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Another Gatsby?
March 6, 2009 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Certain clues seem to indicate that we may be facing a second depression. But what would another Depression mean in literary terms? Would it produce a second 'Gatsby'? While circumstances might be different this time around, perhaps it's worth revisiting some of the experiences of some who lived and wrote through the first Great Depression.
posted by sarabeth (36 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Gatsby? That was published in 1925. So, no.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:04 AM on March 6, 2009 [9 favorites]


Wow, four finance threads on the front page of Mefi discussing the imminent collapse of the economy? That, my friends, is what we call a 'contrary indicator.'
posted by Pastabagel at 11:05 AM on March 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


Good point, and nicely spotted, but my read of the article led me to believe that the author was discussing the matter of the class tension that was already building up during the social stratification of the 1920s, and then exploded during the Depression as a literary force. You know, the dissolve of the American vision of limitless potential for social mobility, a cornucopia of rewards for the hardworking, etc. Maybe it would have made more sense phrased as "a second Grapes of Wrath", though.
posted by sarabeth at 11:09 AM on March 6, 2009


(Sorry, that was in reference to Astro Zombie's comment.)
posted by sarabeth at 11:10 AM on March 6, 2009


The point of the WSJ piece was that Gatsby highlighted "the conflict between the American myth of a classless society and the reality of the nation's deepening caste divisions." But it is kind of odd that the piece seems to be talking mostly about stuff that was published outside of the years of the Depression (and has as its only graphic a still from the 1974 movie version of the 1925 Gatsby), perhaps because more people know who F. Scott Fitzgerald was than know who Sinclair Lewis was. (It Can't Happen Here is probably a better example of a novel written out of a Depression ethos than Gatsby, anyway.)
posted by blucevalo at 11:16 AM on March 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


International evidence suggests there is a 20% chance our stock-market crash will lead to much worse.

Linking to the WSJ predicting a depression is like linking to FOX News predicting the failure of the Obama administration, and for the same reason.
posted by WCityMike at 11:18 AM on March 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


Oh boy! Let's write another Grapes of Wrath as well! Anything to torture high school English students of future generations, and kill their love of reading!
posted by explosion at 11:22 AM on March 6, 2009 [7 favorites]


"Each called for Americans to act collectively to remake a democratic society where opportunity would be open to all."--what is really implied here: enough of the free wheeling thieves who screwed the nation and let's us relyh as we had to in the FDR years to the Government to
put back controls, to get some much needed socialism (welfare programs--health care, living wages, education etc) back in place instead of the long road of stripping away regulations done by both major parties.

The Joads finally got decent treatment from a govt housing program on the farms; Preacher Casey radicalized Tom, who set out at the end of the novel to bring about Change We Could Believe In.
posted by Postroad at 11:25 AM on March 6, 2009


How could you hate Grapes of Wrath so much? It's a 30-minute read.
posted by Mister_A at 11:25 AM on March 6, 2009


No, really sarabeth, you can't take an article claiming a 20% chance of a Depression and link to it as "indicate".

FDR may have been hyperbolic about us having nothing to fear but fear itself, but the last thing we need right now is fear mongering. The situation is bad, but I'm not ready to join the Joads quite yet.

Let's stop sending up our collective blood pressure with brooding panic.
posted by orthogonality at 11:29 AM on March 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


Did The Bonfire of the Vanities somehow get un-published? If we're just talking about novels that illustrate class tension during financial bubbles then I think we're covered. But both that article and this post seem to have decided to cite "Gatsby" because people have heard of it, when they really mean to ask is if there will be a second wave of depression novels and films, in which case I nominate Wendy and Lucy.
posted by nicwolff at 11:34 AM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Would a second Holocaust produce the next Jimi Hendrix? Would a freak accident that annihilated half of Omaha inspire the new century's Citizen Kane? Would pounding a nail into my face make me a genius?! LET'S FIND OUT!

AUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHGOD
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:34 AM on March 6, 2009 [30 favorites]


...In other words, yeah, simply asking the question is evidence that one's priorities are maybe not what they really ought to be here.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:36 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Really, the interesting question, given Gatsby's publishing date is: "Will another Great Gatsby cause a second Depression, like the first one did?"
posted by rusty at 11:47 AM on March 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


Really, the interesting question is, will another great depression produce another Jesse Owens? I get a little misty every time I watch tape of him beating Hitler in the hundred.
posted by Mister_A at 11:50 AM on March 6, 2009


Linking to the WSJ predicting a depression is like linking to FOX News predicting the failure of the Obama administration, and for the same reason.

