get a little culture.
An art movement began to gestate.
A movement that at its core was
The arts and crafts movement
in the '20s
wasn't just an artistic construct.
It was a backlash
to the barbaric crap
America was churning out
and the conditions in which
that crap was being produced.
It advocated economic
and social reform
by returning to simplicity
and traditionalism.
This derived more or less
from the British social critic
John Ruskin, who believed that the
moral and social health of a nation
was directly related to its art,
its architecture,
and to the nature of the work
This is a mission-style oak
handcrafted rocking chair,
based on the works of
Gustav Stickley,
one of the many artisans and
craftsmen of the early 20th century
who built Utopian societies,
so that they could abide and work
in peace in an effort
to rekindle the true meaning
of the phrase "work ethic".
This isn't just a rocking chair -
oh, no.
This is a revolt against
conventional life
and its insensibility to
Against cheap industrial progress
and the even cheaper cheapness of
the lives that were lost
for that progress.
It was made well and sold cheap.
Today a genuine Stickley chair can
go for upwards of five figures
and many of them, many of them are
owned by Barbra Streisand.
Ultimately, the arts and crafts
ethos would inform the work
of Frank Lloyd Wright, a name that
inspires reverential gasps
whenever a highbrow discussion of
American architecture takes place.
Frank used a unique vocabulary of
form and space and pattern which,
when he wasn't banging the wives of
his clients,
changed the notion of what
architecture should be
to most Americans.
He used open spaces
and horizontal lines,
and a free-flowing sense of
all the while maintaining
a heady arrogance
and usurping the talents of the
underlings who work for him.
And banging the wives
of his clients.
Among his most notable creations are
his house here in Oak Park Chicago,
Falling Water in Pennsylvania,
the Usonian homes of New York,
the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan,
Taliesin in Wisconsin,
where a disgruntled cook
named Julian Carlton buried
an axe in his mistress's head while
Wright was away in Chicago
on a so-called business trip.
The cook then set fire to Wright's
home and burned it to the ground,
killing six more people.
Many of these rooms are open to the
public now, and allow visitors to
wander around and gaze in amazement
at Frank Lloyd Wright's handiwork,
somehow conveniently overlooking the
fact that a man put a fucking axe
into the head of the woman
Frank loved,
and he had to bury her in a casket
that he made with his own hands.
Just about the most gut-wrenching,
heartbreaking thing you can imagine.
But, hey, come on,
look at this filigree.
What's the message here, folks?
Life is a mixture of achievement
and tragedy.
If you've achieved something
with your life,
that's how the world remembers you.
If you haven't,
you're just some poor schmendrick
whose mistress got killed
by an axe-murderer.
In terms of social reform,
the arts and crafts movement was
just a blip on the radar,
pretty much killed off by the
arrival of the Great Depression.
It's pretty hard to take pride
in your work when there isn't any.
At the start of the 1930s,
more than a quarter of America's
wage-earners were on the skid.
For most of that decade,
America was in the throes of
and amidst this upheaval,
writers and artists used their work
to document the working man's
To try to dignify it.
John Steinbeck's novel
Of Mice And Men
told the story of George and Lennie,
two fellas trying desperately to get
a slice of the American dream.
And guess what -
it doesn't end well.
The struggle for the American dream
was a compelling narrative not only
in much of America's literature,
but in its art as well.
Grant Woods' American Gothic is
the most recognisable painting
in America,
and its meaning has always been
open to speculation.
What's going on here?
What's the relationship
between this apparently
humourless-looking couple,
who look like their faces are being
dragged into
the fertile aisle of the soil
right underneath their feet?
What's with the pitchfork?
And the frivolously ornate window?
In an otherwise claptrap house.
It's a real chin-scratcher, folks,
but what the hell does it all mean?
To me, these were the quintessential
This was the American couple.
A little kind of worn out but
hard-working, really durable,
resilient people, and for a long
time that was my image of what the
American people look like.
This is like the stalwart
and pretty grim or at least not
very humorous
people that were the backbone
of the country.
I think that's maybe what it meant.
If you look at the painting,
it's almost as if
you can see two
different images at the same time.
One is of this hard-working, simple,
rugged, Midwest couple,
and at the other time you see this
dour, maybe doubtful, adrift,
lonely couple who don't seem
particularly happy
with the lot that life has given
I think a represents a kind of
joyless austerity in work.
