Keeping up with the Joneses -or- Advertising the American Dream

The American Nightmare -or- Keeping Upset with the Joneses

Julie, 25 American  Photographer

Last night and into the morning I experienced a string of dreams which of course blend together and overlapped, but all held continuity in their feelings of unpleasantness. The first dream, which must have happened in the night, was the most immediately frightening. The second dream is mostly forgotten. I remember having the dream, and that it was some kind of a nightmare, but I cannot recall it. The third dream was one marked by anger, jealousy, and frustration-it is also a dream of recurring theme, over many years.

Returning to the first dream.  I was in some kind of much altered school setting.  It didn't seem to exist in a definitive building, but there were classrooms. I think that I was a student in this school. I know for certain that this setting was inspired by a newer job I have taken in the afternoons in my waking life. In the dream I was encountering this young boy, a student, who made it clear very quickly that he was going to kill me.  The rest of the dream would jump from classroom to classroom and I would see him sometimes from above, as though my physical body was not there, and sometimes I would be there myself. Eventually, the threat became too great, and I realized that I had to hide. 

I learned that he had been taking a class which involved watching those crime drama TV shows, and knew that he was doing this to get tips from the psychotic characters on the shows, of how to better torture, kill me, etc.  After class would end, he would remain behind, and sneak into this vaulted room which he was using for his own needs. At some point, I ended up in this vault, to hide from him.  I had hidden myself in a big pile of hay. He came in, and was inches from me, sharpening a knife.  I was terrified.  The next thing I remember was that we were somewhere else, there were cars around, and the boy seemed to have changed.  He was black, and the feeling of fear was still evident, but there was also now a feeling of attraction, which I felt I should suppress.  Not because he was of a different race (I am Caucasian), but because I was becoming older in the dream, and our age difference was becoming significant.

The second dream, which I don't remember, must have ended, or transitioned with the scene of me in the garage of my family's home, crouching beside the car.  Then me running up their driveway, and it being filled with unfamiliar cars. A voice, I think my mother's, indicated one vehicle in particular to say that this was a car my father had just bought. I looked at it, and it was like VW bus, only flatter, sleeker.  I could see right through the front of the car, into its yellow-lit interior, and there was my dad sitting at the steering wheel. I remember shrieking with delight and envy, then running out into the street. It was night time, and I was standing at the end of the cul-de-sac, looking up at the sky.  Suddenly, the stars and clouds begin to change shape, begin to take definitive shape.  It looked like there was writing in the sky. It began to clarify itself, and soon I realized that it was advertisements.  Huge pictures, like popup ads and billboards appeared in the very sky overhead.  I was horrified.  I began to cry and scream. I ran down the driveway, and flew for a few moments off the ground as I did so.

The last dream that I had is the one which repeats itself, not with specific details, but in theme. I sometimes have dreams, when I am in a serious relationship in my waking life, about that person's most significant ex. They are always nightmares, they leave me in a sweat, and I am tense, jealous, and unbelievably angry in the dreams. Usually my partner is either cheating on me with the ex, or spending time with the ex. This particular dream began with my boyfriend making a phone call which was in the vicinity of me, but which I could not hear. Soon, his ex girlfriend arrived. They went off together outside to play.  He hadn't bothered to tell me this, and so I was angry. They sort of flirtted around together like two happy cats coming inside, going back outside.  As I was fuming inside, I discovered something they had been drawing. It had her name on it, and he had written "love" and underlined it beneath her name. There was also a very textural, thick-stroked face, painted with oils, and in blues. It was of a man, no one I recognized, and it was beautiful. I felt jealous of that too. I screamed my boyfriend's name from a balcony overlooking their playing in the yard, so that he would come inside. He did come in, and I pointed out their drawings, and the word love.  He replied very cockily- I DO love her.  And I want her to be happy.  I want her to meet a southern gentleman with a big pocketbook. That's all I remember.

Mr Hagen's Reply: American Culture Industries -or- Motivational Research

There are very many hermeneutic (interpretative) points of entry into Julie's three dreams (above). The primary three interpretative points of departure are emotional-motivational, media effects of advertisements and the American culture industries.

While Julie identifies a number of unpleasant feelings in her dreams such as fear, anger, jealousy, and frustration, she leaves out one important feeling that could be viewed as the central core feeling, of which the rest are mere extensions. We find in the second of the three dreams which is more family oriented, that Julie identifies that she feels "envy". Envy as the dream shows us is a powerful individual and collective motive, this motive is by its very human nature "narcissistic". We can see in the dream that this feeling and motive has been moulded by the American "advertising" and "culture industries". In the dream Julie shows and tells us that; "Huge pictures, like popup ads and billboards appeared in the very sky overhead."

Roland Marchand "Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920-1940" tells us how the advertising industry transformed the "tableaux vivant" (living pictures) by adapting it to film, radio and television. We can find the advertising effects of media and the tableaux vivant represented in the in our dreams, which is well illustrated in Julie's. This American cultural tableaux represents the advertising of the cultural fantasy and dream world of the consumer and consumer products. Many dreams received by the International Institute for Dream Research speak about the media's everyday influence and the psychologically induced flood of consumer images that find expression in our dreams.

Marshall McLuhan "Understanding Media" had already pointed out the problem in part 23/Ads: Keeping Upset with the Joneses. McLuhan informs us; "When the movies came, the entire pattern of American life went on the screen as a nonstop ad." In order to fuel consumption via dis-satisfaction "Keeping upset with the Joneses" became the advertising and culture industries mantra. The social psychological manifold of feelings, thoughts, fantasies, behaviours and dreams can be viewed using this cultural behavioural economic perspective.


All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.