The damage done by America’s rags-to-riches mythology

Posted by admin | Posted in Politics | Posted on 30-11-2014-05-2008

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Illustration from Horatio Alger's

Horatio Alger’s ‘Bootblacks’ jumpstarted the rags to riches American myth.

Rags-to-riches stories have been with us in the United States since before we were a country. Immigrants by the millions came to our shores in search of a better life and wealth. Many of these stories were popularized in mid-19th century by Horatio Alger Jr., through his tales written for young boys about young boys going from rags to riches—which in reality turned out to be nothing but a myth. His stories were a little creepy, with an older man always taking care of a young boy, but that is for another diary.

Horatio Alger Jr. does not have a corner on the market with perpetuating the myth of rags to riches. We see it in films like Ma and Pa Kettle, Rocky, and Trading Places. On television we see it on The Beverly Hillbillies, game shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire, talent shows like American Idol, and reality shows like Survivor. The theme of the movies and scripted television shows is that anyone with a little luck, or with a skill, can become rich. Game shows push the myth that you can play and win; however, they never show the winner having to sell the prizes to pay taxes on their winnings, or how people struggle dealing with sudden fame and fortune. Shows like American Idol portray how “easy” it is to become a star, but in reality very few fortunes are made in the music business, there are millions of amazing artists out there who play in bars every weekend with no shot at ever getting a huge recording contract.

Reality shows like Survivor actually exhibit the worst side of the chase for wealth—that it’s okay to screw over your fellow man or woman to win a million dollars.

Jump below the fold for more.

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