We don't quite know what to make of
these people,
we don't know what to make of their
age differences,
we don't know whether they are being
ridiculed or celebrated,
we don't know if they're from the
1930s or the 1890s.
This is not an easy painting,
it's very dour,
it's very severe, and
yet it does suggest
one's complex relationship to work.
The painting isn't called American
Gothic because of the emotionally
vacant couple,
it's called American Gothic
because of the house behind them.
Which you could buy
in a catalogue at the time.
And the house's defining feature is
the ornate window,
that's what drew Grant Wood to it.
In this sense, Gothic doesn't mean
or Edgar Allen Poe, or The Cure,
it just means ornate.
To a lot of Americans,
American Gothic represents the
stigma of landlessness,
the sort of poverty always hanging
right over our heads.
Because, in America, if you don't
work, you starve.
Literally, figuratively,
when American strangers meet,
first thing they ask each other is,
"What do you do?"
Not, "What do you think?
What do you feel?"
"What do you do?"
An American's character is defined
by his labours.
What is why this posing couple looks
they can't wait for Grant Wood to
finish his portrait,
so they can get back to
Wood was a regionalist painter
trying to capture the essence of the
Midwest in his portraits.
He put remarkable detail into the
human characters he painted.
But his landscapes are cartoonish.
Grant Wood's version of Midwestern
American is fat, bulbous,
impossibly pregnant with greenery -
why, a weed would be blasphemy.
But Wood wasn't being naive,
he was being satirical.
In the real world, Wood's bountiful
Midwest was blowing away.
The Dust Bowl had devastated
the land.
Those hard-working farmers
of the Midwest
had actually overworked the soil.
And the promise of endless
that America was built on
had become a joke.
When we think about the real
landscape of farming
in the Midwest in the 1930s,
you have droughts, the Dust Bowl,
farm strikes, labour unrest.
None of this comes into the sunny
landscapes of Grant Wood.
He is as far removed
as you could imagine,
from the kind of turmoil of farming
in the 1930s,
and the reason for that
is that, for him,
farm-scapes had very little to do
with the reality of farming.
They are homages to the farms in an
idealised sense of his childhood.
Grant claimed to be the plainest
kind of fella you can find.
"There isn't a single thing I've
done or experienced," he said,
"that's been even the least bit
He was a modest,
homespun-looking guy,
who you'd pass on any small-town
streets and barely notice.
But that was deceiving because,
in fact,
Wood was a classically trained
who'd studied extensively in Europe,
and could faithfully imitate the
masters like Van Gogh or Monet.
By 1930, the year that he painted
American Gothic,
Grant Wood had clearly come into his
own distinctive style,
and it divided people.
Serious art critics,
they didn't like it,
they thought it was too naive and
You know, all those boob-shaped
trees and hills,
kind of stuff you would find
in a gift shop.
Way too feminine.
Conversely, the human figures in his
paintings are all masculine.
Even the woman look like men.
If his hard-working beefcake manly
men figures
remind you of anything,
it might be this.
Romantic nationalism.
The idea that the superiority of a
nation is tied to its terrain.
The connection between Wood's work
and a kind of fascist aesthetic
is not a new idea.
Wood's nemesis at the
University of Iowa,
Horst Janssen,
tried to discredit Wood
in the years after Wood's death
in 1942.
Janssen was a die-hard modernist,
he loathed Wood's work, and he
wrote a very influential article
in the mid-1940s comparing Wood's
to the aesthetic of the Third Reich.
He was absolutely damning, it was
terrible for his reputation.
Wholly off the mark, but was very
much a part of mid-1940s criticism
after Wood's death, conveniently,
when he could no longer
defend himself.
# New Country Corn Flakes
# From fields of corn
# So majestically waving. #
No American painting has been more
parodied than American Gothic.
Anytime you want reduce someone to
simple one-dimensional yokels,
pose them with a pair of overalls
and a pitchfork.
# New Country Corn Flakes,
They're made from corn. #
All right, we get it,
it's visual shorthand
for people too uptight to relax.
But relaxation was always going to
be the antidote,
to the chronic overwork
that drives America.
Give people something to do,
placate them.
The greatest work incentive America
ever came up with was escaping the
crap you put up with each day, and
going into a darkroom,
staring at a blank canvas
that projected dreams onto it.
In the year 1925, 50 million people
a week went to the movies.