Except the WSJ article is not predicting a depression; it's attempting to predict the likelihood of one. While it's true the author is a Hoover Institute Fellow and appears to be conservative, he does not seem to be a partisan hack at all, and a lot of his work seems fairly apolitical. While my own politics are decidedly left wing, and I'm not a fan of the WSJ, I'm not sure it's totally fair to equate the WSJ and FOX. Unlike FOX, the WSJ occasionally has pieces of informational value that are not entirely slanted.
posted by ornate insect at 11:50 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


A number of people whose opinions I respect love the heck out of The Great Gatsby. However, I have never been able to enjoy it in the slightest. I've done my best to hide my churlishness regarding that particular book if I'm tutoring it, but, damn, if another one happens to appear, I'm gonna set that thing on fire.
posted by adipocere at 11:51 AM on March 6, 2009


Would it produce a second 'Gatsby'?

Would it produce a second Terror of Tiny Town?
posted by Iridic at 11:53 AM on March 6, 2009


(Changes the name of my novel-in-progress to "The Greater Gatsby.")
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:02 PM on March 6, 2009


Well, one could just look at non-Muscovite Russia or Argentina during the 1990s to see whether any distinct culture or literature emerged. Unfortunately in today's culture I don't think the general public cares about novels anymore and if anything prefers escapism, so I'd count on Harry Potter and Milwaukee Tent City #5.
posted by crapmatic at 12:08 PM on March 6, 2009


Terror of Tiny Town is really a remarkably bad film. In the history of bad American cinema, it still manages to be astoundingly awful.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:09 PM on March 6, 2009


I enjoyed reading the links, so thanks for providing them. Well, maybe 'enjoyed' isn't quite the right word. I feel more educated, anyway.

It's amazing to me that the median price of a home *anywhere* in this country is $18k. Granted, it's Detroit, but still, that's flabbergasting. That's about the price of a new Corolla, plus or minus. I think I probably have enough *comic books* that I could sell them and buy a (second) house now, if I was willing to buy one in Detroit. (Which I'm not.)

It's a scary world out there now. I feel safe, secure and comfortable myself (unless civilization itself collapses, which I doubt will happen). But I see the effects of this downturn all around me here in the Midwest, and there's an undertone of fear that pervades conversations now that I've never detected before, not even while we were waiting in lines for gas in the 70s. I've been helping some friends and family weather the storm, as best I can help, but I'm just a middle-class dude and there are limits to how much I can let people lean on me before I have an economic collapse of my own.

I think I must have known, below the level of consciousness, that things were too good to last, because three years ago I began taking steps that are potentially helpful when here is an economic crisis: started a garden, expanded it, paid off debt, got credit rating to ridiculously good levels, learned carpentry, equipped myself with lots of tools, bought a bit of gold and silver. I did all these things for no particular reason; just seemed like a decent idea. Now I feel almost prescient. It was probably just my PTSD though -- I've lived most of my life with a powerful and unshakable sense of impending doom. Sometimes it's not just my PTSD though, and there really *is* some doom. That makes me feel....better?
posted by jamstigator at 12:36 PM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


'President "Bobby": Mr. Gardner, do you agree with Ben, or do you think that we can

stimulate growth through temporary incentives?

[Long pause]

Chance the Gardener: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well
in the garden.

President "Bobby": In the garden.

Chance the Gardener: Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.

President "Bobby": Spring and summer.

Chance the Gardener: Yes.'


-from 'Being There'

President "Bobby": Then fall and winter.

Chance the Gardener: Yes.

Benjamin Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we're upset by the seasons of our economy.

Chance the Gardener: Yes! There will be growth in the spring!

Benjamin Rand: Hmm!

Chance the Gardener: Hmm!

President "Bobby": Hm. Well, Mr. Gardner, I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I've heard in a very, very long time.

[Benjamin Rand applauds]

President "Bobby": I admire your good, solid sense. That's precisely what we lack on Capitol Hill.'
posted by clavdivs at 12:48 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


or a good Nero Wolfe....wait that story is contemporaneously.....
posted by clavdivs at 1:05 PM on March 6, 2009


The time of the Flappers of the New Depression has come and gone.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:07 PM on March 6, 2009


"the conflict between the American myth of a classless society and the reality of the nation's deepening caste divisions."

