Not once have I heard someone complain about having to read The Great Gatsby in high school. All people offer are rave reviews, coos of adoration, almost nostalgic remarks longing for the days when the plot was fresh and analysis of the story’s symbols was compulsory. I think that’s because deep down we all identify with Gatsby’s quest. Whether your Language Art’s teacher had to spell it out for you symbol by symbol, or you were adept enough to recognize Fitzgerald’s theme on your own, we all identify with it. My bet is if you were spoiled enough to spend your youth analyzing said existential literature you’re likely to empathize with Gatsby’s sense of unbridled yet naïve greed. We all have our own American Dream.
My thoughts were tempted to entertain this type of ideology once again when I watched 2013’s the Wolf of Wall Street. I found myself cheering for, almost identifying with, Martin Scorsese’s Jordan Belfort (not to be confused with the Belfort of reality) and his tremendous, and further more tremendously unethical, rise to the golden class of American society. Each story tells it’s own opinion about the vulgarity of money and the mirage of opportunity our society uses to delude the “common folk.” However, it is the modern portrayal of both characters by Leonardo Dicaprio that ironically and irreversibly weaves the two stories together for me.
Our societal adoration of DiCaprio, a man whom for all intensive purposes came from nothing and created for himself enviable wealth and success, mirrors audience’s adulation of both Gatsby and Belfort. We look upon all three men with a mix of jealousy, worship, and disgust. We envy their glamorous lifestyle and seeming reservoir of opportunity. We worship their ability to create this for themselves and subsequently place them on an unreachable pedestal. But their excess of luck and perceived nonchalance also repulses us. We can’t help but thinking if we were in their place, if we had won that American Dream, we would value it more.
Analysis of all three men invites us to be critical of this lust. We are encouraged to be ashamed of our instincts, embarrassed of our insatiable desire to have more. But I have to question if this greed is really such a bad thing. Nothing of any merit was created or achieved by those who are easily satisfied. It can be argued that satisfaction leads to complacency, and complacency to missed opportunity. So when you walk out of the theater after you see the Wolf of Wall Street and are encouraged to cluck your tongue at offensiveness of money and those who have it in their possession, don’t be humbled. Don’t be afraid to think ‘I could have done it better.’ You are not alone; in fact you are in the company of greatness. At the risk of going overboard I have to quote one more archetype of greed; as Gordon Gekko said, “greed is good” — use it to make your own American Dream.