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The Myth of the Spoiled and Overindulgent American

Updated on August 28, 2016
NateB11 profile image

I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science in 1995. My interests include political and social issues and history.

One of the trends that has surfaced over the past decade or so is that of degrading, criticizing and poking fun at Americans for supposedly being spoiled and overindulgent. Americans are seen as crying over petty "First World Problems" and indulging regularly in triple cheeseburgers and milkshakes. Along with all this, people make fun of those who only have enough money to shop at WalMart and who require a scooter to get around the store; at the same time, people denigrate the staff at WalMart who are underpaid and stuck, characterizing them as inadequate and unintelligent.

Quite the compassionate lot, we are.

My problem with all of these characterizations is that they are false, basically, and incredibly superficial. Instead of making fun of people who shop at WalMart, why not ask why so many people can only afford to shop at WalMart? And ask why more and more people are becoming disabled and requiring assistance just to get around the store? Also, you might want to ask why a job at WalMart is the best many people can get.

But all of the bizarre and cavalier stereotyping of the poor and low-wage workers is kind of the opposite extreme of this notion that Americans are spoiled and over-indulgent, though it has the same kind of grotesque misconception, so they are related. They both ignore deeper issues and sweep the problem aside by trivializing and devaluing the people involved.

It is this myth that Americans are spoiled and overindulgent that I will tackle here.

Fundamentally, the characterization of Americans being spoiled and overindulgent is false and incredibly shallow. Here we will discuss why that is.

Americans like material things. Why?
Americans like material things. Why? | Source

Are Americans Spoiled?

What people often mean by spoiled can be equated with "lazy". The assumption is somebody wants everything and also doesn't want to work for it. The image comes from our economic and religious background that dictates you should work your tail off and be happy with scraps.

Fact is, Americans are not lazy at all. Americans are well-indoctrinated with the "work ethic" and we generally believe if we are not struggling and beaten down by work, that we're getting lazy.

Here are the actual facts about Americans and work: Americans are working more hours and have less time for their families.

Not only are we working more than anyone in the industrialized world and have less time for our own lives outside of work, but we hate our jobs and are paid less than we used to get paid. (Gallup polls over the last several years have consistently shown that 70% of Americans hate their jobs).

That sounds like torture to me. And this leads us to the second myth about Americans: That we're overindulgent.

Americans love cheeseburgers.
Americans love cheeseburgers.

Are Americans Overindulgent?

The short answer to this is Yes. But that doesn't say much about why we are overindulgent. Some will want to use the "we're spoiled" argument for why we are overindulgent: But I think the opposite is the case.

I don't know about you, but if I'm stuck doing something I don't want to do for most of the day, and week, and get little time for myself and my life, when I get time to myself I'm going to want it to count. I'm going to be doing some serious compensating at that point.

And I think that's what most Americans do. It's no mistake that most people hate Mondays, love Fridays and can't wait for the next vacation.

It's not a huge leap to conclude that if we are spending most of the day doing what we don't want to do, away from our real lives and being overworked, then we are going to be unhappy. I think that's fairly obvious that all of this being forced to fall in line, go to work and be essentially estranged from your actual life will make you unhappy. And it's no secret that people deal with unhappiness by overindulging in some form.

You are not living your life at work. You are doing things according to someone else, according to the ideas of boss and policy and kept in line; the atmosphere is often hostile and competitive. Why in the world would we enjoy that? Don't get it, folks.

At the very least, we want to be rewarded for our efforts. A lot has been taken away from us and we'd like to get it back. Since we are already limited on time and energy, we seek quick sensation and gratification.

Many people deal with job dissatisfaction and stress.
Many people deal with job dissatisfaction and stress. | Source

Do you think Americans are overworked and underpaid?

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What Does it All Mean?

I find it interesting that from the time we are children, we are not taught to explore what we really want to do, what we really love to do. We are told what to do, we are beaten into submission, but little or no time is spent exploring what it is we want to do. By the time we're adults, in terms of a livelihood, we take what we can get or take what it is we've been forced to train for whether we like it or not.

And, is it any wonder we're in the condition we're in? If we are at work and are very aware of this condition, that it's a conflict between what we actually need and what we're forced to do, that it's a drain on our life and energy, energy used up for making profits for the company but leaving us with an inward deficit, then we are liable to just quit on the spot. If we are half-conscious of all this, we will struggle and be inwardly conflicted, knowing something is wrong and continually try to find a way to compensate for our losses of energy and time that has been sacrificed to our employers.

We keep telling ourselves that we just need to try harder, work harder; I think we are already doing that. We have spent thousands of years developing technology to make our lives easier, and for good reason. We live better lives, we'll have a better world overall. We will have time and less stress and be more creative and actually develop ourselves inside and out. But we have not done that with our technology. Instead we are more beaten down, have less time and our minds are distorted from it. We certainly are not creative; you cannot fall in line and be degraded and be creative too; you don't have the time or inclination or energy under such conditions. We obviously, generally, are not doing what we love to do. Maybe on the side, when we have time off, but that's just another way to create conflict in your lives.

You have to wonder why we continue to work more and have less time for ourselves. Back in 1930, John Keynes predicted the opposite would be the case. He thought technology would have made it possible for us to work less and actually, therefore, live creative and happy lives. It didn't happen. In fact, we work more on jobs in which we find no meaning.

