Envy and the American Dream

smartphone envy iphone6
Screen Envy

Happy days are here again… the new iPhone is out!

An uncharacteristic hush descended on my local Starbucks today as a wave of envy swept through the coffee-house.

As if in unison, covetous coffee drinkers looked up from their Pumpkin Spice Lattes to cast a green eye in the direction of scruffy looking dude as he sauntered into Starbucks sporting a new iPhone 6 plus.

Fresh from the front lines of the Apple store he was no ordinary dude-he was a seasoned veteran of the grueling wait. Eight solid hours surrounded by Task Rabbiters and hi fiving homeless men paid to stand in line at the chance a new iPhone.

Mission accomplished, he now waited on line at Starbucks, smiling like a cat who had swallowed a canary as he proudly took a selfie with his bigger, better, newer 5.5 inch screen.

Suddenly glancing down at my measly, now oh-so-obsolete 4 inch iPhone 5, I felt that wave of all-American envy wash over me.

Keeping Up With the Jones

Despite job reductions, massive layoffs and the fact that unemployment lines rival the long lines snaking outside Apple stores across the nation, millions are lining up to be the first of their friends to get that newest iPhone and be the envy of others.

The American dream promise of upward mobility may now seem unattainable, but a quick fix of envy is not in short supply.

Envy has long fueled the economy and is one of the oldest tricks in advertising.


vintage car ads Packards envy

Vintage Packard Automobile Ads (L) 1940 (R) 1937

Used to great effect in the 1930s ( another period of marked income inequality) Packard Automobiles ran a series of ads that played on these desires.

We love being envied and having the trappings, appearances and prestige of wealth without being actually being so.


vintage illustration couple in car showroom

Long associated with wealth and prestige, Packard had established itself as the countries leading luxury car manufacturer.

However by  the 1930s, Cadillac surpassed Packard as the premium luxury car in America, and Packard decided to diversify by producing a more affordable model- the One Twenty which increased their sales. Thus they could attract “value seekers” who wanted the prestige of driving a luxury car.

Here We Are Envying

vintage 1937 car Packard ad

In this  1937  ad for Packard, we meet the Dillers. Down in the dumps, Mr. Diller explains to the reader : “Did we envy the Dexters in their new Packard? The honest answer is …yes! Emphatically, yes!”

We had always wanted a Packard. We felt we’d almost give our good right arms to be sitting there like the Dexters, heads in the clouds with people saying ‘Hmm. They sure must be making good.’

“Then we got to thinking,” Mr Diller explains. “I made as much as Ed Dexter. If he could afford a Packard, why couldn’t I? Well, why couldn’t I? …So we marched down to the Packard showroom to look at the new Packard 120.”

Here we are Being Envied

Vintage Packard Car Ad 1937y

“And as a result, we ‘re no longer on the outside envying. We’re on the inside being envied,” Mr Diller announces proudly.

“We found out the new Packard was ours for only $35 a month. You can’t imagine the kick we’re getting out of owning and driving a Packard.”

“We’re as thrilled as a couple of kids. And we’re telling our friends to get wise…to learn how easy it is now the be the man who owns one.”


A Second-Best Life

Vintage Packard Car Ad 1937

Vintage Packard Car Ad 1937

Another Packard ad in this series introduces us to Tom and Jane Lambston who laments her lost dreams and their second best life.

“The whole thing started when we were celebrating. our wedding anniversary,” Jane explains to the reader.  ‘By the way, young man,’ she says to her husband, ‘what ever happened to all our dreams, and hopes and ambitions? Where are all the fine things we were going to have? Can it be true that we’ve become content with second bests’? ” Jane lets out a deep sigh.

“Shortly, our little party at an end, we went out to our car to drive home.”

“Looking at our car,” Jane continues wistfully, “we were reminded of what we had said when we were married; ‘And some day…we’ll own a Packard !’ “Our car was a take-you-there-and-bring-you-back kind of car,” Jane shrugs.”But it was no Packard!”


Vintage Packard Car Ad 1937

Vintage Packard Car Ad 1937

“Yes, we remembered our wedding day hopes,” Jane explains to the reader.  “We decided it was not good for young couple to become content with the second best things in life. And we made up our minds right then that by golly, we would have our Packard! ”

“Next day we marched down to Packard showroom!”


Vintage Packard Car Ad 1937

Vintage Packard Car Ad 1937

“So today- we own our Packard!”she exclaims proudly.

“And life is fuller and richer because of that Packard.”

“Imagination? she asks. “Perhaps. Psychological? Maybe.”

“But our pride in our Packard is deeper than the usual new-car pride.”

“We like to be seen in it!” she says honestly.” And because driving is a thrill again we’re out more, enlarging our world and our horizons, having fun again.”

“Yes we have our Packard –our dreams has come true.”


© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.








One comment

  1. Reblogged this on globo terraqueo – mundo antigüo and commented:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: