The American Dream vs. Reality
Global Opinions About the USA
By Lauri Lyons
In 1995 Lauri Lyons grabbed her camera and an American flag and began an odyssey to discover and reveal the faces and voices of the unknown: Americans who did not bask in the seats of power, who did not control the destinies of mega-corporations, and who rarely appear in news stories.
Americans reveal themselves to us through their pride, openness and honesty, They proudly display the banner of America with their hope or stomp it beneath a heavy boot. Given the opportunity to speak their truth without restrictions, they present themselves with a directness and honesty that brings them to life.
– Paul Fusco, Magnum Photos
What is America? Beautiful, violent, principled, racist, hopeful, chaotic and always changing. America completely reinvents itself on a daily basis.
“Thanks to our veterans America is #1”
As a college student during the Gulf War, it became apparent to me how little my peers knew about the symbolic power of the American flag. This realization coupled with the political polls and sound-bytes defining the current American psyche made me question the validity of the people’s opinions that the media represented as facts.
“I think that this country is way below standards. We a have to become as one before we all fall apart from each other.”
I decided to find out what people really thought about America by traveling to unfamiliar cities, towns, and neighborhoods throughout the country and asking strangers, “What do you think about America? Please write your honest opinion in this notebook and sign your name.”
Afterwards, I handed them an american flag and asked them to pose with the flag in a way they felt was comfortable. Their handwritten statements and emboldened self-confidence deliver a startling insight into the unmasked reality of the American Dream.
I decided to keep the documenting process simple and to the point without interjecting my own beliefs into the outcome. I packed a few changes of clothes, a camera, a bag of film, and a USA Guide book. With that in tow, I began my journey by traveling by train through New York City and later expanded my horizons with a larger train, Amtrak.
I explored the concrete jungle of New York City, the big sky country of Montana, the wet terrain of Seattle, the mountainous hills of San Francisco, the blistering tropical beaches of Miami, and countless americana destinations in between. My journey became the book Flag: An American Story (2001).
In 2007 the lure of post 9/11 geopolitics and globalization enticed me to go abroad to document how the international community viewed America from afar. I traveled through Europe via train to interview and photograph people with the American flag for Flag International.
“I like USA and I want to live in USA. But all people in USA don’t like Muslim and I hope to love them.”
As I traveled through Ireland, England, Holland, Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. I realized that there was a new global multicultural Europe coming into formation, and its people were beginning to wrestle with issues of nationalism, immigration, racism, fundamentalism, terrorism, and apathy. All of which the U.S. has been dealing with from its inception and is still dealing with today.
As members of a global community do we think we are now living up to our dreams and promises or are we going our separate ways? Only time will tell. The intention of the Flag series is to inspire an authentic dialogue about cultural understanding within a global framework. Cultural understanding is not only how a people or a nation views itself, but also how the world views you.
Photos © Lauri Lyons