Monday, January 6, 2014

Get up and Gatsby? Gatsby Gunned Down, Myrtle Murdered!

This is old news, but the January City newsletter has a blurb for the Salem Art Association's 15th Annual Clay Ball.  The theme?  "Get up and Gatsby."

It is perhaps an inconvenient fact that at the heart of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, The Great Gatsby, is a vehicular homicide!  In a hit-and-run with Daisy, Gatsby goes off and never stops.

We shouldn't make too much of this.  After all, there's a Portland book about bikes and beer, and we wouldn't complain about a toga theme, even though the Romans had lots of slaves. In the big scheme of things the Bootlegger Chic is mostly harmless fun. It's just a book, and a theme for a party.

Still, Gatsby is also a criticism of the decadence of the roaring 20s, that second Gilded age, and cars and emergent car culture are at the center of it.
They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.
They have a history of crashes:
A week after I left Santa Barbara Tom ran into a wagon on the Ventura road one night and ripped a front wheel off his car. The girl who was with him got into the papers too because her arm was broken--she was one of the chambermaids in the Santa Barbara Hotel.
Nick and Jordan talk about "rotten driving":
"You're a rotten driver," I protested. "Either you ought to be more careful or you oughtn't to drive at all."
"I am careful."
"No, you're not."
"Well, other people are," she said lightly.
"What's that got to do with it?"
"They'll keep out of my way," she insisted. "It takes two to make an accident."
"Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself."
"I hope I never will," she answered. "I hate careless people. That's why I like you."
Martinis and Gatbsy?  Ehh...Maybe not such a good idea
And of course, after drinking Gin Rickeys in Manhattan, the party returns to Long Island and on the way there is the climactic hit-and-run.
[Michaelis] heard Mrs. Wilson's voice, loud and scolding, downstairs in the garage.

"Beat me!" he heard her cry. "Throw me down and beat me, you dirty little coward!" A moment later she rushed out into the dusk, waving her hands and shouting; before he could move from his door the business was over.

The "death car" as the newspapers called it, didn't stop; it came out of the gathering darkness, wavered tragically for a moment and then disappeared around the next bend. Michaelis wasn't even sure of its color--he told the first policeman that it was light green. The other car, the one going toward New York, came to rest a hundred yards beyond, and its driver hurried back to where Myrtle Wilson, her life violently extinguished, knelt in the road and mingled her thick, dark blood with the dust.
The car is mysterious, monstrous even, but now we take the possibility of the seemingly driverless hit-and-run for granted. The agency seemingly belongs to the car, not the driver:  A car runs over someone; the person driving a car doesn't run over someone.

Anyway, it's all fun and games until somebody gets their eye poked out.  Scolding the Art Association for a common selective reading of Gatsby as a celebration of art and creativity and joy is perhaps not fair or even very interesting. 

But as the Great Recession's effects linger in a painfully slow recovery, the whole celebration of Gatsby is a little bit decadent, isn't it? More crucially here, it's a book about bad driving and death. We shouldn't boycott or protest or anything, but maybe it's an opportunity to talk about blind spots, both cultural and in the roadways.

Bikes in the Society Pages!
More positively, in the Sunday paper there was yet another sign of bikes in the mainstream. At the annual Christmas Benefit Open House held by Golden Rule Remodeling & Design, this year's proceeds went to support the Assistance League of Salem Auxiliary’s bike program, conducted jointly with Bike Peddler.

1 comment:

Sarah Owens said...

Really good blog, really good example of "corrective community." Humility and reason are so much more convincing than, well, the alternative.