This editorial answers the question, "What is the American Experience?" It is part of a series from the junior AP Language and Composition classes at Oakton High School in Northern Virginia, and was selected by a panel of student judges for publication on HuffPost Teen.
Dedication, perseverance, hard work and opportunity: These are adjectives frequently used to describe the United States of America. But which of these words truly represents the American experience of today? Not one of them quite does it. Although the American experience could once have been described by these words, the priorities of today's society have shifted to characterize the American Experience as one of overindulgence.
As a teenager growing up in an American society, I have noticed that we are constantly creating and buying as a means of indulging ourselves with new toys, cars, houses, technology and even foods. The fact that it is impossible to go a few miles without seeing a set of those famous golden arches or a competing Burger King is enough evidence to prove the constant need for immediate indulgence among Americans.
This endless need for more and more to satisfy the hearts and stomachs of Americans has led the United States to be viewed as one of the fattest countries in the eyes of the international community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one-third of the American population is obese, with about 12.5 million being adolescents and children.
Evidently, the American experience of overindulgence is prevalent among all ages and generations. However, the individual is not entirely to blame, as manipulative businesses share a large responsibility for this effect on Americans. Restaurants that serve exaggerated portion sizes, tempting Americans to indulge in more food than they should, are perfect examples. The common but false expression that "bigger is better" seems to dictate the lives of Americans: bigger TVs, bigger cars, bigger houses, bigger corporations and even bigger food portions.
This unsatisfied culture has led to shockingly large increases in credit card debt and bankruptcy rates. According to SpendonLife.com, in 2003, about one out of every 73 households in the United States filed for bankruptcy. On top of this outrageous number, 23 percent of Americans have also admitted to maxing out their credit cards. So where is the hard-working quality of America that this country is reputable for? Where is the dedication to avoid such rates from rising? Because Americans are not truly earning the money they are spending -- and they are paying the price.
Pervasive marketing techniques, practiced by thousands of businesses in our country, target the majority of our population: materialistic and easily persuaded consumers. These effective tactics do not ease the constant desires of Americans. As I walk through the malls on the weekends with my friends, I find myself wishing I had the motivation to get a job or babysit more so I can buy more trendy outfits, high-end cosmetics and technical gadgets. I also find myself staring in awe at the large billboard-like advertisements strategically placed around the mall. The doorways are full of information about "unbeatable deals" and the most attractive products are placed in the windowsills, not to mention the persistent salespeople contending for my attention in an attempt to sell their "one-of-a-kind" products.
However, I am not alone in my mentality. Millions of Americans do not have the dedication, perseverance or even the opportunity to get a job that will provide enough money to satisfy their families' ever-growing indulgences. This loss of ethics has led our country into personal debt, which causes a sense of failure and dissatisfaction with the lives individuals are leading.
Clearly, changes need to be made to prevent these negative consequences. For this reason, it is essential that we as Americans reevaluate our priorities by moving our focus from materialism and a constantly indulging mentality to the morals this country was founded upon: dedication, perseverance, hard work and opportunity.