Rethinking Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby and Social Media

Sophie Macdonald 9 February 2021

It’s still lockdown, it’s Monday again, and instead of planning my weekly essay I was drawn to The Great Gatsby once more. Neglecting my other responsibilities, I scoured every page, embraced its poeticality, sat in awe of Fitzgerald’s masterful prose and contemplated how Gatsby would be written in today’s society.  Perhaps his parties would resemble students hysterically returning to pubs and clubs post-COVID. Perhaps, stuck in lockdown, we are experiencing the ‘Great Depression’ Fitzgerald’s generation soon would.  Influenced by the Hedgefund-fiasco, or whatever it was, I contemplated how the economic boom in the 1920s echoes today’s mass consumerism, and how the world of advertisements was brought to the forefront in this decade. I then decided I needed a break from thinking and resorted to Instagram – where my verdict was decided.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is elegant, compelling and inherently sinister. It is no exceptional love story, or a tale of hope, but could be read as a prophetic tragedy warning its generation, as well as the many after it, about excessiveness and idolatry.

I decided that by describing Daisy’s voice as ‘full of money’ and as having an ‘absolutely perfect reputation’, she is idealised and glorified. Daisy is materialised and advertised, she is the woman everybody wishes to have, the woman that everybody wishes to be. She symbolises the unattainable American Dream, placed on a pedestal built upon golden coins, surrounded by an air of money. Thus, Daisy almost becomes an advertisement herself; selling the American Dream and the old-money lifestyle to others, appearing unattainable and desirable, the woman who defines perfection.

Fitzgerald’s novel was famously set against the backdrop of the ‘Roaring Twenties’, a period of economic boom, in which hedonism and excessiveness exploded in a golden roar. The beginning of the century also saw a radical change in advertising, seeking to manipulate the wants of consumers instead of reflecting them. Designed to persuade customers, a great emphasis was also placed on packaging and aestheticism. I wondered what effect this would have on Fitzgerald’s writing and noticed that he almost constructs Daisy as an advertisement herself. Aided by the mystifying reputation that precedes her, Daisy is illuminated by gossip, beauty and desire; just like an advertisement.

Fitzgerald almost constructs Daisy as an advertisement herself

Fitzgerald also portrays Gatsby as belonging to the growing world of advertisement, which is, arguably, what allows him to create an advertisement of himself. Gatsby packages himself in prestige, popularity and importance. He invites others to be enchanted by the ‘colossal vitality of his illusion’, bringing ‘romantic speculation’ and ‘value’. He, however, does not commodify himself for much consumption, but to catch Daisy Buchanan’s attention.

Interestingly, in a society saturated by social media, pleasure-seeking and instant gratification, platforms such as Instagram and Facebook enable us to reduce ourselves into advertisements too, perfectly packaged in our profile pictures. Packaging and re-packaging, posting and re-posting until we achieve perfection, we have joined Gatsby and Daisy in their status’ as advertisements. Thinking about how we hype others up on group-chats and idolise celebrities, I wondered whether Daisy Buchanan was more of a Kendall Jenner or Arianna Grande.

Will this convince me to stop mindlessly scrolling through social media, or stop liking your new pictures? Probably not. Will it make me delete social media and stop posting pictures of my own? Definitely not. Will it make me romanticise everyone’s posts and try to decide who the Daisy’s and Gatsby’s of this world are? Most definitely.

Fitzgerald’s writing is addictive, more so to our generation than his. Perhaps it is because of the consumer-culture we share with it, or because we enjoy using it as a prophetic source for consequences of our hedonism, but his writing sticks – it has certainly stuck with me.