Richard Lutz sees double with two shows that reveal America on the double take.
This week, with the crazy weather and the unknown sun, it was time to take in movies and tv.
Two shows grabbed me. Both pondered on the American Way of Life. Or rather, an American Way of Life.
And that American Way of Life portrayed is the genius of re-invention. Americans are good at it; discovery, self discovery, doubt, chucking out the used and slightly stained and starting over.
Both The Great Gatsby (the so-so film) and the HBO classic series Mad Men look deeply into this well, this mirror that can change so fast with the American zest for throwing out the old and hitting the Refresh button.
F Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby as a novel way back when and his hero, or anti hero, Jay Gatsby didn’t like where he came from (farming folk from North Dakota) so he changed his name, tripped over some good fortune and invented a new name and a new history. He ‘went to Oxford’ he bragged. Until he had to admit to an inquisitor that he didn’t mean he studied at Oxford but actually went as in traveled to the city. He was a party throwing millionaire. But inside he was empty.
Jay Gatsby, in effect, didn’t exist and didn’t survive to prove or disprove what Fitzgerald famously said: ‘There are no second acts in America…..’
Well, Gatsby, played woodenly by Leonardo diCaprio in a frenetic bore of a film, actually did try for that second act. But it just didn’t work. If the fictional character had survived Fitzgerald’s loopy melodrama, he probably would have changed his name again and made another life, this time selling tickets to the next Gold Rush in California.
The Gatsby re invention is closely reflected in Mad Men when chief hero Don Draper, over the course of five series, is revealed as farm boy Dick Whitman (what is it with American farmboys and re invention?)
The Draper character, emblematic of Madison Avenue hard nosed cool, continually tries to escape that he took the identity of a dead soldier from the Korean War. And he has a sappy brother who knows everything and re appears in dreams, hallucinations, panic attacks or the lousy afterburn of a three day binge.
Draper, in effect, is not real either. The American hero, the ubermensch of Mad Avenue doesn’t exist. He is a chimera, he’s a deceitful lying rural huckster. Just like Jay Gatsby. Both…. even in the fictional world of a plotline… do not exist. But somehow they run the show and avoid who they are.
Both Draper and Gatsby are America Re invented. You are what you create and then just let it rip. And I could not have made it up better when I stumbled deep into the net with this self aggrandising article from a PR agency:
”At my agency, (name edited out to avoid free advertising) we help folks figure out how and where and why to stage (a) next act by developing Personal Branding Idea, the big bold one. Our keys to helping someone truly know himself or herself is contained in four strands of input: profession, passion, purpose and place. In aggregate, these four 4 P’s will tell them the next step.”
So, if you’re a loser or think you are a loser in Chicago, Illinois; Boise, Idaho; Tulsa, Oklahoma; or Brooklyn New York, there’s always a way to cast off who you are on a side road, change your name and start again. Just like in the movies, just lie on the tv sitting framed on your living room wall where once a hearth sat. Welcome to Re-Invention USA. Welcome to Second Act, Podunkville.