Change happens, but is US willing in 2013?Published 9:32am Friday, December 28, 2012
Column: Paths to Peace, by Jeremy Corey-Gruenes
For the past nine months, the Warner Brothers studio and director Baz Luhrmann have been toying with my emotions by releasing tantalizing trailers for the latest film adaptation of “The Great Gatsby.”
When marketing began for the film last spring, the advertised release date was Dec. 25, 2012. Before the end of summer, that had changed to “sometime next year.” Now the studio says May 10, 2013.
Despite an excellent cast including Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, I’m still nervous it won’t meet my expectations. One of the most disappointing things for a book lover to experience is an unsuccessful film adaptation of a favorite novel. See, for example, Hollywood’s adaptation of “The Scarlet Letter” in 1995. Actually, don’t. It’s horrible.
I’m hopeful for this one because I really love “The Great Gatsby.” Written by St. Paul native F. Scott Fitzgerald, the story is compelling — a love triangle set in the Roaring Twenties, told in first person by an upstanding Midwesterner transplanted in New York, where celebrities, gangsters and tycoons party together in post World War I America.
Jay Gatsby, the book’s protagonist, is on a quest to recapture a lost love, the final piece to completing his personal version of the American dream. He’s rich, successful and well-known, but he lacks the right woman on his arm to confirm his acceptance in America’s upper class.
The problem is years have passed since he and the girl of his dreams were together. But only she will do in completing his dream, so he pursues her even though she’s now married to somebody else. Gatsby believes he can turn back time, win her back and ultimately repeat the past. Unfortunately, we learn that repeating the past and refusing to adapt to change can be dangerous business, something Gatsby fails to see because he’s so wrapped up in his own idealism, so adamantly opposed to change.
We can all relate to wanting things to be the way they used to be, and as Heraclitus said, “There is nothing permanent except change.” Adapting to it is a timeless, archetypal struggle.
As 2012 comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on all the change and impending change this year has inspired. Health care reform was upheld; significant shifts in power occurred in Washington and St. Paul; previously quiet voices in politics were strong and clear at the polls, defeating divisive constitutional amendments in some states, in others demanding their votes be counted despite having to wait in lines at the polls for hours and hours.
If 2013 America were a novel, I suspect one of its main themes might be “the joy and pain of adapting to change.” So how successful will our adaptations be?
Are we ready as a state, or nation, to take the next step and actually extend marriage equality to same-sex couples?
Are we ready to say we want to make voting much easier for all of us rather than keep it much harder for some of us, to make sure everyone with a right to vote actually has enough time to vote across our nation?
Are we ready as a nation to take on real immigration reform, to make it safer and easier for people who want to come here and contribute, to make it easier for those who have already come here to stay and continue contributing?
Are we ready to have an honest discussion about curbing gun violence, a discussion in which additional reasonable restrictions on firearm sales and ownership must be a part of the solution? Or will we continue living in the past, pretending that guns make us all safer, ignoring the reality that our rate of firearm deaths is insanely high compared to other industrialized nations with stricter gun laws?
Are responsible gun owners prepared to call shenanigans on the misconception that additional reasonable restrictions on firearms means banning all guns, as the NRA would have us believe? (I think their voices are more convincing than those of non-gun owners like me.)
The results of November’s elections and the changing demographics of those who voted suggest change is on the way, but our leaders need to have the courage to embrace it. Are they willing to reconsider old positions, to disagree with their parties if their consciences ask them to?
On both a personal and political level, we would do well to view openness to ideas and possible changes in positions as signs of growth in one’s world view, rather than as flip-flopping or signs of weakness. We would do well to demand compromise for the greater good rather than question the backbone and character of those who already embrace it.
After all, look where refusing to compromise and adapt to change has gotten us — somewhere between nowhere and a fiscal cliff.
Unlike Jay Gatsby, I believe change is at times essential, and now is one of those times. We will all be better off, having a better chance of achieving our American dreams if we adapt well to the changes 2012 suggests are on the way.
Good old Gatsby never set the best example anyway. Did I mention his is a tragic story involving a gun and unnecessary deaths?
Jeremy Corey-Gruenes is a high school teacher in Albert Lea where he lives with his wife and two young daughters. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jemcorey.