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Early on in the Robert Redford version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby the rich are sitting around Tom Buchanan’s mansion in West Egg.
F. Scott Fitzgerald & Zelda
They have nothing better to do than to play polo and to plot adultery, their drunken parties defining the Jazz Age while marking a new low-water mark for civilization.
What a mannikin Redford made!
Tom Buchanan the lout, played magnificently by Bruce Dern, alerts his fellows to the need for an agressive racism if the whites are to continue their stranglehold on resources. “We’re Nordics”, he declares. If they’re not careful, power will bleed off to other groups. The book was published in 1925. Within a decade Hitler would be calling these “Nordics” aryans. Of course the US already had that policy, both manifest and out-loud.
The Buchanans — Tom & Daisy … Gatsby
Let me be clear before taking another step, especially about a couple of my biases. Jan and I watched the movie last night. I’d never seen it before. we’ll watch the 2013 film shortly. I’m a scholar, an English scholar. I know lots of novels, poems, etc. I’ve read Gatsby a couple of times, but not recently. I’ve long been a fan of some of Fitzgerald’s short stories, but I’ve never thought much of Gatsby. Of 1920s writers Hemingway brought me back plenty of times, then Henry Miller … then Faulkner; Fitzgerald lost me.
Partly I felt betrayed by his “jazz age”: I’m a jazz freak. I grabbed a paperback Fitzgerald collection in 1950 or so, I burned my way into the stories, then stalled: where was Louis Armstrong? Where was Kid Ory? or even Benny Goodman? All I found were white drunks, unrelated that I could see to the Mayflower or the riverboat.
But also understand please: I missed the 1920s (born 1938): but throughout the 1940s I knew “West Egg”. That is I knew Westbury, Long Island: especially Old Westbury. Other kids watched football on Saturdays: I watched polo matches at the Pete Bostwick estate. My father’s best friend, Ned Dunn, gave drunken parties in Old Westbury. I attended a number of them, never mind that I was seven or eight years old. I remember drunken dancing in the pools (Ned manufactured pools, and, like my father, was a world-class drunk), drunks dancing in the water, gorgeous girls with their designer gowns shrinking to dolls’ size … (and home-made ice cream from Ned’s own cows!)
But let me concede one thing immediately: one detail from Gatsby remains vivid in my memory: some drunk at a Gatsby party drives his car into the ditch. He’s so drunk he can’t imagine or explain what happened. Right on! Fitz has got the drunks exactly right.
more in a sec: esp on Gatsby and his businesses
No, I gotta jump ahead and make at least one point now:
The Jazz Age
Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age was about drunken parties, inflated stocks. It was about white people flaunting their egos, flouting God, nature, the earth. But jazz, in this kid’s mind (and in this old man’s mind) was about music, about American music: specifically black music: or, better still, what whites and blacks were making of white music and black music: making it together, with mutual respect, love, admiration.
My heroes in 1948 were black geniuses. My enthusiams were rejected by other kids and their parents: charlestoning drunk in a fountain was one thing; acknowledging the brilliance of Fletcher Henderson, of Duke Ellington … of the girls dancing in Harlem … was another.
Related: Race: A-Scientific Myth
I put that one under “Reality”: what the hell, I’ll link this one from that menu too.