Last night, a friend of mine posted a letter allegedly written from F. Scott Fitzgerald while he was quarantined in the South of France during the Spanish Influenza outbreak in 1920.
For context, here is the letter:
It was a limpid dreary day, hung as in a basket from a single dull star. I thank you for your letter. Outside, I perceive what may be a collection of fallen leaves tussling against a trash can. It rings like jazz to my ears. The streets are that empty. It seems as though the bulk of the city has retreated to their quarters, rightfully so. At this time, it seems very poignant to avoid all public spaces. Even the bars, as I told Hemingway, but to that he punched me in the stomach, to which I asked if he had washed his hands. He hadn’t. He is much the denier, that one. Why, he considers the virus to be just influenza. I’m curious of his sources.
The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month’s worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin, and lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us.
You should see the square, oh, it is terrible. I weep for the damned eventualities this future brings. The long afternoons rolling forward slowly on the ever-slick bottomless highball. Z. says it’s no excuse to drink, but I just can’t seem to steady my hand. In the distance, from my brooding perch, the shoreline is cloaked in a dull haze where I can discern an unremitting penance that has been heading this way for a long, long while. And yet, amongst the cracked cloudline of an evening’s cast, I focus on a single strain of light, calling me forth to believe in a better morrow.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Beautiful, ain’t it? Turns out that, quite predictably, it’s a fake. It’s actually quite obviously a fake and I would have been surprised if it hadn’t been a fake for several reasons – especially the second paragraph.
The post immediately received something like 200 likes, which is worrying. In fact, people seem to be so bored that they absolutely love to share things about the tragedy of the Coronavirus in many ways. There have been people discussing how Russia has been getting in on the fun by promoting the proliferation of fake news to destabilize societies and systems.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if we were to find out that this virus had actually been created on the internet?
What strikes me about this letter is how it perfectly illustrates how fake news is proliferated. While I have nothing against the use of artists and their works to freely illustrate situations, it bothers me that the original creator of this hoax never specified that this was essentially a fantasy. There would have been no harm in that.
Somehow, the need was felt to change history – and when you do it for forms of social media retribution, you may as well be doing it for money or any form of corruption. It is also worrying how nobody thought enough to check the sources and just took it for granted that this touching and inspiring letter had not been written by the man to whom it was accredited.
We also take for granted that those familiar with the great works of F. Scott Fitzgerald should be a little more clever about these things. But it’s not true. While it may seem like such a small thing to get worked up about, I don’t think so. Even things like these contribute to the spreading of the idea that knowledge is something we should take for granted – or that the cultural gatekeepers are merely those who are able to get more likes, or have more money, or have more power (see the connection there?).