The equivalent of half the nation's
In Chicago, in 1929,
theatres had enough seats
for half the city's population
to attend a movie each day.
American cinema-goers were now being
fed the American dream by Hollywood.
Not only were they looking at
they were looking at people
who had reinvented themselves.
And, for a few hours,
everyone could escape reality.
Before remembering that the next day
they'd have to go back to the
production line loading that pig
The emergence of modernism in
America finally
allowed film-makers and writers and
to question the American dream.
In fact, anytime a literary or
artistic endeavour is designated the
great American so-and-so,
it's actually about how great
America isn't.
Take the great American novel,
The Great Gatsby, what's it about?
Self-made millionaire trying to use
his ill-gotten gains to buy his way
into Long Island society, but he
can't have the one thing he wants,
Daisy Buchanan...
..played by Mia Farrow in the 1974
film version of the book.
Who convincingly portrayed the
character's shallow quality.
Why didn't you wait for me?
Rich girls don't marry poor boys,
Jay Gatsby.
The great American play,
Death of a Salesman.
The American dream has left
Willy Lohman behind,
but he can't let it go,
and he tries heartbreakingly to
instil it into his kid, Biff.
Why is he crying?
Dad, will you let me go,
for God's sake?
Will you take that phony dream,
and burn it before something
The Great American movie,
The Godfather.
The violent criminal actually
his family and his business
can be accepted
into mainstream American society,
on his own insanely
misguided terms.
I worked my whole life,
and I don't apologise,
to take care of my family,
and I refuse to be a fool,
dancing on a string held
by all those big shots.
The message is always the same,
OK, hard work may make you money,
but it can't buy you love, or
status, or redemption.
When Americans get
above their status,
they become victims of tragedy.
In a way, we are all not-so-great
By the time the '50s rolled around,
the nightmare of
the previous decades
had comfortably reverted to a dream.
Americans could pursue it with
unbridled optimism,
and, boy, did they ever.
They bought everything they could
get their hands on.
It was all new and shiny
and a reminder that
they'd defeated fascism.
The idea that the '50s was the
golden age of happiness in America
is one of the great lies
of our history.
Yeah, it was a great decade, if you
were white and middle-class.
There was peace and prosperity,
Elvis, big fin Oldsmobiles.
But the '50s was really a decade of
physical and spiritual restlessness.
Big-city northerners pulled up
stakes and headed south and West.
California's population grew by 49%,
Florida's by 79%.
By 1960, a third of America had
traded in the urban grind
for a driveway and a sad tree.
Uncle Ike Eisenhower,
America's non-politician President,
worried that Americans were becoming
deadened in mind and soul
by a materialistic philosophy
of life.
So in 1957, he passed a bill to put
"In God We Trust"
on American money.
Just to remind Americans that every
impulsive purchase
was a slap in God's face.
There's something wrong with
human nature!
What is it in the nature of men that
causes men to lie?
And hate? And cheat?
And steal?
God started showing up on TV
as well.
His Earthly vessel was a
lantern-jawed Calvinist preacher
from North Carolina named
Billy Graham.
Graham's televised crusades...
Yep, that's what he called them.
..were the equivalent
of a rock concert,
culminating in a discharge
of salvation-seekers
streaming toward his
pulpit for repentance.
Graham became America's first
religious superstar.
His message wasn't much different
from those Massachusetts Puritans.
Only God can judge.
But a more self-centred piety
was also forming,
one that better served the working
stiff of the '50s.
This preacher promoted the gospel
of self-esteem,
and his God was less
an avenging angel
and more like a motivational
In 1952, Doctor Norman Vincent Peale
published a self-help book
called The Power of
Positive Thinking.
It was, in essence, a dream manual
supplanting the
physical work ethic
with self-realisation.
Peale preached that what the mind
can conceive and believe,
the mind can achieve -
through a combination of fate
and self-confidence,
any obstacle could be surmounted.
So the only logical conclusion for
his followers was that if they did
exactly what this man said,
they could end up just like him.
A man whose picture was on the cover
of his own book.
And as they filed out of the
auditorium after his sermons,
they got a double dose of
by seeing that this man
wasn't so high and mighty
that he wouldn't be seen standing
in the lobby amidst
stacks of the very same book he'd
just been talking about.
For three consecutive years between
1953 and 1956,
only the Bible outsold The Power Of
Positive Thinking.
Church attendance rose by 20%
in the '50s.
