The making of our Great Gatsby

May 10, 2013

Jay Gatsby is on Facebook.

Well, a profile called Jay Gatsby exists on Facebook. Based on the information available to the public, he likes opera, Monopoly, the shows “Yacht & Sail” and “Pimp my Ride,” and he’s a fan of Tiger Woods. He’s also partial to “being rich” and “making a fortune.” He bears an uncanny resemblance to Michael Douglas as the ascot-sporting Uncle Wayne in the 2009 film “Ghost of Girlfriends Past”.

Oh, wait, there’s another … and another … and another.


Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in “Gatsby.” (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures )

On social media, Gatsby is everywhere. Twitter has a seemingly endless list of users sporting the name. It’s only fitting that the title character of a book that is widely deemed to be on the short list of “great American novels,” would garner this kind of following.

But what would the fictional Gatsby have thought of this new world of digital reinvention? He might have loved the opportunity to troll Daisy’s social media profiles to better cater his own profiles to her likes and dislikes. Then again, he may have been even more ambitious, creating the social network himself.

When “The Social Network” arrived in theaters in 2010, comparisons between Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and Gatsby arrived hot on the film’s heels. The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday wrote at the time that Zuckerberg, as depicted in the film, was “a modern-day Jay Gatsby.” The Oregonian’s Shawn Levy made the same comparison, drawing a line, as Hornaday did, between Daisy’s distant, green dock light and Zuckerberg’s “refresh” button.

Now that director Baz Lurhmann’s “Gatsby” is about to make its debut, perhaps it’s the social media user’s turn under the Gatsby lens. On Facebook and elsewhere, we cover up or play down our awkward moments and selectively share our interests, feeding different parts of ourselves, real or imagined, to different audiences.

Millennials, in particular, are morphing into their own versions of Gatsby. The cohort of 20- and 30-somethings are coming of age in an era that, while not the Roaring Twenties, is doing some roaring all its own. Sandwiched between student loan debt, a difficult job market and the the nearly out-of-reach American dream of homeownership, they are reaching for the trappings of wealth and a chance for reinvention.

They can track down old flames and put their best, digital feet forward. They summon black cars to get to that party in the city and rent lavish homes in exotic locales they could never otherwise afford—if only for a day or two. They can, as Gatsby did, constantly lead people—even those they love the most—to believe they are someone or something they’re not.

Kolawole is the editor of Innovations.

Disclosure: Washington Post Co. chairman and chief executive Donald E. Graham is a member of Facebook’s board of directors.

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Emi Kolawole · May 10, 2013