I am a Gatsby purist. I’ve read and reread the book countless times, getting lost in the pages and passages. That iconic blue cover calls to me, like the green light at the end of Gatsby’s dock. I can feel the bleakness of the Valley of the Ashes and hear the music emanating from Gatsby’s mansion.
I’m not sure if it was the actual story or my introduction to it (if I could have had a high school schedule filled with English classes, I would have), but it is safe to say, The Great Gatsby was probably the deciding factor to pursue a career as an English teacher. My dream was to teach AP English- engaging in endless discussions of color symbolism- white, yellow and green (Gatsby test- what color does Daisy wear throughout the novel?). My students would be just as captivated by the worlds of East and West Egg as I had been.... 24 years later, I’ve come to realize that was my own version of Gatsby’s dream.
Now when I say purist- I mean I’ve never even considered seeing the remake. While this is not an intellectual debate over whether the 1974 film was an accurate portrayal of the book (and I will ALWAYS choose the book over a movie), I’m perfectly content with the ethereal and hazy look of it (in contrast to the flamboyant, Moulin Rouge-ish, cartoonish, Jay-Z soundtrack of the 2013 version).
When I first heard about a remake, I immediately turned up my nose and scoffed- HARUMPH! While Leonardo DiCaprio is definitely one of my favorite actors- he’s not Robert Redford- and even if he could pull off a modern day Gatsby, there’s no way he could ever compare to the Gatsby I knew and loved.
(Will the real Jay Gatsby please stand up?)
This summer, I had a change of heart.
This summer I was so incredibly fortunate to present at ISTE, The International Society for Technology in Education conference in San Antonio, Texas. Sure- I’ve presented at conferences, but ISTE is the pinnacle of conferences. ISTE boasts close to 20,000 attendees from around the world —administrators, technology coordinators, teachers, library media specialists, software developers, marketers, and yes, even Technology Learning Coaches.
With a team of inspiring colleagues from Massapequa, we were scheduled to present on Using Digital Tools to Amplify Voice in a School Culture- how we were working to change the culture and provide everyone (students, staff and parents) with an opportunity to become part of the conversation. Want to check out a copy of the presentation? Take a look! www.bit.ly/ISTEVOICE
Oh right- Gatsby…
I sat on the flight from New York to Dallas, iPhone in hand, ready to binge watch the original Twin Peaks series. After a pretty choppy takeoff, I desperately awaited the “ding” (thank you Lloyd Dobler), signaling cruising altitude, safety and the availability of wifi.
DING! Gogo Inflight Wifi available...Streaming videos- DENIED!
I was left with no choice but to see what movies American Airlines had available. I scrolled and scrolled- not finding anything that I wanted to watch. I was exhausted (after waking at 3:00 am), and I had no attention span for anything too deep or involved. On the 3rd round of scrolling through my options, I stopped at the G’s.
“Meh-” I thought to myself. “Maybe I should just try to get some sleep.” But there it was- the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg looming in the background- and then came my AHA! moment… I’ve spent the last 2 ½ years working to motivate teachers to move from traditional teaching and adapt their lessons to a digital platform, but I can’t imagine Gatsby any other way? Here I was, flying to ISTE, a conference predicated on innovation and the “use [of] technology to solve tough problems in education,” but I won’t watch a movie?
I grabbed my earbuds and pressed play.
Now, I’m not going to say that I loved it, or that I am now a fan of the remake, but I will say that it was fine. Ok- it was better than fine (not to mention the juxtaposition of Jay-Z’s “$100 Bill” and a speakeasy was surprisingly fitting).
I never got to teach The Great Gatsby, and I’m still a Gatsby purist at heart, but I now know that a newly defined, and highly creative version can exist alongside with the original. Does it really matter which version captures the hearts of its viewers?