How the American Dream Has (and Hasn’t) Changed Over 100 Years
See two worlds collide in the original film “An American Pickle,” starring Seth Rogen as Herschel and Ben Greenbaum, now streaming on HBO Max.
A hundred years have passed since the roaring ‘20s. While much of American culture has evolved, at least one concept has stuck around: the elusive American Dream. In his 1931 book, The Epic of America, investment-banker-turned-historian James Truslow Adams coined the phrase for the first time. The American Dream, he wrote, is “not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely,” but rather “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” The ideological dream of a better life—with equal opportunity no matter where you come from—certainly stands the test of time. But what does that actually look like?
Between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the image of the ideal path to success appears quite different. An American Pickle, the new HBO Max original film starring Seth Rogen, explores that shift through the story of Herschel Greenbaum (Rogen), a 1920s laborer who is brined in a vat of pickles for 100 years and emerges unscathed in the present day. There he finds his great grandson Ben (Rogen), an app developer living in Brooklyn whose modern day ideals clash with Herschel’s own old world aspirations. For a deeper look into the nuances of the cultural shifts over the last century, stream An American Pickle on HBO Max, and read on.
So what does the American Dream really look like? Stream An American Pickle, only available on HBO Max to see Ben and Herschel’s paths collide as they figure it out.
- American Child Health Association, “A Statistical Report of Infant Mortality for 1926”
- CDC/National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System
- Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, “The Economic Value of College Majors”
- Internal Revenue Service, Statistics of Income 1920
- National Association of Home Builders, "Housing at the Millennium: Facts, Figures and Trends" (via Chicago Tribune)
- Social Security Administration, Measures Of Central Tendency For Wage Data
- Statista, Total fertility rate in the United States from 1800 to 2020
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2019 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
- U.S. Census Bureau, 1920 Census Volume 4. Population, Occupations
- U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey
- U.S. Census Bureau, Annual Social and Economic Supplements
- U.S. Census Bureau, Characteristics of New Housing
- U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey
- U.S. Census Bureau, Historical Statistics of the United States