The rich didn't get much richer,
the poor didn't get much poorer
but the middle class boomed!
In 50 short years, America had gone
from a subsistence economy
to a consumer economy,
to an acquisition economy.
In 1950, there were 10 million
television sets,
by 1960, 47 million.
Many of them tuned in to see
Ozzie and Harriet,
a sitcom about a conformist
white suburban family,
mirroring the white suburban
conformist families watching them.
Look, if you two are gonna loaf,
you go in the other room and do it.
I've got work do here.
You know, Sonny, I have a hunch
we're not wanted around here.
You know, I think you're right.
You don't have to knock me over the
knuckles with a wooden spoon.
Ha-ha! A wooden spoon.
Where's my knee?
The major networks created shows
like Ozzie and Harriet,
Leave It To Beaver, and The Donna
Reed Show to mollify viewers.
These characters didn't talk about
the Marshall Plan or Palestine,
blacks and Mexicans
didn't inhabit this world.
It was an antiseptic vision
of middle-class America
where everything smelled
minty fresh.
When any president from Reagan to
Bush to Trump trots out that
Make America Great Again bromide,
this is the era they are invoking.
If the American Dream is a promise
of upward mobility,
for one brief period
in our history, it worked.
Assuming your idea of the American
Dream is cultural malnutrition,
patio furniture and a sad tree.
What was so great about the '50s?
Well, the middle class mushroomed,
the economy was robust,
the opening salvos to the civil
rights movement were fired.
The interstate was built,
people were going places.
So, naturally, something had to be
to tap into America's insecurity
about its abundance.
The Red Scare.
I don't think you have
any conception of the dangers of the
Communist Party.
The Communist witch-hunt of the '50s
orchestrated by the firebrand
nutcase Joseph McCarthy
tapped into the heart of America's
insecurity about its
new-found wealth.
A conformist, brainwashed nation
was under threat
of being turned into a
conformist brainwashed nation.
If fighting communists and getting
a bit rough with them
is un-American, then I must plead
guilty to being un-American.
The target of McCarthy and his
right-wing zealots
was the working left.
The people who made their living as
academics, politicians,
screenwriters, artists.
And the best thing you can do to an
artist is to
tell him he can't be an artist.
The mass conformity of the '50s,
and the hysterical attempts to
protect it
led to rock'n'roll, abstract
Expressionism, beatniks,
the books of Hugh Selby, Henry
Miller and that begat hippies,
counter-culturalism, the SDS,
the Black Panthers,
LSD, Charles Manson,
alternative medicine,
continental philosophy,
social media addiction,
and ultimately the dystopia
that we live in today.
Although McCarthy was doing his best
to whip up his anti-Communist
most Americans were just happy to
live the dream.
Ensconced in a customised bungalow
somewhere in rolling Meadows Estates
with a big old fancy set of wheels
parked outside.
In a prefab world, craftsmanship
will always find a way to seep
You know, in the 1930s, it was a
fancy, shmancy window
in a claptrap house.
In 1956, it was a Lincoln Premiere.
Look at this - chrome, tail fins,
white walls, tucked and rolled
interior, plenty of headroom.
Seats 12 for dinner,
six miles to a gallon,
Detroit was the manufacturing envy
of the world.
You are about to witness the very
exciting story
of a city and its people.
It will be an adventure that will
open new sites
and familiar surroundings.
It was a time when America was bold
and optimistic about its future and
Detroit responded with big cylinder
dripping with chrome and luxury.
This was, of course, the direct
result of Henry Ford, who,
when he wasn't gunning down
his employees,
had figured out how to get them to
build a new
car every two and a half hours.
America was on the move,
and Ford, Chrysler,
and General Motors sold millions.
Suffice it to say, Detroit was the
industrial showpiece of the world.
A place where people could
come to find opportunity,
the epitome of the American Dream.
Then it all went down the dumper.
How could the legacy of Henry Ford,
an industrialist so worldly admired
that Hitler himself had given him a
shout out in Mein Kampf,
turn into this?
Nobody's buying tyres no more,
for the
simple fact that, you know, the
economy, the gas situation, it's
a major crisis.
There's a lot of people already
laid off, and if any more
get laid off it's going to be a
crisis out there, boy.
If they think the economy
is bad now,
what is it going to be like when all
them people are all laid off?
What are they going to do?
