Tuesday, May 15, 2007

west egg/east egg

I just got off the phone with my sister Hannah. She's in California. I'm in Vermont. I imagine myself looking out over Lake Champlain, beyond the Adirondacks and all the way to the other side of this small country. If I could just see the glimmer of light from her front porch, see its reflection on the water... like Daisy Buchanan's over Long Island Sound. That's all the closeness I need. Is it possible our realms are so completely different now?

In Gatsby's world, geography is everything and defines, really, one's role within in it. Old money versus new money. Upper crust versus upward mobility. Trendy versus classic, innate style. "Maybe she's born with it; maybe it's Maybeline." Is it in your blood or in your wallet? That's the question. And the egg shell separating the two is very hard to crack.

In short, the two worlds shan't mix.

The difference between LA and VT, Hannah says, is undeniable. Not only in aesthetic values but in moral focus too. In LA, value is perceived rather than qualified, which means that the price tag trumps quality. If it's expensive, then it must be important, or good, or delicious; Expensive belongings also have a direct effect on social status and public perception. Ignore the idea that pricing strategy has anything to do with it.

These are large generalizations to be sure, but they play well into my West Egg, East Egg metaphor, so I'll carry on.

In Vermont, I like to think that we're the opposite in terms of consumer judgment. For instance, we find value in obscure restaurants that nobody knows about. The price doesn't always matter, but if it's good AND cheap, all the better. We feel that we've discovered our own secret treasure. In the end though, we'll most likely tell our friends about it, and in that sense, we're building our own social status too (for what it's worth in Northern Vermont) but in a much quieter fashion.

In fact, I'm willing to argue that many Vermonters are just as concerned with their public image as our SoCal compatriots. It's what we relate to that's different. We have conflicting tastes and values. That's fine. But what interests me more than the What is the Why.

Remember the glaring eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleberg--the enormous spectacles and decrepit billboard looking out over the valley of ashes? Those spectacles play a big symbolic role in Fitzgerald's story. For if you dig deep down and take a good look at all of the characters--they really aren't much different at all. Ultimately, they just want to know that they're important and to feel that they belong.

Hannah thinks that the reason that image, social status, and physical beauty are such an outwardly tangible concept in LA is because of Hollywood. It's the kind of place and culture that attracts people who want to be in the limelight (even if it's just on the street somewhere).

And Vermont? Well, it's New England. We've got the Pilgrim thing, which means we value discovery and self-expression. But we're also shrouded by our Puritanical roots, which means we're as demure and good as can be--on the outside anyways. Which goes to my point that image and public persona still count for a lot, as much as we hate to admit it.

We're all eggs cooking in the same pot.

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