On the evening of June 22, 21-year-old Karter Machen decided to tweet.
"I'm not a party guy," he wrote, "but I'd be down if someone threw a real roaring 20s party for 2020. Like real tuxedos and all. Not shirtless dudes with a bow tie. Like a real Gatsby party with everyone fully dressed like the era."
Which, okay, sure. It's a fairly benign tweet as far as tweets go, and it's easy to imagine scrolling past it in your feed, puzzling for a moment over "shirtless dudes with a bow tie" and then immediately moving on with your life. Except that, at the time of publication, this unexceptional tweet had been retweeted more than 83,000 times and favourited nearly 330,000 times.
I could not even begin to fathom why.
Professional internet user Max Read couldn't figure it out. I certainly couldn't figure out. So I decided to ask my coworkers.
They also could not figure it out.
Based on the replies, the tweet appears to be resonating most with teens or, at the very least, people who were very recently teens. Clearly, I had to find some teens. I convened an ad hoc panel of extremely online teens and put the question to them.
Party teen Harry had this to say:
ok im a lil bit tipsy now so apologies for any errors but:
1) its kinda like just appealing to a broad aesthetic of gatsby,,, which i feel either enough teens have heard about enough n wanna reference or have seen the baz lurhman version and are very into so we're like fuck yes! leo! lana! being this shit on!
2) with regards to the shirtless guys n tuxedos bit i have zero fuckin clue,, ive literally never been to a proper party but i guess thats a thing? that they need to distinguish between trash faux fancy and their very smart™ cool gatsby part
3) im not a party guy is the instant eyyooooo relatable shit like ah im cool n read in a cupboard sometimes but sign me the fuck up im a dirt bag
4) tbh its a short book which ik we can all read to feel good about ourselves n then feel good for liking n then self masturbatory whatever
Not entirely helpful, Harry, but I appreciate the effort nonetheless.
According to someone's 14-year-old brother:
I never heard from him again.
Another teen, Enzo, was slightly more helpful:
This tweet is complex, but it boils down to nostalgia and cultural illiteracy. This tweet really invokes posts (often popular with white teens) longing for iconic and nostalgic imagery of the past, like those from a couple years back wishing for an era of 1950s diners with milkshakes. It is often pointed out by those who respond that nothing is preventing those desiring this imagery from going to a fifties-themed diner in 2018. The cultural illiteracy aspect comes in when the actual book referenced, "Gatsby", is invoked, whose premise is that these lavish parties only left Jay Gatsby with pain and emptiness. The teens who retweeted it are truly only interested in The Aesthetic™ of the era, ironically missing Fitzgerald's point. Racial inequality is indisputable in many of these desired eras, and questions are raised by responders if the white teens are consciously or subconsciously longing for an era of POC exclusion. Further, the distancing from typical party scenes, as seen in the statement "Not shirtless dudes with a bow tie" bears strong resemblance to the "I'm not like the other girls" aesthetic.
Michael, too, began to shed some light on things:
Honestly, I think the tweet might be genuinely popular. Having a roaring 20s party strikes me as the kind of idea that is different enough for bougie high schoolers to feel like they're doing something unique, diverse or intellectually respectable - even though it really isn't any of those things and it's just an excuse to be smugly superior and possibly express problematic racial sentiments while still partying.
It reminds me of when there was a whole thing being made about wearing sagging pants and a lot of the upper-class kids I knew made a big deal of liking to wear nice clothes and whatnot, it was sort of like this weird act to show superiorority, and the problematic racial politics of the whole thing were very evident (the same applies for this tweet, as well).
Shannon C said:
I believe us Gen Z'ers are the generation that says " I was born in the ~wrong generation~", then disregards all of the horrible things that happens because THOSE FLAPPER DRESSES!
Dissertating furiously, a perceptive teen named John saw a dialectic at work:
I think one set of people literally just thinks it'd be cool to have a Gatsby party in 2020 and they're r'ting it to "suggest" it to their friends (kind of like those people who tag their friends in really elaborate Instagram food videos, knowing full well they're not gonna make/buy the thing). Like most of the replies I saw when I clicked on it just now are "lmao we should totally do this".