It seems like a crime and that would
obviously go up, you know,
it would darn near make a Christian
turn bad.
Detroit went bust because it made a
product that many,
many Americans did not want,
and then once they lost
that brand loyalty,
they could not figure out for many
years how to recover it.
And what was one of the great,
well-paid, secure,
industrial workforces
in the entire world
suddenly found itself with
shrinking prospects and ultimately
most of them out of a job.
Not just on the auto assembly lines,
but companies that made parts to
sell to GM, to sell to Ford,
to sell to Chrysler.
All those people out of business,
all those workers displaced,
and Detroit as a city collapsed in
on itself,
and depopulated, and portions
of it are coming back now,
but it's never going to be a great
American city again.
It's a great tragedy,
it's a great tragedy brought about
not by the failure of the workers
by the failures of
the managerial class.
Let me tell you a little story.
When I was growing up in the south,
there was a fellow in our town used
to just stand in the middle of the
road and just yell.
"Mustang shitbox!" That's all he
would say, "Mustang shitbox!"
"Mustang shitbox!"
A bit of a fixture. So, naturally,
we called him Mustang Shitbox,
and the story was that he'd gone
to Detroit to work on Mustangs
because he loved Mustangs,
just lived and breathed Mustangs.
By the time he got the job,
the production values
on the Mustang were so poor that
basically it was just a joke
on wheels.
The soul of the machine was
destroyed and it destroyed his soul.
And he came home just a broken man.
So what had happened?
Well, Ford had fallen on bad times,
Horrible design, bad management,
Japanese competition,
and. worst of all, the city of
Detroit had turned its
back on Ford. Wouldn't help him out.
Ford built Detroit. When it needed
Detroit's help, Detroit shafted it.
So what are you saying, Rich?
Detroit ruined a human being?
No, I'm not saying that at all.
I mean truth is, Mustang Shitbox,
that guy,
that dude was messed up long before
he went to Detroit, whoa.
Our town should've never let him go
in the first place, that's my point.
Communities are supposed to
take care of their people.
For the people of
small-town America,
security comes from being part of a
company and part of the community.
So what do you do
when the wheels fall off?
This is Lancaster, Ohio.
In 1947, this town was featured on
the cover of Forbes magazine as the
quintessential American town.
Home of the Anchor Hocking glass
the largest manufacturer
of table glassware in the world.
Everybody loved Anchor Hocking,
if you gave your mum Anchor Hocking
glasses at Christmas,
you were good for the year.
Then something horrible happened.
The company got sold to
a bigger company,
they sold it to another company,
and every one of them just squeezed
the profits right off the top.
They pilfered, they purloined,
they plundered it,
people would come to work and not
even know who owned the company that
day, this is the kind of town that
even Springsteen wouldn't write a
song about. It's that grim.
We have a higher poverty rate
than we once had.
My wife is a teacher
in the school system,
and we have a 50% or so
poverty rate,
people that receive free lunches,
that type of thing, which just
did not used to be the case,
this used to be a very
upper-middle-class town.
There's not as many jobs.
There's more families struggling,
There's not any help for anybody.
And if you need help for things,
you don't meet those requirements.
It's like they make it impossible
around here to live.
In these economically depressed
regions of the American Midwest
and Great Lakes region,
Lancaster, Youngstown, Detroit,
these famous examples,
there seems to be a real crisis
of confidence.
People feel trapped in these
They don't have the resources to
leave, but at the same time staying
provides no standard of living,
and it is emblematic of this
potential transformation,
this post-industrial transformation
in the work ethic,
where a hard days' work
doesn't provide a decent wage,
doesn't provide a living wage.
78% of the people in this town
voted for Trump,
not because they wanted to,
because they're desperate.
And so they pinned their hopes on a
New York City millionaire with a bad
combover, who's never set foot
in Ohio.
Unless, of course, that foot was
covered in a golf shoe.
I want to make our military
so strong, so powerful,
so great that nobody's
going to mess with us.
When Trump got elected,
a lot of people worried
he was going to start a war.
I don't think they foresaw he was
going to restart the Civil War.
The only problem with the
new old Civil War
is it's based on our revised
ideas of morality.
What does that mean?
OK, let me ask you this.
Why has it taken 160 years
for all those Confederate statues
to be demolished?
Because up until a few years ago,
most white people didn't actually
think they were that racist.
