by Tef Poe
Editor: Tef Poe is an artist from St. Louis city. Through powerful imagery and complicated honesty, he has earned a reputation as one of the best rappers telling the story of St. Louis, which is about much more than one place. Poe has been featured in music publications such as XXL and Urb Magazine. His project The Hero Killer was released on January 21 and will be followed up by a full-length with DJ Burn One entitled Cheer For the Villain. Follow him on twitter @tefpoe. Get The Hero Killer here.
This week I had the chance to push pause on my chaotic schedule to go see The Great Gatsby. The Great Gatsby is a timeless and classic love story rooted in the roaring 1930s. The story comes to life right around the time frame in which New York is still developing in terms of infrastructure and stature, but is clearly one of the world's first mega cities. Most of us read this story in middle school as it serves as a good introduction to the historic post-prohibition era. It is not intended to be historically accurate in some regards since it is a fictional tale but there are elements of truth concerning the glamorization of the way people lived during this time.
I don't want to give too much of the movie away for those of you who have yet to see it, so I'm telling you right now this is your official spoiler alert. The main character is, obviously, James Gatsby. He is a mysterious figure with extreme wealth, power and influence in New York City. Everyone owes him a favor on some level and he has immunity from laws that most common citizens are morally obligated to obey. He rubs elbows with everyone from politicians to back-room mob figures to Wall Street stock brokers and bankers. Every weekend at his home he throws a massive party. I'm talking about the type of parties that make a P. Diddy function look like child's play. I'm talking about New York City New Years Eve with Dick Clark every weekend at this guys home.
Everyone of any type of influence comes to these parties, and the people desiring to see the people of power attend them as well. There are a trillion rumors circulating about Gatsby's origin and his wealth. No one really knows why he throws these massive functions every weekend. No really knows how he actually became so wealthy. Gatsby himself, even though he is a real person, has morphed into a hybrid urban legend. You see, no one really knows much of anything about James Gatsby besides the fact that he's filthy rich. People don't even know if he's actually a real person but they see the energy surrounding his name and he becomes a dark hero.
In American pop culture we love the dark hero. The original tale of Batman is rooted in the fact that he's a millionaire superhero that's really a bad guy. Elvis Presley's original image is rooted in the fact that he's a pretty-boy turned badass. The admiration of money and power, combined with the lust of women erases all of our sins. So when you add these things to a story that just so happens to be a love story, in most cases we tend to forget about the fact that the character holding these cards in their position may not actually be as wholesome of an individual as our emotional attachment to them leads us to believe.
In the movie, the story of Gatsby is told by a very close friend of his. His friend labeled him the purest soul that ever lived in New York City. He basically says Gatsby restored his faith in humanity and was one of the most amazing spirits that ever lived. I do agree he lived an amazing life, but I disagree with our moral perception of him. He called him "The Great Gatsby" because he honestly believes James Gatsby was one of the greatest examples of humanity to ever walk the earth. He primarily feels this way because it's revealed during the course of the story that Gatsby acquired his wealth, power and influence solely to persuade his first and only true lover to marry him.
He comes from a dirt poor family; his real name is not James Gatsby, and as a child he never completely embraced his biological parents. He believed he was actually the son of God, trapped in a poverty-stricken family that lived out of a hut and was forced to eat mud sandwiches in the name of survival. He hated his life and he hated everything attached to who he actually was. James Gatsby knew in his heart of hearts that he was destined for greatness, and he sold himself on the fact that he would one day achieve it. He was a war hero and a scholar, but everything about his background is sketchy.
He's basically lied to almost everyone that knows him and his new-found image. I'd say about 90 percent of the tales you hear about James are true but he likes to beef them up for the sake of dramatization. In the scenarios where he hasn't lied he basically walks the line between truth and deception like a tightrope. Most people love this story because the guy comes from nothing and lives this amazing life where he's done a trillion unbelievable things and finds a loophole in the system. He gets rich and decides to go after the only girl he's ever loved, hoping that her family will embrace him now that he's wealthy. She comes from money and he doesn't. In the past, Gatsby was shunned by her family since he was poor.
As the story progresses, we discover that his true love is actually a married woman with a douchebag husband. He's a womanizing wealthy prick that constantly cheats on her. He sucks, but nonetheless she's still married and completely aware of her husband's actions. Her and Gatsby rediscover each other and rekindle the flame. The guy gets the girl, finally, and we're all supposed to cheer him on. If she preferred they live in a hut James would gladly sell everything he owns. My problem with this story resides in the fact that most people reading it don't acknowledge the villainous aspects of James Gatsby. He got rich in a relatively quick time frame, and he wasn't necessarily a choir boy. By all means the guy is a gangster, a mysterious compulsive power-hungry personality. He didn't live a humble lifestyle whatsoever. He's gung-ho on trying to relive the past and has convinced himself this woman feels the same regardless of the fact that she's never verbally admitted she does.To me she becomes more so an object to acquire for James and his gaudy lifestyle.
The guy is a maniac in every sense of the word, but he's also a very ambitious person. His ambition is the most admirable quality he holds. He's pursuing a married woman he once dated and he throws these extravagant, over-the-top parties every weekend just to get her attention. If this were real and we knew the characters involved, most of us wouldn't romanticize this story. James Gatsby is basically a charismatic criminal with a rags to riches story, but since he's in love it doesn't really matter and he's the greatest man that walked the Earth since Moses.
