Ever wondered what the pop culture version of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby might be? Tianna Williams inextricably compares a modern classic with a TV phenomenon.
Disclaimer, for those of you who have not watched the show or read the book, this article includes spoiler alerts.
One of the most famous classical novels written in the 1920’s, The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald, explores many themes such as social class, gender, race and relationship dynamics through the narrator Nick Carraway. He narrates the story of love in Gatsby, someone who possesses new money to capture the heart of Daisy, a female from generational wealth.
Character dynamics of the protagonists and narratives present parallels with the contemporary phenomenon that is the hit TV show Gossip Girl. A bunch of wealthy New York teens whose scandals and relationships are narrated through a social website known as Gossip Girl. In both, a plethora of events occur consisting of extravagance, wealth and tragedy. I could go on for words about the similarities, but here I’ll try to keep it as short and sweet as possible, touching on a few characters and themes.
Thematically, both draw focus on socioeconomics. In Gossip Girl, majority of the storylines revolve around 5 main characters, Serena Van Der Woodsen, Blair Waldorf, Chuck Bass, Nate Archibald and Dan Humphrey. Serena, Blair, Chuck and Nate come from some of the wealthiest families in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York, with their daily lives consisting of benefit balls, luxurious lifestyles and other activities fit for the social elite. Dan Humphrey resides in Brooklyn which becomes evident as a reason for Blair’s constant taunting of witty remarks made towards him. He lives with his sister Jenny (who too shares an eagerness to become a part of the social elite) and dad Rufus, a former rock star.
It seems as though Dan Humphrey lives a comfortable lifestyle, having gotten into the same prestigious high school and colleges as the rest of the characters, and even being a part of their social circle. His dad’s legacy may not be as prominent as the reputable legacies that the other character’s parents have, but he is far from poor. Eventually, through a change in circumstance brought about by his father’s marriage to Serena’s better off mother Lily, Dan resides in a rich suite in Manhattan. Even with the change in his family’s living circumstances, he is constantly reminded that his new found lifestyle amongst his peers is merely ostensible, a fantasy that is so close yet so far away. The parallels in the theme of new money and old money play a significant part in the narrative of Gatsby in his attempt to live the luxurious lifestyle that he hopes will attract the love of his life.
The juxtaposition of East Egg, West Egg, and the Valley of Ashes heavily inspires the Upper East Side of Manhattan and Brooklyn comparisons that are used to taunt Dan Humphrey.
Nick Carraway and Dan Humphrey are the most interesting characters to me. Perhaps its their introversion that allows them to live passively, observing the world around with analysis and critique. Occupations as writers, they have the ability to manipulate situations. The portrayal of the romance between Gatsby and Daisy may be deemed as creepy and obsessive, but somehow Carraway manages to romanticize his persistent behaviour towards Daisy, a married woman. Stalker-ish behaviour, a romanticized theme that thrives in both narratives.
Gatsby uses his anonymity to throw notoriously extravagant parties (that everyone enjoys even though the host is unbeknownst to them) in hopes of luring Daisy to his house. Equally as creepy, Dan Humphrey uses his anonymity to stalk Serena ironically having had his first encounter with her at a party. Daisy and Serena, both “beautiful little fools”?
Ultimately one of this biggest yet subtle comparisons that can be made from both pop culture assets is the constant reminder that there is always someone watching. Fitzgerald does this with the painted eyes on a billboard of fictional oculist T.J Eckleburg, staring down on the Valley of Ashes (a place where the American dream dies). Gossip Girl (spoiler alert), watches the tragedy and scandal of the rich that she evokes, all from the comfort of Brooklyn.
Images sourced from Instagram and film stills from The Great Gatsby.