Was Jay Gatsby’s Name Change Self Identity Theft?
Baz Lurhmann, director of the cinematic redo of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, said he opted for Jay-Z to make the movie’s soundtrack for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, he said Fitzgerald was interested in jazz when it evoked danger, making rap today analogous to jazz in the 20s. Compared with jazz performances in the 20s, jazz today feels tamed and domesticated—played in grand concert halls and dentist waiting rooms. Of course, this isn’t true for all jazz, but when jazz is considered “Classical music,” it’s safe to say the times have changed.
Jazz in the 20s, however, had a direct connection to the underground: it was the music of prohibition and speakeasies, and for good reason, too. Jazz as a musical form frees itself from rigid rhythms and finds its voice in syncopation. It’s also said that the term “jazz” may refer to the jasmine scent that prostitutes wore.
Similarly, rap is music of the street. Its subject matter is the underground and, as an art form, depicts street life’s danger and allure. Rap, like the jazz of nearly 100 years ago, is played at clubs where gangsters and dealers preside over their dominions.
Secondly, when Lurhmann approached Jay-Z for the part, he said Jay-Z felt a connection with Gatsby, and it’s not hard to see how: both men began with different names, both had led criminal lives that made them fortunes, and both rose to a level of material opulence that each bragged about in their respective ways.
But, why is it that each man felt he needed to change his name before he could become successful?
There’s an uncanny allegorical meaning associated with each man’s moniker. Jay Gatsby began as James Gatz—“Gatsby” is someone literally made “by Gatz.” Shawn Carter was known as “Jazzy” growing up in Brooklyn. His name pays homage to his mentor “Jaz-O” as well as the J/Z subway line connecting Brooklyn’s Marcy Avenue with Manhattan’s Delancey Street.
Whatever the reason they chose each name, it seems both felt they had to recreate themselves in order to become rich. Gatsby had to leave Gatz somewhere in his past just like Jay-Z had to leave Carter in his. By the same token, each man brought part of his past into the future with him, hence Gatsby is made by Gatz and Carter was brought out of Brooklyn as Jay-Z/ J/Z.
Simply put: a name equals money.
Although Jay Gatsby and Jay-Z didn’t steal anyone’s name, both changed their names under the presumption that doing so allow them to make money. Lo and behold, both men made fortunes.
The same is true in the world of identity theft. But identity thieves don’t steal your name first. They steal numbers that belong to your name. Worse yet, those numbers practically erase your name, reducing you to an account with money in it.
Four men were charged recently in Manhattan’s federal court after investigators accused them of stealing account information and encoding it onto fake cards of their own. The men allegedly stole information from a gas pump’s card swipe all the way in Mesquite, Texas. A warrant executed on the men’s room in the Hotel Pennsylvania in Manhattan turned up an encoder used to rewrite credit card information onto blank cards, as well as $340,000 cash.
The men have been charged with felony criminal possession of stolen property, forgery devices and forged instruments, as well as felony grand larceny.
Is the term “identity theft” too dramatic, or does it really point to a symptom of how a capitalistic society understands “Identity?” It’s easy to see how the charged men’s alleged actions can be interpreted as theft, but to what extent were the victims’ identities, or “selves,” stolen?
Unless we were to agree that money significantly contributes to one’s identity, we couldn’t validly say that the alleged identity thieves really took something essential from their victims. However, the way the term is used today connotes precisely that: who you are is what’s in your bank account. Your identity is stolen when numbers assigned to your name are stolen.