A new off-Broadway play criticizes making the American Dream about buying mini-McMansions

It has become common in recent years to link the economic crisis to the purchases of McMansions. Here are a few lines from the new off-Broadway play “Heresy” illustrate this:

Chris’ college roommate, Pedro (Danny Rivera), and tarty call girl lady friend Lena (Ariel Woodiwiss) appear as witnesses for the persecuted campus radical. With the help of Pontius’ blowsy socialite wife, Phyllis (Kathy Najimy), the negotiation for Chris’ freedom devolves into a boozy cocktail party and a well-meaning but exasperating political debate. The characters spout off arguments like, ”The American Dream has been reduced to mean a mini-McMansion bought with an unaffordable mortgage,” and ”The American dream has dwindled into a vulgar, materialistic view of life.” And so on.

A lot of commentators have argued that the American Dream has become equated with consumerism. I remarked recently to one of my classes that this seems to be an odd interpretation of the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” suggested in the Declaration of Independence.

But, there is little doubt that owning property was an important consideration for the American colonists and that owning a home today is one key marker of “making it” in America. I suspect the real issue here could be two things:

1. Buying and consuming more than one needs. It is one thing to be self-sufficient or comfortable and another to be excessive.

2. There are issues when individuals care more about acquiring and protecting their own possessions as opposed to caring about and contributing to the larger community. This has been a tension throughout American history.

Another note of interest: what exactly is a mini-McMansion and how does it differ from a McMansion? McMansions are usually thought to be quite large, probably somewhere between 3-10,000 square feet. Thus, a mini-McMansion would be smaller but the average new home in the United States is around 2,500 square feet so is this typical new home automatically a mini-McMansion?

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