Thursday, September 18, 2008

Beautiful Little Fools

So we've started reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby in my junior Modern American Lit class.

So I've started watching Gossip Girl (purely as a social experiment).

And I've noticed parallels.  

What is Gossip Girl except a modernized version of Gatsby?  Think about it for a second.  In one we find self-obsessed rich people who are involved in destructive love triangles, entangled in financial scandal, and possess a complete neglect for "the rest of us" who are not old money.  In the other, we have adults.  To our grandparents, the events in Gatsby, namely sex, drinking (gosh!), murder, etc., were perpetrated by an upper crust which, through hard work and self-sacrifice, perhaps their children could join.  To today's youth (I set myself outside of this demographic for reason to be explained), we see the rich on Gossip Girl or The Hills as something we wish we were; totally aloof and apart, without cares, drives, or needs.

This is incongruous.  Not to our grandparents, they were not yet burned out with trying to get to their dreams; rather, the youth of today who frequent these shows as escape are the very people the characters denounce.  In one scene from Gossip Girl, one of the attractive brunettes who was trying to woo a British lord (long story) throws a party in which she ridicules her "help" for assembling a sub-par guest list.  What viewers love is the flippant foppishness with which Blair (I think) dismisses her more-than-apologetic housekeeper.  First of all, she is supposed to be eighteen.  What the hell does she need a housekeeper for?  What does she need her own apartment for (the answer to this comes later, promise)?  More importantly, how does she treat people like such scum?  I am sure we all realize this point and are telling ourselves, as we diligently watch each week, that we "would never treat someone like that!  Who does she think she is?  If I had money I would be so nice with it and give parties and donate and whatnot."

But the dirty little secret is that you wouldn't.  I wouldn't.  We all know it.  Enter our man Gatsby.  He acquires his money for the soul purpose of winning over his life love, Daisy Buchanan.  Gatsby throws party after party in the hopes that one day she will come over, see him, and they would run of together and make a million babies.  Gatsby throws money away like there is no tomorrow and he does so with such an attitude of success that it leaves a bitter feeling in the reader about his secret passion.  Is it really love he feels for Daisy or is it desire?  Has Gatsby become more obsessed with his obsession then with his aim?  Either way, Gatsby gets what he wants.  Great.  But what about Daisy's husband?

Tom Buchanan is the Blair character of Gatsby; he does what he wants and damns the consequences.  He has a mistress with whom he shares an apartment and a dog in New York.  She calls him at home during dinner.  He takes her out, in public , and is not ashamed to flirt with other women.  Tom has his mistress' husband pump his gas.  They even have friendly conversation while Tom's tank is being filled.  This is the ultimate insult, his Blair-du-grâce, if you will.  

If you keep drawing out Gatsby, you can almost see Blair being a descendant of Tom.  This is why Blair has (and needs) her own apartment; Tom couldn't possibly care for a child.  And yet he has one.  Daisy is the only character (apart from Nick Carraway the narrator) who takes pity on the young thing.  Daisy sees her future in a way and wishes the baby to grow up a, "beautiful little fool."  Why?  Fools do not feel.  The baby will not, unlike Daisy, realize the futility of her marriage, of her life.  Daisy, at the start of the book, has already given up.  Yet she drives on.  Literally.

What is it that makes people read and watch?  We love to see characters treat each other like dirt.  If we entertain to be removed, then what could be more removed than doing something so social unacceptable as being rich?  We live in a world today where there are so many expectations placed on people with wealth that to see them not live up to what we want is truly a treat.  It shows us that they too are people, that they too have faults.  But who cares about their faults?  They're rich and, as long as we're striving for honesty, money can buy you happiness.  

Earlier I removed myself from my the regular viewers of Gossip Girls.  At the start of Gatsby, Carraway says that he can only describe these events to us because he is removed from the type of people the novel is about; Nick is not from the Hamptons and is mearly visiting for the summer.  Similarly, I like to think I am only visiting the world of Gossip Girl for the time being, preforming "research" into the mind of the modern youth to better educate my classes (which I know is a lie and will likely watch in secret every week).  But if The OC was an indication, this show will only stay strong for two seasons, stretching to make it past four with such convoluted plot lines only a Ph. D. could follow.  And not too many Ph. D.s watch The CW.  Maybe they should, maybe we all should just force ourselves to do something so stupid that it hurts.  For me, this is watching terrible(-ly addicting) television.

Today's society is masochistic.  Chuck Klosterman blames John Cusack, Chuck Palahniuk blames credit cards, Chuck Norris blames Conan O'Brien.  But no one is ready to stop trying.  Klosterman does not give up on love; Palahniuk carries a Visa; Norris still hunts fame (only to kick its ass, mind you).  All of these guys know they are not going to find what they want right away and they know it is going to hurt to get there.  That's the American experience; "happiness" is not granted.  It is up to you to find passion, like Gatsby, in the pursuit.  Keep watching Gossip Girl and reading The Great Gatsby, always expecting to see someone being reamed over something trivial.  

Although, this is not a uniquely American obsession.  It seems to be the world over, throughout time.  Tracing mocking of the wealthy is no new thing; its just human nature to poke fun I guess.  

Whatever, I still know I have to marry for money.  Good thing I'm pretty.  

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