Then there's a second group of people r'ting it to hot take about it. See for people who were 18 or younger in 2013 when the Leo Great Gatsby movie came out, Gatsby was really ~relevant~ and ~cultural~ because it was this Great Novel we were all reading in middle school or high school and a movie with a famous guy was coming out, right? And if you were an insufferable white teenager, you could pretend to be all ~literary~ for going to the movie. And we all felt very insightful for understanding that Gatsby is critiquing the roaring twenties upper class and not glamorising it. And if you were Moderately Online in those days, people such as this would sometimes post about how Gatsby was such a cool movie, and how maybe they should have a Gatsby-themed party, and you and your insufferable friends would Own the non-literary people for not understanding that the ~roaring twenties aesthetic~ isn't supposed to be cool or glamorous in the novel, it's supposed to be this manifestation of a shitty and greedy upper class, ya feel. And I've seen a couple hot take-y quotes of this tweet saying "buhhh you don't GET it Gatsby is supposed to be a CRITIQUE so that means YOU CAN'T HAVE ANY FUN ABOUT IT." obviously now is an era in American society when getting starry eyed abt the upper class is that much more weird and uncomfortable. but the people r'ting this are doing it less to call out the glamorisation of the shitty predatory capitalism of the 1920s and more to feel smart and get a Twitter Own because they, unlike you, know that Gatsby is a critique. Because that's what they did in 2013 and they felt cool for doing it at the time.
And so my theory about this tweet (which could be wrong) is that it blew up because 50 percent of people really want to have a Gatsby party, and 50 percent really want to be know-it-alls and Own the first 50 percent by telling them about the Actual Significance Of The Novel. Because that's exactly what they did back in 2013, when knowing that Gatsby was a Critique made you feel intelligent (because again, we were all insufferable pre-to-mid-teens and didn't know any better). And the one group magnifies the other and vice versa.
One theme that came up repeatedly is what our teen critics referred to as "local Twitter". Local Twitter is a little hard to explain; it isn't a literal designation so much as a vibe — not the state of being a townie but its essence. Here's how Daniel puts it:
Shit like this is representative of an adaptation of the broad phenomenon known as local twitter, coined to represent those people in a teen's hometown with little ambition and expectation. Common groups in this category are traditional family-type conservatives as well as your local marijuana-focused community. Anyway, this represents neither of these camps but derives its popularity in a similar way. Its scope expands due to some weird relatability among people who only recognise the extravagance and aesthetic of Gatsby and the time period. This is a deviation from the norm, represented by the shirtless dudes part, which only really refers to a perceived comparative lack of classiness of frat-descendent party culture. You may have heard of people planning random fancy dinner parties to achieve the same effect. The other reason for its scope is that along with probably one or two "local" posts every couple of days, this post has been quite-tweeted and roasted. That quite-tweet quite possibly reaches into the 100k likes region itself. I'm afraid there is no particularly online answer or reference here.
Liza, too, partially blamed local Twitter for the tweet's bizarre rise:
Ok, so I first saw this tweet in the context of someone making fun of it, which I agreed with. I think the original tweet is stupid, since the point of the whole novel is to exhibit the superficiality of extreme wealth and those who possess it, but I get why it blew up. A lot of people my age (not to sound like I am some uniquely sophisticated teen who is above such stupidity) are really enamoured with the surface-level aesthetics of Gatsby — for instance, Gatsby-themed parties where everyone dresses up in flapper dresses and suits are super common. I think a huge part of it was that film adaptation with Leonardo DiCaprio that came out in like 2013. Coupled with that, those kind of aspirational tweets are really popular on what is called "local twitter" (i.e. basic people). I'll see tweets all the time that are just like "I want someone who I can just eat chicken nuggets and listen to Drake with while we drive to Target" that get like 100k retweets, so I think it's an offshoot of that. Hope this helped (and yeah, if you use this, you can just quote me as Liza, if that works).
Ok, so I have a lot of thoughts on this, and my friend DP weighed in as well. So we think there are several reasons it blew up. One section of the retweets are just people who agree. For the most part, though, we think it's criticism, and there are two main points. Some people are angry that that's all this guy took away from The Great Gatsby (one snarky response pointed out that the book ends badly), but most people are reacting poorly to the "I wish it was the 20s" sentiment that they think the tweet is evoking. There used to be a ton of posts floating around the internet like "Wish it was the fifties 😍" with pictures of milkshakes and what have you until people remembered racism and misogyny, so now everyone reacts quickly to "another era" type posts. We think the tweet first blew up because of the group who agreed, and that's how it found its way to the people who started criticising the perceived romanticisation of the twenties.
So, does all of this explain why this tweet delighted or irritated enough people to be retweeted 80,000 times? I guess, sort of, in a way. And is this a reminder that we are very old and every day inching closer toward death? Undoubtedly, yes.
I decided to ask Karter, the tweeter himself, about his sudden viral fame. He seemed as at a loss as anyone:
Not exactly sure why it went so big, but I think some of it is that I touched on the "brad and chad" jokes when I referenced shirtless guys and bow ties. That is a classic "bro" costume for parties of that theme and I think many people found that humorous. Another big thing that was being mentioned was racism. It truly blows my mind that people were accusing me of being racist and not liking minorities because I mention DRESSING up like the 1920s.
Karter added that he is "not racist at all and there was no intention of that tweet to give off that message".
OK! And, uh, did you like the book?
Yes, I personally did like the book.
So we tweet on, users against the content, borne back ceaselessly into our favs.