Thursday, October 18, 2012

Les Miserables and Dreaming the American Dream

Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables has long been considered a classic work. But recently, something happened that made the story a pop culture phenomenon. The musical adaptation especially has grown in popularity: Nick Jonas played a lead in the 25th anniversary production; Susan Boyle preformed a sensational rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” for “Britain’s Got Talent; Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Hugh Jackman star in a high-budget LesMis film coming this fall. What hurdled the classic story into the 21st Century phenomenon?

The phase most often associated with the story is “I dreamed a dream...” The 25th anniversary production was advertised as “Dream the Dream,” Susan Boyle sang the powerful song “I Dreamed a Dream,” and the many people sat up and paid attention to the first Les Mis movie trailer because of the haunting music of that same song which overlaid the entire ad.

Why? People today have a deep connection with “I Dreamed a Dream” because they themselves are living the full cycle of the sad song. The song opens with optimism and hope—it reminds me of the 1990s. There was nothing that could not be done in the 90s. Hope was high and the sky was the limit. The possibilities were endless, and anyone could dream a dream. New companies were sprouting, creating new industries. Everyone knew that, if you wanted to start your own business, all you needed was an idea. If you went to college, you could find a job and succeed—even if you wanted to study something abstract. The words of “I Dreamed a Dream” embody the 90s:
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving

But then life killed the dreams. Terrorists ravished America’s optimism on a September morning. Then, we realized that some of those who had fed us hope were tigers with soft voices, taking advantage of the spirit of the age to build our hopes into companies like Enron and make off with the cash: charlatans preying on dreams.

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
As they turn your dream to shame

Then came the storm of the collapsing economy. In the last four years, things have gotten so bad that one out of two new college graduates are unemployed or underemployed, and among young adults one out of four now live with their parents. Many of these young people were told that they could live their dreams, that anything was possible. They were told that they could make the world a better place. But life has killed their dreams. Now, they’re lucky if they can find a job at a department store.

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

Personally, I fear that if we kill the dreams of this generation we’ll end up with a society that stagnates because we can’t dare to “go to the moon in this decade.” We won't be able to declare that we’ll “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” If we kill the ability to dream, who will be able to say “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”?

History shows that great men are great dreamers. Courage is born of the ability to dream. So, let’s fight to restore America’s capacity to dream! Let’s each agree to fight for the American Dream, each in our own way. Remember to dream. Stand with those who struggle to dream. Participate in our democracy by stepping out of your comfort zone and doing what you can to shape the course of America. Share your dreams by talking about why you believe what you do. Exercise your freedom.  Dream the dream! 

Post by Jeremiah Lorrig
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