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The Great Gatsby and Modern Television - Connection?

shootemwon Members Posts: 4,635 ✭✭
edited October 2010 in Lights, Camera, Action!
No matter where you go, you are what you are player
And you can try to change but that's just the top layer
Man, you was who you was 'fore you got here

One of the main themes in F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel, The Great Gatsby, is that no matter how far we come in life, we will, in essence, always be defined by our past. Where we came from is who we are, and where we go can never change that. Gatsby invented a new life for himself, but he could never truly become that new person he was trying to be, because his old self was always there.

In recent years, I feel like this theme has been highly influential in some of the greatest American television dramas in recent years. Any fan of AMC's Mad Men should recognize what I'm talking about already. Mad Men's main character, Don Draper, is a rich, cool, respected titan of the advertising industry, and he doesn't do bad with the ladies either. But all of this success in his life is just covering up a lie. Don managed to get a new name and a new life after stealing another man's identity while serving in the Korean War. Though it seems like he has, as a coworker once told him "everything, and so much of it", it's impossible for Don to be happy because his old self is still always with him, reminding him that none of this is real.

In summing up the most recent episode of Mad Men in a different thread, I borrowed a line from another television show:
It's like you can change up, right, you can say you somebody new, you can give yourself a whole new story, but what came first is who you really are and what happened before is what really happened, and it don't matter that some fool say he different cause the only thing that make you different is what you really do, what you really go through.
If you're a fan of HBO's The Wire(and everyone should be), then you may recognize that quote from D'Angelo Barksdale, when he's actually discussing The Great Gatsby in a prison literature class. Earlier in the series, D'Angelo expressed a desire to escape his past/present, start over, and live a different kind of life. D'Angelo was offered just that but ultimately turned it down, accepting the consequences of the life he had lived, because he understood that he could escape his surroundings, but never himself. Throughout the series, other characters deal with this same dilemma in different ways. Stringer Bell convinces himself that he can use his massive bank account(full of 🤬 money) to make himself a legitimate businessman without connection to the organized crime that got him there. Marlo Stanfield knows what he is and won't be anything else, even if he knows that failing to assume a new role means going down in flames.

There are many more examples of this theme manifesting itself in great television dramas. A major recurring theme of HBO's The Sopranos, for example, uses a variation of the same theme by showing characters who want a different life, but don't have the courage and will to change anything. Though another HBO original series, Boardwalk Empire, is still not even half way through its first season, it's already started offering another take on the same theme. Nucky Thompson conducts illegal business with gangsters and thugs, but just sees himself as a political leader. We'll have to wait and see what happens, but Thompson's political clout and privileged lifestyle are both fueled by his secret criminal activity.I can imagine that he'll eventually struggle with a desire to be as legitimate as he appears to be in public, only to find that he can't escape the things that made his rise to the top possible.

I made this thread because it seems that these days, people have very intelligent and fascinating comments or analysis of great television series, but the trade-off is less attention and thought being given to great literature. I wanted to suggest The Great Gatsby to any fans of the shows I mentioned if you haven't read it before. I also hope some responses will discuss other literature and how it has influenced our favorite television shows, so we can get more suggestions of reading that would enhance our experience with these television programs.


  • Swiffness!
    Swiffness! PART OF THE CONSPIRACY Members Posts: 10,128 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited October 2010
    I 🤬 hate The Great Gatsby. The most boring 🤬 I ever had to read in school. The film adaptations were even MORE boring. If that's the "Great American Novel" then America 🤬 lost.

    Lord of the Flies >>>>>>>>>>>>
  • arbitration
    arbitration Members Posts: 1,969 ✭✭✭
    edited October 2010
    I agree. It's a very cynical message that these shows writers are sending. Maybe they're trying to counteract the whole apple pie, American Dream, change yourself bullsh*t that's been engraphed our culture.

    Another example - Dexter? I'm still on season 3, but that seems to be what the show is driving at.
  • shootemwon
    shootemwon Members Posts: 4,635 ✭✭
    edited October 2010
    I agree. It's a very cynical message that these shows writers are sending. Maybe they're trying to counteract the whole apple pie, American Dream, change yourself bullsh*t that's been engraphed our culture.

    Another example - Dexter? I'm still on season 3, but that seems to be what the show is driving at.

    Haven't seen Dexter but seeing as this seems to be so common among drama series for the past 5 years or so, it wouldn't surprise me.
    In almost any form, it is, of course a deconstruction of the American dream and the nonsense that anyone who works hard can end up rich and happy and have a nice family life without 🤬 anyone over in the process. This is what The Great Gatsby itself is doing, though I think the different shows have different motives in why they attack the whole "Pursuit of Happyness" cliche that's so embraced in American culture. For example, The Wire is attacking institutional dysfunction, so they need to show us a bunch of characters who are stuck living one way even though it's clear to them and the audience that it's wrong. Mad Men, on the other hand, shows a guy who "has it all" but can never be satisfied because underneath the surface he still feels like it's someone else' life, which it kind of is.
    So we have the Wire telling us that society assigns us roles very early in life and unless a miracle occurs, that's going to be your role, because there's too much pressure from every direction trying to maintain the status quo, and we have Mad Men telling us that even if you manage to climb the social ladder, and get the rest of the world to see you differently, you'll never see yourself that way.

    I agree, it's extremely cynical and I certainly don't believe that everyone who grew up poor and then made millions is actually miserable. But there are a couple people I know pretty personally who grew up dirt poor and made a lot of money, and I do sense a discomfort among them with the status and privilege they now have, so I think there's something to it.