Everyone I know works or wants to work, but not everyone wants to be a slave of various sorts and would much rather like to do what is creative and meaningful. One wonders what would happen to this world if we were allowed to do just that.

David Graeber on Debt, Work, Basic Income and Changing our Economic System

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    • NateB11 profile image
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      Nathan Bernardo 2 years ago from California, United States of America

      Hi, aesta1. We have an amazing amount of great things in this country and a marvelous infrastructure, among other things. But we do work hard, as far as I'm concerned. Plus it takes a lot of care to put those things in place.

      Just today there was an explosion and fire at the apartment complex next door to mine and the police were there quickly as was the fire department. I was amazed at how quickly they were on it and doing their work. I imagine there are places in the world where that kind of quick response just doesn't happen.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I think Americans enjoy the perks of living in a rich country, the top economy, but this is so because they work and are more productive compared to others in the global community.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      I agree with you totally. I am on a carer's pension (so below minimum wage). I know only too well how difficult it is to just afford necessities let alone anything classed as a luxury item.

    • NateB11 profile image
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      Nathan Bernardo 2 years ago from California, United States of America

      I've heard that about prices there, Jodah. It's a common argument here to say that the wages are higher in other countries but that prices are higher too. I do know, however, that if you make minimum wage here, or even a bit higher, it's pretty much impossible to have a car or even groceries and you might be lucky to make rent and keep the lights on. I've tried it and I know. I'm not arguing against what you say, just wanted to state that fact because a lot of people here, who are not very well in touch with reality, make certain arguments that don't hold water. They also like to say that only certain people deserve to have a wage higher than poverty wages; they are very divisive in their thinking unfortunately, and mostly are not even aware of it. That's what bothers me most; that they have no regard for people at all. Not only that, they mistakenly believe the only people making minimum wage are uneducated and untrained. I'm living proof that's not true; and not just me. And not that it's about me, but I have personal experience with this, so I know the truth of it.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Yes Nate, we have the choice of free health care here as there are doctors and clinics that bulk -bill (meaning the Government Medicare covers the full cost) though the doctor I go to I have to pay $60 up front for treatment but receive about $40 back by Medicare. No one needs health insurance unless they can afford it. The incentive for those who can is that they do not pay a tax levy and they get quicker elective surgery without having to go on a waiting list. Any urgent surgery etc is performed as soon as possible whether you have health insurance or not.

      I must state that in relation to our higher minimum wage a lot of goods here are more expensive, especially things like smart phones, phone bills, etc. Cars used to be but may not be anymore since import taxes were reduced.

    • NateB11 profile image
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      Nathan Bernardo 2 years ago from California, United States of America

      Thanks, Jodah. Yeah, on my old job I worked with a guy from Canada who could not believe how we have to live here. He was astounded what he had to do and pay just to be treated by a doctor and also was angry about the wages we both were earning on the job; he was tired of eating bad food daily because he couldn't afford a decent meal. I knew it was bad but knowing him made me realize how bad it is here. He was accustomed to much better treatment and care. Makes me want to move to a country where people are considered human beings.

      Glad you stopped by and shared what you know.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Definitely overworked and underpaid. People are working longer hours just to make ends meet. Your minimum wage is much less than it it's here in Australia. Interesting hub. Voted up.

    • NateB11 profile image
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      Nathan Bernardo 2 years ago from California, United States of America

      It seems to me it's one and the same thing, tirelesstraveler. Being a robot, you don't even look at what you want to do; accustomed to never doing what you really love, you depend on being a robot.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 2 years ago from California

      Hi again, Stopped in again to delve deeper into your article. Watched the entire video. I think it is interesting the speaker never talks about the part Universities play in the bondage of graduates. My opinion is schools make kids into little robots and beat them to the ground if they don't fit the mold. Graeber was right in thinking kids are never given a chance to find out what they are good at, but that is a by product of making robots.

    • NateB11 profile image
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      Nathan Bernardo 2 years ago from California, United States of America

      Exactly, emi sue. We are conditioned to constantly work and get stressed. I just don't think that's any way to live, not for mental or physical health.

    • emi sue profile image

      Emily Lantry 2 years ago from Tennessee

      As a young mother of three, I catch myself becoming very overwhelmed. I know I am very busy, but if I am not completely running around accomplishing something all the time then I almost feel guilty. I have a hard time turning off and just chilling out, because that's the standards we strive by. Seems like we're either busy, busy, busy or lazy, lazy, lazy. where's the good times?

    • NateB11 profile image
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      Nathan Bernardo 3 years ago from California, United States of America

      Glad you stopped by tirelesstraveler. Thanks for the vote and feedback!

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 3 years ago from California

      I completely agree with you about technology. After 15 days of no technology in Alaska I turned on my cell phone in Anchorage last Thursday to 800+ emails. It was cold and wet most of the time I was in the bush, but I was never overwhelmed by the lack of technology. Voted up and interesting.

    • NateB11 profile image
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      Nathan Bernardo 3 years ago from California, United States of America

      Exactly, Laila. You get it. Glad you stopped by. Thank you for your attention and insight.

    • LailaK profile image

      LailaK 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I absolutely agree with you about how the term "lazy" is used to accuse Americans. I come from an Arabic background and back home young adults like myself have nothing to do except go to malls and look pretty. Here, in America, I found myself working a job and studying and feeling productive and almost all of my American friends are like me. Honestly, the term "lazy" is offensive like you said. Great hub!