Earlier this week, Quartz's Zack Seward argued that throwing lavish, Great Gatsby-themed parties was stupid and ironic. Because, he wrote, the book was written as a condemnation of the decadent wealthy.
The sentiment is admirable. Who doesn't love bashing the very rich? But if we're looking for cultural hypocrisy, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's recent punk-themed gala would have been a better target.
Money and its effect on character was obviously one of Fitzgerald's favorite themes. But it wasn't his only theme. Yes, Fitzgerald's novel "reveals the hollow, rotting underbelly of class and capital," but revelation is not the same as condemnation. It oversimplifies the book to ignore the author's complex and decidedly conflicted feelings about class and wealth. It also ignores that Gatsby is, among other things, a tragic love story of breathtaking lyricism. Saying Fitzgerald's masterpiece to a mere screed against classism is like saying that Huckleberry Finn exists only to condemn slavery.
Given all that, what might be most remarkable about Gatsby-themed parties is that you only need a single word to describe them. Perhaps no other novel encapsulates an era so fully that the protagonist's name is enough to conjure the look and feel of an entire decade.
Suppose you wanted to have a 1950s party. What novel could you choose? On the Road or Catcher in the Rye? And how exactly how would one dress to attend? Tell someone you are having a Gatsby party, though, and they instantly know what they will wear, listen to and drink at it. And so celebrating in the book's name is, in part, celebrating how indelible the book is.
Besides, why not throw a party? It beats seeing Luhrmann's 3D Gatsby—a film so obsessed with dazzling the audience through costumes, sets, and special effects that the actors are barely given a chance to act.
Every generation gets the Gatsby it deserves, and we surely got ours. Compare Luhrmann's version to, for instance, the 2000 A&E interpretation with Paul Rudd and Mira Sorvino. Shot during the Clinton-era boom, before the wars and the crashes that followed, A&E's version is contemplative, pastoral, and almost airy.
Luhrmann's Gatsby—indicative of a time when every human emotion can be reduced to an emoticon—is bigger, faster, flashier, harder, and sharper, and obsessed with technology at the expense of human relationships. Any real life Gatsby-themed party, no matter how decadent, would have to be better than that. Parties at least have real people.