"Here was a new generation...destined finally to go out into that dirty gray turmoil to follow love and pride; a new generation dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success; grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken." - F. Scott Fitzgerald, 'This Side of Paradise'
2016. The year of the unexpected. The darkest timeline. The upside down.
Given all that's happened this year, it's easy to be pessimistic about the future. In 2016, we've lost countless legends, seen countless black men and women become victims of police brutality, and had an election season that's said more about us as a nation than we care to admit.
When Donald Glover released Because the Internet three years ago, the thing that struck me the most about the album was its pervading sense of hopelessness. Listening to Because the Internet was like reading Albert Camus' The Stranger—it was a journey down the dark side of existentialism. From the music videos to the tie-in script, Because the Internet was a bleak and brilliant experience. It signaled the arrival of an artist who wasn’t afraid to lay bare his deepest fears and darkest thoughts for all the world to see.
Donald Glover did a similar thing with Atlanta. Buried beneath the gut-busting laughs provided by Felon DeGeneres and The Invisible Car were a series of harsh truths about what it's like to be young, black and poor in America today. Whether it was Earn's first time in jail or a commercial for your new favorite cereal, Atlanta's best moments came when the series didn’t hold back in showing you life’s harsh realities.
Donald Glover's somewhat pessimistic worldview is one that I also share. He represents the dark side of me that I try to keep at bay. The part of me that automatically becomes anxious and paranoid whenever I see some bad news on TV. It’s a negative trait that I also see in the works of my favorite writer of all time: F. Scott Fitzgerald.
When Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby, it was during a time of economic prosperity. The Wall Street Crash was four years away and World War II would start ten years after that. In what would eventually become his most celebrated novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald effectively gave a eulogy to an era that hadn’t finished yet. It’s no surprise that The Great Gatsby received such a mixed reception when it was first released.
However, if there is one thing to learn from Fitzgerald’s life, it’s to never let the darkness consume you. While despair might have inspired some beautiful writing, it brought F. Scott Fitzgerald to a state where he pretty much died drunk, penniless and alone. Fitzgerald’s inability to see past his failures and imagine a better future stopped him from maximizing his potential.
"His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless." - Ernest Hemingway on F. Scott Fitzgerald, 'A Movable Feast'
It's a scary time to be an immigrant. It's a scary time to be a minority. It's a scary time to be 25 and knowing that this is the world you're going to inherit. But with fear comes hope and with darkness comes light. This is the eternal yin and yang of the universe. We just have to remain hopeful in fearful times.