It's self entitlement, not the Fiscal Cliff, that is America's greatest challenge

From sea to shining sea, there is a lack of motivation that seems to be holding the country back. Is the traditional American success story now a thing of the past? If so, what will replace it?

Photo: Richard Gere, American Gigolo

FLORIDA, January 2, 2013 — America has managed to avoid falling over the fiscal cliff. Democrats and Republicans can breathe a huge sigh of relief now that the nation’s budgetary concerns have been resolved, for better and worse.

Tthe cliff was never the most challenging issue facing us, though. The challenge is a critical lack of motivation across the fruited plains. People today just don’t seem to be excited about getting ahead. Rather, a good number are setting their sights lower and lower. 

*****

The year was 1980, and the decade of me had just morphed into the decade of greed. It was during this distinct sociocultural twilight that director Paul Schrader’s landmark film, American Gigolo, was released. With a young Richard Gere in the title role, the film not only made fashion designer Giorgio Armani a household name, it raised serious interest about the rationally individualistic lifestyle. 

Julian Kaye has it all; from a spacious modernist apartment with room service to a gorgeous Mercedes 450 SL to more women than he can handle requesting his services as an escort. He does not live destructively, explaining to an inquiring detective that he derives personal fulfillment from pleasuring clients. On the same note, he does not live as a means to the ends of others, forcefully stating this much to a powerful, devious pimp. 

Julian simply lives for himself, not expecting a single person around him to do the same. A strong financial success — until he’s framed for a murder — he exemplifies the industrious, independent-minded innovator who turns his wistful American dream into an objective reality.

Without embracing the (for most) morally decadent and (for all of us residing outside certain Nevada counties) illegal aspects of Julian’s occupation, we should ask ourselves why more people do not follow his lead in forging their own path through life. It is undeniable that our country has a severe deficit of go-getters; this is partially the reason why our economy is in such dire straits. 

Perhaps a generation that’s lived by the principle of “if it feels good, do it,” radically living beyond its means and doing what feels good in spite of reason should shoulder much of the blame.

Traveling the fiscal and social path blazed by the “me generation” is a plan for abject failure. Racking up six figure debt for a bachelor’s degree in English or history, for instance, in expectation of plentiful, highly paid jobs that don’t exist is a recipe for moving back in with mom and dad. It is also the epitome of stupidity. 

Nevertheless, this is the course of action taken by all too many. They then moan that the system is unfair and support politicians who promise to subsidize their bad decisions on the backs of productive, hardworking taxpayers.

Over thirty years ago, Julian showed us a new way to be successful; a new way to actualize our respective full potentials. Now that the old model of a steady job from age twenty to sixty with a hefty pension at the end is gone, unless you’re lucky enough to land a job in the public sector, what will most downtrodden Americans do? Will they still pursue that fantasy of a spouse, two or more kids, and a picket fenced house in the suburbs? Or, will they wake up and pursue their own passions without worrying about fitting into the antiquated social molds of yesteryear?

These are questions that must be answered individually. One thing is certain: Expecting public officeholders, parents, preachers, or people just making a go if it to pick up the tab for the maturity impaired is not only unfair, but unsustainable. Indeed, we must take responsibility for our own actions, and be unafraid to break convention in meeting the goals we have set for ourselves.

That is the American way, as taught by the American Gigolo. Such a lesson should not go unheeded. Just don’t break any laws while pursuing your ambitions — that didn’t turn out well for Julian, and I can’t imagine that it would for anyone else.


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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