This nation today,
regardless of social class,
is more deeply divided than
it has been
at any time since the Civil War.
You have to take into account that
the Republican Party has essentially
become the National White People's
And large numbers of middle-class
Americans are not white.
Interestingly, it's the regions
where we have the highest levels of
immigrant populations are booming
economically, are the most diverse,
and are the most prosperous.
Diversity and prosperity
seem to go hand-in-hand.
So if I'm watching Fox News and I
hear how immigrants are ruining the
country, I'm going to probably be
much more likely to believe that -
if there are not immigrants
who I've actually met,
and live in the community
and I see that they're contributing.
It easier to stereotype and
that which you've never met before.
Americans like to brag that they
don't have a
class system like Britain -
you know all that Downton Abbey
They like to think
that travel and distance
and migration turns them into
a homogenised society
with a shared work ethic.
That's total bullshit.
America has a class system,
it's very simple.
When you go to work, if your name is
on the outside of the building you
work in, you're rich.
If your name is on your desk,
you're middle class.
If you're name is on your shirt,
you're fucking poor!
It's like I said earlier,
when Americans raise
above their status,
they are victims of tragedy.
When they can't raise above their
status, they're victims of comedy.
A lot of the sitcoms in the early
days of television
cast poor workers and white trash as
objects of disparagement.
Struggling to maintain some
semblance of pride.
The Honeymooners!
When you saw the opening titles to
The Honeymooners,
you knew it was a show
where Jackie Gleason,
playing a Brooklyn bus driver,
and Art Carney, a sewer worker,
were trying to reach for the moon.
They would constantly invent
get-rich-quick schemes
that ultimately backfired.
And it was hilarious watching
two men repeatedly fail at
the American Dream while wrecking
their own homes.
Jed Clampett
and his hillbilly family
trying to reconcile their
Depression-era roots
with the millionaire denizens of
Southern California.
Loping around, spouting corn-fed
homilies out of lopsided mouths,
Americans lapped it up,
subconsciously understanding that
poor people in America
may never escape their plight,
but can at least win an occasional
moral victory.
Especially when it meant that the
rich folks
ended up looking more like
the hillbillies.
Her and me is going out hunting.
Ain't that right, Miss Hathaway?
Yes... Yep!
Jethro, you can take that pink
chicken back out to the cement pond.
We're going out to shoot us a nice,
big, fluffy, souffle.
Gomer Pyle? Yes.
All in the Family?
All in the Family.
The Jeffersons!
Oh, I love the Jeffersons.
Oh, the Jeffersons! Good Times! Good
Times. Yes. Yes. Jimmy Walker.
JJ Walker. That JJ was dynamite!
Oh, man! Television never seemed to
reward the American worker with any
upward mobility, despite all their
best efforts, you know.
These people could not escape the
situation, know what I mean, Erika?
Yes. Cos if they could escape
their situation,
it wouldn't be a situation comedy,
No. That class system Americans
refuse to recognise, yeah,
well, it was all over
the television.
Eventually, the TV working class
families started moving upwards.
Middle-class, urban characters
living in brick-walled lofts.
Nowadays, the middle class may be
slathered all over television but
obviously that's not a real
because America's middle class
is shrinking.
It's patently obvious
that America's middle class is
slipping down the economic ladder.
How do you know the middle-class is
Well, when politicians start using
it as a political football.
I know why we are strong, I know why
we have held together,
I know why we are united.
It's because there's always been a
growing middle class,
this guy doesn't have a clue about
the middle class, not a clue.
Does anyone have a clue about
the middle class?
Course not.
What does the term even mean?
Well, interestingly enough,
the middle class was invented by
Benjamin Franklin.
He believed that Western migration
would create class stability,
that the sheer size of America would
reduce class conflict,
and that every American was entitled
to a happy mediocrity.
And that's what the middle class is,
the happy mediocrity.
The white-collar workers,
the middle managers,
the guy or gal walking into some
fluorescent hellhole every day,
sitting down at a gun-metal
grey desk,
piled up with paperwork,
and on the wall is a poster
of some skydivers holding hands and
underneath it says, "Teamwork".
90% of Americans claim they're
middle class.
In other words,
marginally comfortable.
And it's those people who are seeing
those margins tighten everyday.
In the '70s and '80s,
the middle-class life in America
became quite bumpy.
Under Nixon, you had price controls,
you had serious intervention.
