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Comments: Week of May 20, 2013

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1. “I find Gatsby aesthetically over­rated, psychologically vacant, and morally complacent,” wrote Kathryn Schulz in what Times movie critic A. O. Scott called a “showboating critical contrarian” essay on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, just ahead of Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation (Bad Egg,” May 13). Readers, responding in droves, seemed mostly to agree with Schulz that the book was a contrived melodrama stuffed with hollow characters, ludicrous plot twists, and only the thinnest trace of explicit social critique. What they disagreed about—vehemently—was whether that made any difference. “The Great Gatsby is preachy and dull and only hints at profundity,” wrote one Gatsby-hater at ­Vulture, while another suggested those seeming problems could actually be a secret strength: “Do you have to derive pleasure from a novel to appreciate its quality? … Maybe the void of exploration into the Gatsby-Daisy relationship, and obviously, Gatsby himself, is what lingers with readers.” Another echoed: “I don’t disagree with everything, but on your point about Fitzgerald’s disconnect with the characters—I think that’s the whole point of the book.” On Schulz’s third charge, that Fitzgerald failed to engage with the social and political problems the story itself raised, one reader argued that however passive its portrait of wealth, Gatsby still offered plenty of social meaning: “The longer I live the more it seems a portrait of what this nation is—its worship of wealth, no matter how it is achieved, and how the wealthy literally are allowed to get away with murder.” At the Washington Post’s ComPost blog, Alexandra Petri sounded a similar note: “Is it ‘detached from human struggle,’ as Schulz suggests? Of course. But it’s that detachment that gives it its power,” she wrote. “There’s a class-system to contend with after all: It’s the revelation that certain gaudy sorts of happiness only exist when glimpsed from without.” And on Twitter, Joyce Carol Oates took the long view: “Hating The Great Gatsby (the novel) is like spitting into the Grand Canyon. It will not be going away anytime soon, but you will be.”

2. “Jeff Koons is the most successful American artist since Warhol” ­declared the cover accompanying Carl Swanson’s profile of the iconoclastic power-Pop impresario, beloved by billionaire collectors but held at a skeptical distance by critics, curators, and other artists (The Age of Jeff Koons,” May 13). “So what’s the art world got against the guy?” we asked. “Warhol was a machine and Koons is an android,” answered one commenter at Vulture. “Like Data from Star Trek, he’s incredibly smart but never able to convey what it means to be human.” Other readers argued about how much of Koons’s stature was truly due to the quality of his work. “I do believe he’s made a gargantuan mark in (art) history as an artist and cultural phenom,” wrote one commenter. “Problem is, it’s hard to appreciate his work without getting distracted by the a-holes linked to him: the nouveau superrich like the Steve Cohens of the world who use art-collecting as another way to one-up each other. I doubt these jackasses ever see the inside of a museum unless it’s to put their name on a wing—or even its bathroom door as long as the plaque is big enough.” At the blog Art Fag City, Whitney Kimball was a bit more generous to the artist. “The more we hear about him,” she wrote, “the more we remember that his work is not so bad.


3. “The assumption that Obama’s ­climate-change record is essentially one of failure is mainly an artifact of environmentalists’ understandably frantic urgency,” wrote Jonathan Chait, in an essay suggesting that, despite hand-wringing on the left, the president’s quiet executive-order carbon regulations may make him a green hero after all (­Meanwhile, Obama Might Actually Be the Environmental President,” May 13). “Seems to me Chait mostly gets it right,” wrote David Roberts at Grist. “What I think has my friends upset, and where they differ, is Chait’s overall assessment: that Obama is therefore ‘the environmental president.’ The question here is—as it is for every historical figure, but especially Obama, and especially on climate—compared to what? Is Obama a success on climate compared to what needs to be done? Ha ha. No. Of course not. But then all world leaders fail that test … Judge him by the dysfunctional sh*tpile”—his asterisk, we swear!—“that is current American politics or by the crushing size of the climate need? Or somewhere in between? Chait chooses to judge relative to the sh*tpile. Lots of climate hawks judge relative to the need. I’m not sure the grand historical thumbs-up or thumbs-down is all that important. The question for me is whether Obama has been a success compared to what was (and is) possible.” Of course, some commenters argued the stricter standard was the more relevant one (invoking the future of the planet to do it): “You’re wrong,” wrote one at ­nymag.com. “Here’s why. The ‘frantic urgency’ of environmentalists isn’t merely emotional. There is a very real clock ticking, and a point of no return looming, so it doesn’t matter if Obama does more than most, only if he does enough to matter.”

Correction: The last paragraph of David Edelstein’s review of The Great Gatsby was accidentally omitted in the May 13 issue. Go to vulture.com/2013/05/movie-review-the-great-gatsby.html to read the review in its entirety.

Send correspondence to: nymletters@nymag.com


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