What? This is a minor minor theme in the GG, at best. I've read it over 20 times, though not recently, and it never ceases to amaze me how well written it is.

I'm p-paralyzed with happiness.
posted by forrestal at 1:37 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, four finance threads on the front page of Mefi discussing the imminent collapse of the economy? That, my friends, is what we call a 'contrary indicator.'
posted by Pastabagel at 2:05 PM on March 6


Talk about calling the bottom! MeFi was only off by ninety minutes!
posted by Pastabagel at 1:37 PM on March 6, 2009


"It's amazing to me that the median price of a home *anywhere* in this country is $18k. Granted, it's Detroit, but still, that's flabbergasting. That's about the price of a new Corolla, plus or minus. I think I probably have enough *comic books* that I could sell them and buy a (second) house now, if I was willing to buy one in Detroit. (Which I'm not.)"

I have strongly considered moving to Michigan, starting up a small goat farm, a cheese and soap company, and a punk band, because nothing helps bring about great punk music than corruption and economic decay. The biggest impediment: Who wants to live in Michigan? I liked "Roseanne," but I think the setting of Lanford, MI, for the show was supposed to indicate the decay of the rust belt, not the shining future.

It would be cheap but more than I have. Anyone up for investing in my goat milk futures?
posted by krinklyfig at 1:59 PM on March 6, 2009


(Changes the name of my novel-in-progress to "The Greater Gatsby.")

The Greater Gatsby... or The Greatest Gatsby?
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 2:33 PM on March 6, 2009


I think we all secretly are hoping for a depression so we can be as cool as our grand (or great-grand)parents. Despite inventing hiphop and teh interweb, we're just not getting cred.

I think, FTW, we'd have to get to a "grilling the neighbors" stage. I'm already picking out candidates. And sauces.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 2:52 PM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Pastabagel: I like USA Today and Time Magazine as contrary indicators, they consistently top-tick and bottom-tick the markets. If you see it on the cover of The Economist one week and then Time the next week: short-term top!

For those of you that don't follow stocks, the idea is: events get digested over time which causes consistent rising/falling. The last people to digest and know in this (pyramid) are average-people that don't really pay attention. By definition lowest-common-denominator news sources like USA Today are going to be the very last to report on something. In effect, they will be consistent losers to the point of being a contrary indicactor.
posted by amuseDetachment at 3:15 PM on March 6, 2009


(Changes the name of my novel-in-progress to "The Greater Gatsby.")

I'm thinking that with the Entitlement Society that we're now living in, you should go with "The Ingrate Gatsby."
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:25 PM on March 6, 2009


> I think we all secretly are hoping for a depression so we can be as cool as our grand (or great-grand)parents.

Concerning disaster chic--note that this time around, if Great Depression II occurs, photographers won't be able to win Pulitzer prizes for depicting it in melodramatic black-and-white. We'll see our Depression on YouTube. (With YouTube comments.)

Thinking of all of the above, the big question that strikes me is will we be pulled out of Great Depression II by WWIII?
posted by jfuller at 4:50 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thinking of all of the above, the big question that strikes me is will we be pulled out of Great Depression II by WWIII?

The problem is that that I can't envision a scenario today where that sort of all-out war wouldn't go nuclear and be over in a matter of hours.

Well, I guess I can envision one scenario, but it seems unlikely — the governments of major nations meet, in secret, and agree to withhold using nuclear weapons and engage in a pointless conventional war for the sole purpose of disposing of their excess labor pool, and forcing otherwise-unpalatable economic policies on the remaining civilian population.

At least I hope that's unlikely.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:59 PM on March 6, 2009


Really, the interesting question is, will another great depression produce another Jesse Owens?

I'm holding out for another Huey P. Long myself, to make politics interesting.

Or another Federal Theater Project. Just to see if they could pull that off.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:26 PM on March 6, 2009


The thirites are not a good parallel for what is happening now. There isn't nearly the same level of bank failures or unemployment. In the 30s it was at 25%. Right now it hasn't passed 10%. Sure it could get worse. But back then there was no unemployment insurance or other social programs like Medicare or Social Security. I think the comparison is a bad one. We are in something closer to the 1970s right now.
posted by kellytom382 at 7:03 PM on March 8, 2009


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