In the economy post-Nixon,
you have the Carter Administration,
where something that was
terrifying the middle class
occurred, which was stagflation.
Productivity stopped growing,
output stopped growing,
so people's incomes weren't
increasing anymore,
but their expenses
were through the roof.
America was heading into its worst
economic crisis since the '30s.
And things weren't about to get
any breezier.
Fortunately, a hero was waiting in
the wings.
And once he got his pants on,
he'd come riding into Dodge City
to clean the town up.
I'm speaking to you tonight to give
you a report on the state of our
nation's economy.
I regret to say that we're in the
worst economic mess
since the Great Depression.
He promised salvation,
he was going to reduce government
spending, taxes, regulations.
Sound familiar?
Up until the 1980s,
most working people here in America
who were middle class received a
defined-benefit pension.
Major companies were allowed to walk
away from that commitment to the
social fabric,
so that, one after another,
defined-benefit pension plans
That's a very significant event
because now people are insecure
in their jobs,
and they're insecure
in their prospects,
for a reasonably comfortable
old age.
The middle class are the people who
did everything right,
they got a college degree,
they developed a marketable skill,
they built up a resume,
they got married,
they cranked out a couple of kids,
they bought a Chevy.
Modest, responsible people
just trying
to get their slice
of the American pie.
And now they're scrambling around
job fairs or combing the
going on to job websites,
listening to some self-styled
vacuous guru
tell them how to get back the job
they already had.
Now, I have a theory -
and it's just a theory.
Craftsmen have to work
with their hands,
artists work with their hearts,
rich people work with their brains,
poor people work with their backs,
but the middle class has to work
with their personalities.
And if you've ever met Americans,
a good number of them can barely
the rope barriers
in an airport check-in.
Yet they're expected to figure out
their place in
the corporate beehive.
Who to boss around, who to be
subservient to, whose ass to kiss,
whose ass to kick, how to handle
the psychological demands,
the mind games, and the poorly
defined expectations
dumped on them
by corporate management.
And all the while trying to appear
like they know what they're doing.
Corporate employers never say
they're looking for a
hard worker, you know,
someone who will give you
a straightforward exchange of wages
for effort.
Nope, they need you to be outgoing,
resourceful, qualified, dedicated,
and passionate.
Let's face it, if you can fake all
those emotions,
what the hell are you doing working
at Yo-Yo Tech?
You should be in Hollywood accepting
an Oscar for Best Actor.
Yeah, the middle class
is struggling,
you can blame it on the crash of
2008 or stagnant wage growth,
or downsizing or outsourcing,
but that doesn't answer the simple
basic question -
why did you get shitcanned
and not the other guy?
Because the other guy had better
people skills than you.
You weren't dynamic enough,
you didn't read enough motivational
How can you take the abuse you get
on a sit?
What you need is a rousing
motivational tirade -
kind of like Alec Baldwin
in Glengarry Glen Ross.
I can go out there tonight,
the materials you got,
make myself 15,000 dollars.
Tonight, in two hours - can you?
Can you?
Go and do likewise.
AIDA, get mad you son of a bitches,
get mad.
You know what it takes to sell
real estate?
It takes brass balls
to sell real estate.
America doesn't have brass balls
anymore, we left them on the moon,
that was our last team success.
Nowadays, success is measured
through personal growth.
Yeah, you can walk through any book
store and pass that one section,
try not to be reminded why you,
personally, are a big loser.
Generally these will follow two
different approaches,
there is the numerical approach
to success,
you know, the seven habits of highly
effective people,
the five-second rule, the 40 pillars
of pyramidal success.
Or it's some sort of anthropomorphic
vaguely childlike approach.
Barking Up The Wrong Tree.
Who moved my cheese?
Eat that frog.
The Uterus Is A Feature, Not A Bug.
I don't even know where to begin not
knowing what that means.
The straightforward approach to
by men like Norman Vincent Peale
has given way to a litany of
bona fide gibberish by clowns
such as Seth Godin,
author and corporate guru who
somehow manages to string words,
images and balloons into some sort
of narrative event.
Getting started with this is really
hard, but if you do the physics,
after the first two breaths,
the percentage change in latex
that you're making gets smaller and
smaller and smaller
with each breath.
And then the model is if you can get
the first two breaths over with,
you're gonna get the balloon filled
up, cos it's downhill from there.
At the beginning, there's lots and
lots and lots of argument,
and discussion with
the lizard brain.
