Most popular works of art have some sort of message. Star Wars teaches us to fight the evil in ourselves in order to fight the evil outside ourselves; The Godfather warns us against the corrupting powers of greed; and Prometheus promotes the practice of running sideways if a tall object is falling on you. Unfortunately, sometimes the message gets lost and fans misinterpret the movie or book so badly that they end up becoming the exact same things the authors were warning them about, with hilarious and/or tragic results.
The Great Gatsby is that 1920s American novel with hidden pictures of naked women on the cover. It's also deeply critical of the self-indulgent lifestyle of rich people with more money than scruples, like that Gatsby dude in the title. True, the story does feature quite a few parties, but Gatsby just throws them to attract a ditsy flapper girl, a relationship that doesn't end well (SPOILERS: everyone dies). As a result, Gatsby's parties turn out to be empty and meaningless affairs -- sometimes literally empty, like that time he turns on all his lights as though he's throwing a party, but no one's there.
"'Oh, Gatsby! Now I know why they call you great!' I sure am, old sport! And not talking to myself right now!"
Due to its critical tone and tragic ending, the story has been called a "cautionary tale of the decadent downside of the American dream." You can debate whether the big-budget Leo DiCaprio movie adaptation grasped the message of the book, but we know one group of people who absolutely didn't.
The Fans Who Missed the Point
Yeah, it turns out that when your story has rich people dressed fabulously in opulent surroundings drinking classy liquor, fans aren't as likely to say "Look at the selfishness, hypocrisy, and moral vacuum" as they are to say "That party is AWESOME. Let's do that." For instance, rich people love throwing non-ironic "Gatsby parties," unaware that invoking the name of the novel basically amounts to admitting that the world would be a much better place without you.
"The firecrackers are all made from poor children's letters to Santa."
A few years ago, Prince Harry attended a Gatsby-themed 21st birthday party that cost $25,000 to throw. The following year, Paul McCartney threw his own expensive Gatsby birthday gala (although they're Brits, so in their case we could at least understand why they'd want to dance on the corpse of the American dream). Meanwhile, if you dare venture into Pinterest, you'll find page after page of users collecting material for Gatsby-themed weddings. As Zachary Seward of The Atlantic puts it, "It's like throwing a Lolita-themed children's birthday party."
"Nice gun for my hubby to shoot after I die in a car crash. (11 repins, 7 likes)"
The Gatsby craze revved up even further before the release of the film. In London, newspapers had to advise their readers about which of the many Gatsby parties they should favor. And CNN, while actually conceding that the book critiqued this sort of thing, offered up a guide on hosting your own Gatsby bash. For babies.
127 Hours is a film starring James Franco as real-life hiker Aron Ralston who, in 2003, went on a hike in Blue John Canyon, Utah, fell into a ravine, and became trapped under a boulder. Since Ralston did not tell anyone that he was going hiking, no one knew where to look for him, and he ended up spending 127 hellish hours trapped in the canyon ... oh, and having to amputate his own arm with a cheap multi-tool knife to escape.
Yes, the movie had a masturbation scene, and yes, he had to go lefty. This is a true story of tragedy.
The Fans Who Missed the Point
127 Hours has a pretty clear moral: For fuck's sake, if you must go hiking alone, tell someone where you're going and be careful, or else you'll have to cut your own fucking arm off. And yet hikers like Amos Wayne Richards walked away from the movie with the message, "Wouldn't it be neat to go hiking in the exact same place that guy did, and also not tell anyone about it?"
This is like seeing Pulp Fiction and thinking, "Hey, let's visit the basement of a pawnshop."
Keep in mind, Richards wasn't some dumbass 20-something James Franco wannabe -- he was 64 years old. And, of course, while 60 feet down a 70-foot-deep ravine, Richards slipped and fell the last 10 feet to the bottom. During the fall, he dislocated his shoulder, bumped his head on a rock, and broke his leg. It took Richards four days to crawl out of the ravine, and by the time the park rangers found him, he had already finished all of his water. If someone adapted his story into a movie, it'd be called 96 Hours (of Stupidity).
Followed by the sequel, 31 Hours (on an IV).
In the end, it's the collective dumbness of 127 Hours fans that saved Richards. The park rangers at Blue John Canyon realized that Richards was missing because they were used to the influx of hiking enthusiasts to the canyon since 127 Hours was released. In fact, since 2005 (Ralston's biography came out in 2004), more than two dozen rescues have been performed in that same area -- between 1998 and Ralston's incident, that number was "none."
Who wouldn't risk everything for that view?
Let this be a lesson to Hollywood writers everywhere: If you write a movie where your main character is forced to cut his own limb off and drink his own urine, people will go out of their way to try to end up in the same situation. Likewise ...
Into the Wild (both the book and the 2007 film) tells the real story of Christopher McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, an idealistic young man who dealt with the aimlessness of post-college life by taking off to live alone in the Alaskan wilderness -- it was the '90s, so his only other option was forming a shitty alt-rock band.
Christopher Newport University
Fashion-wise, there wasn't much difference.
As we've previously pointed out, this was a pretty misguided idea, since his little adventure was fueled more by "misunderstanding Emerson and Thoreau" and less by "knowing what the fuck he's doing." McCandless died alone in an abandoned bus in the middle of nowhere, but neither the film nor the book shy away from this fact, portraying him as a good guy who fell victim to some foolish choices.
Mostly involving hair.
The Fans Who Missed the Point
So what do you do after you read a book where the main character ends up dying a slow, miserable death due to his own stupidity? Why, you copy that stupidity, of course. Since the book was released, hundreds (if not thousands) of fans have made their way to the site where McCandless died, like a pilgrimage to Mecca for overprivileged grad students. Not all of them have survived.
"It's a shitty bus, like the book said! Well, this was worth it."
In 2010, a Swiss fan died trying to cross a treacherous river on her way to see the bus -- the same river that trapped McCandless and caused his death in the book she loved so much. Another young fan from Oklahoma has been missing since March of this year after trying to pull a McCandless in the mountains of Oregon. At least those two had come somewhat prepared. Others, like fan Marc Paterson, have decided that they want to make the trip as authentic as possible ... which means taking the exact same (ridiculously dangerous) route as their hero and bringing the same limited amount of supplies, food, and common sense that McCandless had.
Fans like Paterson talk about testing their limits and rebelling against modern life, but here's the thing: That plan didn't work out so well for McCandless. As evidenced by the journals he left, his journey did not lead to any sort of greater enlightenment. He was hungry and afraid and trying to escape that place. If he had come across a McDonald's, he would have traded his entire philosophy for some McNuggets.
"We can enlarge your French fries if you add your dignity as well."
But hey, Paterson did equip himself with one vital piece of equipment that McCandless didn't have: a copy of Into the Wild. We can't wait until he gets to the end.