Over the years, the American Dream has been defined as reaching financial security, especially home ownership, free and clear.
We aspired to levels of wealth and education higher than those of our parents, who often sacrificed to make it so. Comfort and security were the products of hard, honest work over a lifetime.
But in a Time magazine essay earlier this month, James Poniewozik asserts that the American Dream has been perverted. He says it's still all about making it, but not by working very hard.
He notes that people today will do all sorts of things to get noticed, hoping that someone discovers them and pays them lots of money. They upload embarrassing home videos or humiliate themselves on game shows and reality-TV programs – just to get what used to be called their 15 minutes of fame and, more important, to get rich quick.
The most notorious recent example involved a Colorado father who had already participated in a reality show called Wife Swap, in which his wife became part of a different household for a while, and that family's wife moved in with him and his two kids.
The nation was riveted to a horrifying scene recently when a flimsy helium-filled weather balloon this man had built escaped from its backyard tether and floated high into the atmosphere with – so the man claimed – one of his young sons accidently stowed aboard.
Turned out, as the father, Richard Heene, has since admitted, he had told his six-year-old boy to hide in the attic the whole time. The hope was that the gripping balloon boy-in-peril episode might fetch the family another reality-show gig.
Social commentators often lament these days that the frenzied search for what's called "face time" in front of cameras, and for a big, quick payday, has become the new American Dream – one pillar of sand among what many regard as steadily eroding American values.
Actor Tom Cruise, portraying sports agent Jerry McGuire and his desperate quest for instant millions, may have summed up that new take on the American Dream when he famously shouted, "Show me the money!"
Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.