Enough of Gatsby – May 2013
I’m fed up of Gatsby. I was fed up before Baz Luhrmann got involved, before the Carey Mulligan magazine covers – this 1920’s craze is a plague that has slowly been stultifying London life over the past five years. The current Gatsby infatuation is symptomatic of our culture’s obsession with looking backwards, of not tackling any of today’s issues in a constructive or original way – and ultimately about missing the point – Gatsby is a warning.
What people appear to miss is that Fitzgerald’s tale is a cautionary one, of excess, recklessness and tragedy – of the dark side of the American dream (and more broadly: corruption of youth, money and idealism). The characters are not to be emulated, there are no heroes – only accidents waiting to happen.
London 2013 – speakeasy bars (which you check into via Facebook), prohibition cocktails (that you can Instagram), vintage clothes shops (that you find on your iPhone), Jazz age dance clubs (that you follow on Twitter) – it’s all so inauthentic and unoriginal, it is style over substance, and in Baz Luhrmann we have the perfect director to bring Gatsby to the silver screen – a man who has traded on those words for far too long.
There is a certain London youth living in a world of make belief, in both the past and the present, where social interaction is dictated by social media channels, and one’s status and standing is governed by which bars you are going to on Friday, which drugs you are doing and who you are doing them with. A neutered youth not engaged with the here and now but playing out a fantasy life that they are told they should be leading by our media outlets (themselves in thrall to the brands, cinema studios and fashion houses selling the lifestyle).
This is exactly what Fitzgerald was warning against – about forgetting the days issues, it is a warning against reacting adversely to change and about betraying ones ideals in the face of social pressures and fashions. It is a tale that rings as true today as it no doubt did on its publication. It is a great book – I only wish that those sipping their cocktails out of china cups at Happiness Forgets / Lost Society / Experimental Cocktail Club (and a whole host of other grim places) in their vintage dresses, would actually read the book. The famous last line does not have to be an inevitability. You can go against the grain. You do not have to conform. You can engage in the right here and right now.