I can't understand this, and I left the movie not really knowing why no one else saw the villainous qualities of his character. His love interest in this story clearly has a thing for compulsive men. James has a more philosophical approach to life than her husband; I think this is primarily because he's a dreamer and his dreams eventually pushed him to achieve the impossible. His ambition is amazing, but he's still a very cynical figure. Adolf Hitler was ambitious, so ambition isn't necessarily the primary quality we should use to define a person's intentions. I'm not comparing Gatsby's actions to Hitler's (of course not) but these two overly ambitious characters have a few small things in common.
The takeaway seems to be if there's something you want, or if you have a particular vision of the world, do everything possible to make this vision a reality. No matter how distorted your vision is, the moral compass for your actions is basically defined by society's perception of your story. As Americans, we love ambitious people, but certain things are deal-breakers for us as a society and certain things aren't. Scarface was a drug lord, egotistical coke addict. To some people he's a hero and a symbol of possibility. He was ambitious and charismatic. He didn't live his life in the name of finding his true love, however, so he's not Gatsby.
I think this is just how we function as a society. We blind ourselves to the obvious wrong-doings as long as the right story is attached to the situation. It's okay to bomb innocent people and kill them as long as we're doing it to keep them from eventually bombing us. We're not killers, we're heroes, because we spilled blood for the "right" reasons. But the guy that walks into the subway and shoots innocent people is a killer and should get the death penalty. It's okay to date a married a woman as long as you have a good back story attached to your pursuit of her. It's also okay to be a self-absorbed person with the world at your fingertips and knack for abusing your power, as long as you're in love and and overly consumed by the fact that the woman that loves you won't marry you if you don't give her the world. The moral components of this story are all jacked up, and my friends argued with me that I was the crazy person because I didn't see how wholesome and in love this guy was.
Long story short, Gatsby dies and doesn't get the girl. No one comes to his funeral and he dies a lonely death. He tried to buy friends and admiration. He made a lot of fast money under the table and off the radar. In a sense, he was a Robin Hood-like figure. But he was also a very demanding personality type with a quick temper. He was murdered in cold blood and the story ends. In my world, this is how people like James Gatsby actually die. I wasn't shocked, nor was I saddened by his untimely death, because people like him die prematurely. It's called Karma. He was an over-the-top dreamer and schemer. True enough, he didn't do these things to hurt people, but this doesn't erase the fact that he wasn't a saint. He has a side of him that reminds you of your childhood. He's a dreamer and he thinks the world can be swayed to his liking. He was a crooked businessman but his intentions were to live the sweet American dream. He was very specific about everything he did, and he wanted this one and only woman to be his.
My problem is, even though Gatsby was such admirable soul that we felt his love for this woman ourselves, he wasn't handing out turkeys to the homeless. He was rich and sitting high on the hog while throwing money into alcohol, partying, influencing law enforcement and politicians. He was drunk off power, and by this point in his life the word "no" basically meant just throw some money at it and get it done.Through all of this there is indeed an element of innocence and bliss attached to James Gatsby; he lived in a world with infinite possibilities and he believed in true love. My favorite Steve Job's quote is "Stay foolish." If we stay foolish we can achieve things that we typically shouldn't be able to achieve, because we're foolish enough to think they are possible. The Wright Brothers were foolish and created the airplane. Henry Ford stayed foolish and invented the automobile. But this same exact mentality can backfire: Albert Einstein was foolish and created the Atomic Bomb. Harry Truman was even more foolish and dropped two of them on Japan.These things are acceptable because they did them for the "right" reasons, allegedly. People that sell crack think the same exact way and are extremely foolish, but these people are evil, right? Teenagers in the ghetto all across America sell drugs to change their life and give them a fighting chance of getting the girl, the car and the clothes they want.They may not be James Gatsby, but keeping your mother's electricity on and buying some new sneakers for your younger brother sorta defines true love in their world.
I'm sorry, I just see this story from a different lense. This doesn't make their actions right whatsoever. There's a very dark and deceptive element of The Great Gatsby that seems to be ignored by most people. People do things in the name of love that are wrong daily, and their stories aren't romanticized. The so-called crazy Islamic terrorists think love is defined according to their admiration for religion. They love their beliefs so strongly that they kill people in the name of love. Love doesn't erase all debts. James Gatsby was a criminal, folks. He didn't die directly due to his lifestyle, but the energy put out in the world is the energy that comes back to you. So his death indirectly stands as a consequence of his bad choices.
I've lost family members that lived less than praiseworthy lifestyles. They too may not have died due to the direct consequences of their actions. But they did shady and criminal things in the name of love and happiness. At the end of day wrong is wrong. Their stories aren't viewed as outstanding tales of love and victory. I know a thousand personalities that are similar to Gatsby. Unfortunately they aren't viewed as heroes, so this basically ruins my ability to comprehend what's so great. My older brother allegedly committed an insane crime in the name of financially securing a future for his offspring. He allegedly claimed he was motivated by love. Despite his intentions there's a very selfish element to his story. He's currently in prison because love doesn't justify the means. James Gatsby died because he held a similar personality trait. A villain is a villain regardless of the intention.