In today's society, people subconsciously abuse the very rights that early Americans fought for not too long ago. Children complain about going to school, adults demand higher pay for jobs, and about 60% of the United States population does not participate when it comes to voting. Although many do not realize how privileged America truly is, the same people who abuse these rights also claim to be grateful for them. This example is just one out of many that proves the ambiguity of the human race. People such as the fictional character of Jay Gatsby and praised athlete Lance Armstrong can accurately be defined as faces of ambiguity. While ambiguity can reveal hidden truths about a person, it also affirms that people often choose to believe what is tangible over what has been made invisible.
Jay Gatsby was the epitome of success. Making his way up the social chain, this mysterious host of the biggest parties in West Egg became a hot topic. His enormous house, extravagant property, and dedicated servants are what triggered his popularity, but what really made people admire him was his personality. Gatsby told people what they wanted to hear, and his inviting smile “understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey,” (Fitzgerald 48). Bottom line, people loved Jay Gatsby, but what they had yet to acknowledge was that, under all the glamour and money, Gatsby was still a flawed person.
Those who adored Jay Gatsby failed to question the authenticity of his character because they were so blinded by his majestic qualities. The surrealness of his parties are what amazed people, which is shown through a precise and detailed explanation: "Instead of rambling, this party had preserved a dignified homogeneity, and assumed to itself the function of representing the staid nobility of the countryside-East Egg condescending to West Egg, and carefully on guard against its spectroscopic gayety,” (Fitzgerald). Gatsby's parties were extravagant, and everyone had something they liked about them. Like his smile, they parties had distinct qualities like “dignified homogeneity” and “spectroscopic gayety.” Despite his display of wealth through these ostentatious parties, his means of making money was wrongful. Gatsby made his money illegally by bootlegging and selling bonds; however, because the lies were virtually made invisible by wealth, Gatsby became untouchable. His success was tangible, and people ultimately chose to believe the good over the bad because that was who Jay Gatsby was: A really nice guy with a really nice house. Even though people might have had an idea that Gatsby was not who he said he was, they still attended his parties and thought highly of him, not even thinking to question or investigate his successes. Whether it be a wealthy bootlegger or a doping athlete, ambiguity can be found amongst the most praised individuals this world has ever known.
In July of 1999, Lance Armstrong amazed people in a way that no one could have thought possible. After battling three years of testicular cancer, Armstrong had won his first Tour de France. Intensifying his successes and establishing the integrity of his character, he also won the next six Tour de France. Armstrong not only became a symbol of perseverance, but a worldwide inspiration that gave hope to millions of people. Many claimed that the story of his success and achievements was almost too good to be true, and over time, these claims proved to be valid. Although he spent years denying it, Lance Armstrong affirmed for the first time in January 2013 that he had been using performance-enhanced drugs while competing. As consequences to his actions, Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and an Olympic gold medal. Even after all the lying and cheating, Armstrong's story is still noted and admired around the world. People never cease to be amazed by stories like his, even though it was all a lie that is still rarely acknowledged.
The ugly side of Armstrong was never brought to light until after the admiration had sunk in. People could only see the success, awards, fame, praise, and stunning athletic feats. The world chose to believe the good over the bad because the good was more tangible, and the bad was made invisible; consequently, both the admiration and the scorn were accepted. No matter how bad the circumstances were, “most of us wanted to believe Armstrong really was that good, and we wanted to believe so badly that we simply did… And we bought into the smile, the lies - partly because whatever assist Armstrong gave himself was invisible. But what could be seen was a series of stunning athletic feats,” (Movshovitz). Even if the world understood that Armstrong was using drugs the entire time, the idea of a stunning athlete overcoming cancer and winning so many achievements would ultimately blind any type of wrongdoing. Even after the ground-breaking confession, people still subconsciously pushed the mishap aside because Armstrong chose to make it invisible for so long, and, consequently, the good outweighed the bad.
Both Lance Armstrong and Jay Gatsby intensify their ambiguous qualities throughout the course of their lives, which ultimately leads to their downfall. Lance Armstrong was a living inspiration to those seeking hope; consequently, the lie he was living compromised that inspiration, but it did not obliterate it. Armstrong left a legacy. The popular Livestrong bracelets which symbolize his accomplishments are still circulated around the world. Despite his accomplishments, his name is now recognized as false, and his story was even given the title “The Armstrong Lie.” A person's name is what defines his or her character, and now that people associate Armstrong with this new title, his name is now tarnished for the rest of his life.
