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The Great (Latter-day) Gatsbys

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I have not yet seen the Baz Luhrmann adaptation of The Great Gatsby, which I'll admit is mostly because I'm scared to watch it. Since the previews started showing up, I cringed at the Luhrmann razzle-dazzle--Jay Z meets J.G.?--that gave Shakespeare and 1880s Paris a case of neon-infused hysteria.

All the same, I've always been an F. Scott Fitzgerald enthusiast, reading Gatsby at least once a year since high school and owning compilations of his magazine work, short stories and (almost) all his novels. I even sat down the other night, in lieu of going to the theater for Gatsby on Steroids, and watched the 1974 film starring Robert Redford as Gatsby, Mia Farrow as Daisy Buchanan and Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway.

Without having seen Luhrmann's cinematic take on the novel, I won't try to compare the films. But in re-watching the older version, I was again left with that sickened feeling of excess--the frantic, dissolute characters; their exhausting histrionics; the champagne-drenched falsity of their ludicrous mansions; their spoiled self-destruction.

The spectacle is a soul-wearying one, as Fitzgerald intended, and with that hollow sensation fresh in my mind, I decided that not only is The Great Gatsby the perfect novel for our time, Baz Luhrmann is probably the perfect guy to adapt it to our age of high-speed superficiality, which is well served by the Luhrmann style: hip-hop! 3-D! research trips on ocean liners! The film opened with receipts topping $51 million, a Gastby-worthy figure for what I'm sure is a Gatsby-worthy spectacle.

Wealth and the worship of wealth is the lodestone of the Gatsby universe, and the perversion of that fixation corrupts everything--from fashion to love to art--and even (spoiler alert) ends up costing a few people their lives. That might sound like a lot of moralizing, but you don't need to look any further than the news to see a vivid example of how the First World's addiction to luxury fuels tragedy in the Third World.

More than 1,000 workers died in the collapse of a Bangladesh garment factory in late April, which--in eight stories of the most primitive conditions--churned out fashionable clothing for Western consumption.

We like to think slavery is a historic evil, but the fact remains that millions toil daily to support the hyper-speed, high-fashion lifestyle that we latter-day Gatsbys seem to think is vital. Don't believe me? Take this quiz--slaveryfootprint.org--and get ready for your own noveau riche hangover.

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