“Too many voices and predigested food” – F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words of warning

With the The Great Gatsby love-affair still dominating the zeitgeist, I’ve started digging into some other Fitzgerald titles to see if any could grab me as Gatbsy does, year after year.

I was struck whilst reading This Side of Paradise, his first novel, how certain commentaries rung so true to modern life. Almost as if he had a foresight quite remarkably ahead of his time. More likely is that he was able to observe and capture certain society fundamentals that remain true through the generations – a unique talent that contributes to his timeless appeal and long-standing as an American great.

By means of example, we see at one point protagonist Amory Blaine pour forth derogatory views of his national press and the damaging impact an unschooled digestion of its messages could have on the general populus:

“We want to believe. Young students try to believe in older authors, constituents try to believe in their Congressmen, countries try to believe in their statesmen, but they can’t. Too many voices, too much scattered, illogical, ill-considered criticism. It’s worse in the case of the newspapers. Any rich, un-progressive old party with that particularly grasping, acquisitive form of mentality known as financial genius can own a paper that is the intellectual meat and drink of thousands of tired, hurried men, men too involved in the business of modern living to swallow anything but predigested food. For two cents the voter buys his politics, prejudices, and philosophy. A year later there is a new political ring or a change in the paper’s ownership, consequence; more confusion, more contradiction, a sudden inrush of new ideas, their tempering, their distillation, the reaction against them…And that is why I have sworn not to put pen to paper until my ideas either clarify or depart entirely; I have quite enough sins on my soul without putting dangerous, shallow epigrams into people’s heads; I might cause a poor inoffensive capitalist to have a vulgar liaison with a bomb, or get some innocent little Bolshevik tangled up with a machine-gun bullet.”

Fast-forward a century, where we’re surrounded by news reports and (social) media channels 24/7, it is harder than ever to see the truth through the noise – indeed, “too many voices, too much scattered, illogical, ill-considered criticism.” Fitzgerald here encourages us to always question the source before accepting what we consume as an authoritative voice that has the potential to influence and shape our on views, and subsequent actions.

When extremist views and political discontent can so easily find a voice that reaches the masses – a powerful result of technological developments and freedom of speech that we are all struggling to reconcile today – perhaps we can learn from Fitzgerald here that old adage of thinking before we speak – or blog, or tweet.

And to always, continuously, relentlessly question.

First National news archive newspaper

Image from www.hampton.lib.nh.us

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