Sunday, June 27, 2021

An eye cream to revive your teaching of Gatsby?

Just as I was about to close the books on this unprecedented school year, a Facebook ad caught my eye that I immediately screenshotted and forwarded to Audrey. This is not so unusual; we are always on the lookout for text connections that can help teachers enliven their teaching of the most commonly taught texts – especially Mockingbird, A Raisin in the Sun, Speak, and of course Gatsby. But this ad for Gatsby New York Ultimate Reviving Eye Cream was puzzling. In fact, for me, as an English teacher, it was quite provoking.

We have all become accustomed to cookies and algorithms personalizing ads for us. Was I seeing this ad because I’m an English teacher? Because Audrey and I have written and presented about teaching Gatsby? Because I’m an exhausted educator at the end of an endlessly challenging school year whose eyes clearly need reviving? These questions remain unanswered, however, as I remain stuck on my first reaction: Gatsby? Eye cream?

Clicking on the ad took me to the product website where everything about it seemed genuine and oddly devoid of any reference to The Great Gatsby or the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg that famously loom over the valley of ashes in Fitzgerald’s novel. That said, the tone of the marketing copy, which promises to restore youthful appearance around the eyes and enable customers to “look more graceful with age,” is reminiscent of the exuberant claims that ads in the 1920s made for various powders and elixirs. And the yearning to reclaim something lost in youth and deemed necessary for future happiness certainly aligns with the novel’s themes.

While reading the website, I couldn’t help wondering what Daisy would make of its exhortations: “Every woman looks her best when she’s happy. … Gatsby eye creams are designed to give you that look of health, vitality, happiness and joy.” Perhaps middle-aged Daisy would seek out such a product? (A marketing email I received from the company was sent by a Daisy Aston?!)

It is intriguing to wonder what students might make of this product and its website as texts to consider alongside Gatsby. We often encourage students to look out for pop culture references to canonical works, in part to prove the relevance of what we teach. A teacher might use Gatsby New York Ultimate Reviving Eye Cream as a model or part of a cluster of such contemporary Gatsby references and give students the opportunity to think critically about the ways in which these references intersect – interestingly, engagingly, oddly – with the novel. Or we might use it as an entry point for comparing the advertising rhetoric of today with that of the 1920s.

Later in the summer, I might flesh this out into an actual lesson, but for now, I’m going to leave it there because, though part of my brain is already racing ahead to think about what new, better things I can do in the fall, the rest of me – including my eyes – needs to rest and let go of a school year that required us to “beat on … ceaselessly.” We hope you are doing the same.

I didn’t buy the cream.

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