As if the only thing holding you
back is that crazy
lizard running around
inside your brain.
You know, that's good advice
for Jim Morrison,
that is useless for
the corporate world.
The corporate world doesn't want you
to be successful or dynamic.
The corporate world doesn't even
know your name.
That's why they gave you a laminate.
America has become a country where
you can create your own fantasy of
what it means to be an American.
You don't even have to bother
working anymore.
The self-made man has become the
self-made-up man online
where you really can
invent yourself. Quite literally,
you can be just exactly whoever you
want to be online.
You can be any age, race, gender,
class, educational level,
you can completely fabricate
Now that may not be in the spirit of
the hard work to earn
the American Dream,
but it's still very much in line
with this re-creation of identity.
Nobody can prove the truth because
nobody knows what the truth is.
And if you can't prove the truth,
just prove the other person
is lying.
That's the world we live in.
An entire generation of selfie
stick-wielding narcissistic fuckwits
who believe that every opinion is
valid, every belief is relative,
and you can define yourself by
something other than what you do.
I believe we can keep the promise
of our founder,
the idea that if you're willing
to work hard,
it doesn't matter who you are,
or where you come from,
or what you look like,
or where you love,
it doesn't matter whether you're
black or white or Hispanic or Asian,
or Native American, or young or old,
or rich or poor, abled, disabled,
gay or straight.
You can make it here in America
if you're willing to try!
The US of A sells itself
as the land where
you can rise from rags to riches.
Opportunity is the main component of
that ethos.
In 1931, the author and social
critic James Truslow Adams
coined a phrase for it -
"the American Dream".
Back then, it had more to do with
idealism than materialism.
Too many of us now tend to worship
self-indulgence and consumption.
Human identity is no longer
defined by what one does...
..but by what one owns.
The greatest misconception of the
American Dream, and this has been
documented in years of polling,
that it really doesn't mean wealth.
In fact, wealth usually comes in
toward the bottom of what people
associate with the American Dream.
Towards the very top, the things
people most associate the dream with
are family, community, freedom.
Wealth plays a role but not a
predominant role,
and it's not central.
When Americans are free to pursue
their dreams,
there is no limit to what we can
This is truly an exciting time in
our country.
Every day, we are accomplishing
great things for our people.
We are really moving along,
we are bringing back our jobs,
we are making America great again.
Thank you.
One of the interesting similarities
between Trump and Obama is
their adherence to the dream.
Barack Obama,
the subtitle of his book,
the Audacity of Hope, is reclaiming
the American dream,
that there was something good that
we've lost or neglected.
Donald Trump, what prefaced "Let's
make America great again"
was a phrase along the lines of,
"Sadly, the American Dream is dead,
"but if I get elected,
I'm going to bring it back
"bigger and better than before."
We will make America wealthy again!
Having said that, it seems for the
first time in generations as if
Americans view
the notion that they'll be more
successful than their parents
as not guaranteed.
70% of Americans hate their jobs.
Many of them to the Nicholson-esque
extreme in The Shining.
So why do we do it?
Cos it feels good when we stop,
that's why.
Despite all the rhetoric,
America's actually only
the 17th hardest working
country on the planet.
They're 11th in gender pay
they're number two
in workplace injuries,
and number one in unpaid workers'
But that doesn't bother Americans
because we inherently believe we
shouldn't be paid to sit
on a beach,
rubbing suntan lotion
into our fat necks.
A holiday is an experience,
and Americans prefer things
to experiences.
Things like a big plasma screen TV
and patio furniture,
God bless 'em.
The Protestant work ethic is never
going to go away,
it's part of our metaphoric
But, despite what old Donnie T says,
what made America great was the
Protestants, the Germans, the Irish,
the Muslims, the African-Americans,
the Asians,
and the Mexicans who came here,
just like those Puritans,
in the haphazard chance
they might find
redemption in dignity in their work.
And barring that, a big old plasma
screen TV,
and patio furniture will do
very nicely.
Maybe this can all best be summed up
in the philosophical ramblings of
that astute Canadian band,
So I'll let them speak for
# Everybody's
working for the weekend
# Everybody wants a little romance
# Hey, yeah
# Everybody's goin' off the deep end
# Everybody needs
a second chance, oh
# You want a piece of my heart
# You better start from the start
# You wanna be in the show
# Come on, baby, let's go. #