Affluence, Loss, and the Ethos of the American Dream: The Impact of Tragedy on Upper Class Suburban Identity
Mueller, Barret Park
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Communities often tum to the American Dream when forming an identity, bringing wealth and affluence as important factors in communal life (Rifkin). This ideal competes with the constant nature of change in suburban communities. Some change is natural and gradual, while other is rapid and forced. Between the fall of 2006 and the summer of 2007, the suburban town of Deerfield, Illinois went through a significant identity crisis with the deaths of five teenagers. Social pressure and a culture of drinking influenced risky behavior involving alcohol and drugs, leading to their deaths. In order to learn how Deerfield's identity changed, I interviewed key figures in the community such as law enforcement officers, school administrators, parent organization leaders, and local government officials. Using the theoretical frameworks of Bourdieu's habitus and Durkheim's social anomie, I analyze the effects of the accidents in terms of social pressure of a homogenous community producing risky behavior culminating in tragic events. In my research I found there were issues with conforming to the community, and the immense pressure placed on adolescents caused them to look for an outlet, healthy or unhealthy. These pressures surfaced with the accidents, and the community did not know how to change the drinking culture. The traumatic events currently seem to have faded out of community dialogue. The persistence of deviance will continue to be a problem unless the larger issue of social inclusion and homogeneity are addressed.