Like Armstrong, the ambiguity in Jay Gatsby's character also brought about downfall. After he died, only three people cared enough to show up to his funeral. This may not seem like a direct consequence of Gatsby's ambiguity, but a closer look at his life suggests that it does. Gatsby was a liar, and this meant he had to live with the lies and work with them. He could not permit himself to associate with as many people as he wanted to in order to keep his lies hidden, and when he did make friends, Gatsby had to be especially careful about those he befriended. After sending a new dress to an unknown party guest, the recipient notes that, “There's something funny about a fellow that'll do a thing like that. He doesn't want any trouble with anybody,” (Fitzgerald 43). On the flip side, the people that suspected the suspicion in Gatsby's character know better than to get involved in his shenanigans. Gatsby's belittling influence on those around him is also shown when Ewing Klipspringer is invited to Gatsby's funeral. Klipspringer declines the invitation, stating that, “Some people up here in Greenwich… they rather expect me to be with them tomorrow. In fact, there's a sort of picnic or something,” (Fitzgerald 169). The careless manner in which he describes his alternative plans instead of accepting the invite clearly shows that Gatsby was not significant to Klipspringer in any way. Even after Klipspringer took residence in Gatsby's own home, his reluctance to establish a relationship with his mysterious host leads to his disinterest in mourning over Gatsby's death. All of these causes are the reasons that only three people showed up to Gatsby's funeral. The lies affected his life more than anyone had suspected.
Despite all the cheating, lying, and public downfall, people still accepted the admiration of these two men. Famous actor Robin Williams had consistently been a fan of Armstrong’s. Eight months after Armstrong publicly confessed using performance enhanced drugs while competing, Williams expressed sympathy for him. He noted in September 2013 that, “It is a heavy burden, the mantle of a ‘hero.’ He carries this weight with all of the grace and talent and motivation possible,” (Williams). Because Williams was such a renowned figure, people took what he said and adopted it to their own principles. Since Armstrong and Williams were so close, it is easy to recognize the ambiguous characteristics surrounding each man. Robin Williams made America laugh through his impeccable stand up comedy, yet he hid such a private, destructive grief from everybody. Williams shocked the world when he committing suicide in August of 2014. The man that had made so many people laugh through his acting and comedy had been living in depression. Like Williams, people chose to accept Armstrong’s successes over his lies because that was what he was known for.
Like Armstrong, Gatsby also ended up being admired instead of rebuked. The last time Nick Carraway talked to Gatsby, he told him, “They're a rotten crowd… You're worth the whole damn bunch put together,” (Fitzgerald 154). Even after Nick knew about Gatsby’s bootlegging, bond selling, and whatever he was up to with Meyer Wolfsheim, he still chose to accept him, and even express Gatsby’s worth by saying his character was more genuine than all of the other characters. After the lies were brought to light, Gatsby was still admired, which shows the power of his character. Nick accepted Gatsby’s worth over his flaws, and whether this choice was influenced by success or validity of character depends on the interpretation of the reader.
Ambiguity is a broad concept that only a handful of people choose to acknowledge. If admiration is ultimately chosen over scorn, or even vice versa, ambiguity is not accepted. The ability to accept both the good and bad in an individual is complex. After analyzing Jay Gatsby and Lance Armstrong, it is clear what the world will choose to believe when it comes to ambiguous individuals. With that in mind, there remains some underlying questions that have yet to be truly answered and supported: Was Gatsby's attempts to swoon Daisy through wealth a virtuous attempt or a selfish need for love? And, Did Armstrong use drugs to alleviate the understandable pressures of athleticism, or was his need for success an expression of arrogance? Whatever the answers are, the audience is left to accept whatever he or she chooses to believe; however, the facts clearly support the notion that admiration always beats scorn, the good outweighs the bad, and tangibility ultimately defeats invisibility.
Fitzgerald, Scott F. The Great Gatsby. New York: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 30
Sept. 1999. Print.
Foss, Mike. "The Sad Friendship of Lance Armstrong and Robin Williams." For The Win. 12
Aug. 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.
Movshovitz, Howie. "Movie Review: In 'The Armstrong Lie', an Infamous Story and Our
Struggle to Absorb It." Colorado Public Radio. 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.