Yet the story is grander than that. At a time when corporations are more powerful than they’ve been in decades, of increasing competition in the white and blue collar labor markets, this question is more pressing than ever. Social constraints have caused, and risen with, the market for self-help and the American rhetoric of personal responsibility over the past 20 or so years. For years academics have charted how, inadequate social welfare/protections and persistent deregulation has led Americans to run toward God, spirituality and self-help in search of answers. People ask Oprah, Suze Orman or The X Factor to help them fix their lives and achieve success, and they often come up short.
Amy is grappling with her mortality, economic circumstances and failing personal relationships.
Amy truly believes she can overcome the massive challenges before her, despite her age, gender and employer’s less-than-legal employment practices (not to mention general lawlessness on human and environmental rights). Her mother, representing the older generation, has no dreams of personal satisfaction: life is about the drudgery of living. Amy’s ex-husband Levi (Luke Wilson) has also resigned himself to the fallacy of the American dream, of financial and personal well-being. He medicates this condition with robust collection of drugs: pills, coke, weed.
Amy’s drug is self-help. Each episode concludes with a monologue, by turns cloying and inspiring, in which Amy temporarily finds peace. In a recent episode, Levi and Amy take a nostalgic but disastrous camping trip to reconnect with each other and the outdoors. After it all more or less falls apart, Levi tells Amy to give up on him: he’s miserable and always will be. He doesn’t have Amy’s blind faith in personal and professional Nirvana. Amy then delivers the following monologue:
“You can try to escape the story of your life, but you can’t. It happened. The baby died. The dog died. The heart broke. I knew you when you were young. I know your heart broke too. I will know you when we are both old, and maybe wise. I hope wise. I know you now. Your story. Mine isn’t the one I would have chosen in the beginning, but I’ll take it. It is my story. It’s only mine. And it’s not over. There’s time. There is time. There’s so much time.”
In this monologue Amy, for a moment, realizes that she has limited control over her life. She has to deal with what she has and with her inevitable death. What Amy does have is very little: her job is a dead end; it has no social meaning and isn’t intellectually challenging. The people she thinks are her friends make fun of her behind her back. Her mother won’t even lend her a car when hers breaks down. Her husband is suffering from serious trauma and has checked out. The comic part of the show is how quickly Amy forgets all this and jumps right back into blind hope.
Enlightened sets up a interesting tension: the poetry of the American dream, the promise of personal peace it engenders, and the tough economic, personal and social realities most Americans deal with everyday. Because Amy is educated and middle class, she has a better chance at happiness than most, but then her personality steps in.