Rejecting the Words of Others

Blaike Young

I have an undeniable obsession with The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s depiction of the 1920s makes the era all too appealing.  Although Jay Gatsby lives almost pathetically in the past, it’s very difficult for me to recognize any flaws in him that crack his polished veneer. I convinced my mother to read the classic; I was just too enamored with the novel to not share it.

When my mother finished it, she had the same initial reaction. Gatsby is unbelievably cool and everything about the setting is magical. However, after my mother stewed over the characters and did some research on Fitzgerald, she came up with some different conclusions. “Nick is anti-Semitic and racist.  How can this be your favorite book?” she asked. I explained to her that Nick is a character. I don’t have to agree with his opinions. “Yes, but Fitzgerald was also anti-Semitic and racist. By The Great Gatsby being your favorite book, you are supporting an author that goes against who you are.” She had a good point.

While I have never been personally affected by racism because I’m ghostly white, I am Jewish. And even though I’ve always filled in the Caucasian bubble on standardized tests, racism is an issue relevant in everyone’s life – no matter what you identify yourself as. By supporting an author, are we supporting their beliefs?

Coco Chanel was openly anti-Semitic. Yet, I have no problem admiring her fashion genius. Mercedes Benz made the gas chambers used in concentration camps during the holocaust. Should I not ride in one? Walt Disney promoted Nazi propagandists and associated himself with racist and anti-Semitic groups. Should I not watch Disney? The question is raised: are you what you’re associated with? Does a person wearing Chanel, driving a Mercedes, watching Disney, or loving The Great Gatsby mean that he or she is in support of the ideas behind these things? Does it even matter?

We’d all like to believe that we are totally against racism and anti-Semitism. But when it comes down to it, I’m not really sure we’re willing to give up some of the things we love to support the things we claim to believe in. I don’t know if I want to reject Fitzgerald. I certainly don’t want to believe Disney, the man and the name behind a large chunk of my childhood, would be against me as a person. So I think we are selective. We choose either consciously or unconsciously what we want to ignore about our favorite authors, designers, even politicians. We do so, so that we don’t lose anything we love. We prioritize. It’s normal and it’s human.

Think about word usage at Latin. We have completely exiled words like “retard.” If you didn’t have one of those locker pledges signed for everyone to see your rejection of the word, how dare you not support the cause? It was peer pressure at its finest, but it stemmed from our awareness of how words affect what we mean to say. If Latin students are super conscious and careful about word choice, why do we not care if the things and people we love, do and say things we utterly hate?  It’s an example of how we choose the issues we want to rally behind and sort of knowingly abandon the ones that involve us giving up something.  When the movie Tropic Thunder came out several years ago, protestors picketed the movie because it said the word “retard” or “retarded” 17 times. How many of you signed a pledge to never say the word but still watch and enjoy this movie?  We don’t stand behind issues unfalteringly.

I don’t have a solution. We can’t change the past, and we certainly can’t live in it (Gatsby taught me that). It’s up to us to decide if we’ll let history define the now or if we’ll embrace new ideas.