They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made. . . . — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
“No hugging, no learning.” — Larry David, on the formula for the situation comedy Seinfeld
Besides being perhaps the most elegantly written novel authored by an American, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a masterful sociology of the American pathology, the clueless overconfidence that we know what we are doing and that whatever we do is just fine. Every character in Gatsby is both a concrete individual and an archetype. This is a difficult thing to pull off: perhaps only Melville, among American novelists, accomplished this as masterfully as Fitzgerald. Just as Myrtle is the archetype of the working-class American enamored of wealth and leisure, and Nick of middle-class aspiration and respectability, Tom and Daisy Buchanan represent the oblivion of the good and the right that complements “exceptional” genes, education, and old money. They leave a trail of destruction in their wake and greet it with a shrug at best and oblivion at worst. Tom and Daisy are “the best people” and they, like the potentate-in-exile in Palm Beach and his family and hangers-on, do not fancy themselves answerable to anybody. Someone will take care of things, whether the assistant Attorney General or the reserve army of “patriots” who decided to be tourists on January 6th.
Seinfeld also was an insightful sociological tract, albeit a less durable and penetrating one than Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. Its four protagonists — Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer — ignored the Socratic maxim “Know thyself!” as doggedly as Gatsby’s Buchanans, albeit without the sense of noblesse-non-oblige that typifies the U.S. upper echelons of wealth, power, and status. Like the Buchanans, the Seinfeld crew thought overly well of themselves and were likewise unmindful of their vices and shortcomings. As the show’s co-creator Larry David understood, they did not learn anything because they couldn’t learn anything. George lies about being a marine biologist and consequently is caught in his lie. He continues to lie. Elaine alienates a potential boyfriend through her…