I love an idiom. And the culture it can capture.
"Keeping Up With the Joneses" is spot on American. To me it describes what happens when the American Dream becomes grotesque. When the pursuit of happiness and freedom leads to a warped and twisted captivity.
The idiom finds its origins in a 1913 comic strip by the same title. Arthur R. Momand was the creator and the term made its way into a few silent animations.
Ranging from the accumulation of stuff that quickly loses its luster, sick social graces, self-glorifying chatter, and debt beyond measure - it is a pattern of behavior to appear on equal social-economic footing or ground.
Appearances were significant in my childhood home. I wonder if it was simply my mother's German perfectionism or her attempt to never appear "less than" our fully American counterparts?
Most recently I saw this pull within myself as my children wrestled with their college choices. Was I (or my family) "less than" because they made one choice over another? Did my children feel that way?