Scandal or Societies' Breakdown?


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Penn State's Paterno Statue

Take down the diploma, stop the alumni donations, pack up the Nittany Lions sweatshirts. Penn State has fallen. A Big Ten school that advertised their highest ethical, moral, and professional conduct is broken. The inexplicable and inexcusable horror of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal is perhaps a frightening example of our society as a whole and its impending breakdown. It is hard to escape the disgust you feel for the people closest to the scandal. The breakdown of the University is like that of the East Egg, depicted in the novel, “The Great Gatsby.” The East Egg represents old aristocratic families, most at the top of the economic ladder searching for a means to maintain their reputation and wealth, just like Penn State. But to what extent will society lower the standards? How can a head football coach, a man with unimpeachable integrity, Joe Paterno, be tempted to look the other way? How could several high-level school officials cover up and enable a long time assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, to continue his sexual assaults for a sickening total of 52 counts of child molestation? Penn State, like the East Egg, is home of the elite. Has society put image, reputation and prestige above right and wrong? Gatsby’s dream, like the American dream, is corrupted by dishonesty and the mere pursuit of wealth, leaving the East Egg like the University, with emptiness and moral decay. Evidence that a society’s desire to be wealthy, to be someone that you’re not, to do whatever it takes at the expense of others, is becoming the norm.


There was no doubt that Penn State was a desirable, reputable, and worthy University. Joe Paterno and his football program enhanced the school’s prestigious status and many students strived to meet admission requirements. Is it possible the scandal lingered uncovered for so many years in an attempt to keep the money coming in? An impressive, 72.7 million dollars last season according to CNN reports. Remember, wealth brings attention. Gatsby needed money to improve his image. Wealth was an absolute requirement if you wanted to have the prestige of an East Egger and certainly the only means Gatsby believed, to get Daisy. Gatsby’s lavish parties made him more desirable. “On weekends, his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city… People were not invited—they went there”(Nick 41). Proof that society is drawn to wealth and the desire to be associated with the prestige money represents. Penn State needed to maintain its wealth to attract those applicants seeking a prestigious status. This is an example of societies’ vulgar need for money as the ultimate motivation to pursue their dreams. Somehow, that without money, one could not achieve happiness.


It is remarkable that the university and persons closest to the cover-up operated day to day pretending to be ethical, moral, and upstanding. They still considered themselves worthy members of this Big Ten School even though they consciously replaced their values with lies for their own selfish agenda and that of the school. Gatsby was driven to be someone he was not in order to achieve respect and approval form Daisy, his past love. Evidence of the façade was presented in Gatsby’s library. “See!” he cried triumphantly. “It’s a bona-fide piece of printed matter. If fooled me. This fella’s a regular Belasco. It’s a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too- didn’t cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?”(Owl Eyes 45-46). Although Gatsby can afford real books, it appears he has never opened them, revealing his stocked library is just for show. In fact, it’s clear that Gatsby is a phony. Gatsby was morally deceptive and living a lie with no intentions of revealing his true self. Penn State operated on the same principles as Gatsby, knowing their integrity was being replaced with deceptions and lies. Societies’ obsession of wanting to be socially superior leads to despair when it can’t be achieved. The constant strive to achieve self worth beyond their means destroys moral integrity when they resort to lies. Gatsby needed to be superior to attract Daisy, as Penn State felt they needed to be superior to attract top students.


The scandal emerges and its contents revealed. The affects go beyond the football program, even the University. The extent of the damages represents what an individual or group of people will do even at the expense of others. Not only is Joe Paterno’s reputation and record tarnished, Sandusky’s victims are scarred for life. The university’s mission has crumbled. It appears that no thought was ever given to the consequences of the cover-up. Even Gatsby could not predict the consequences of his actions when Tom revealed the truth “I found out what your "drug-stores" were.' He turned to us and spoke rapidly. “He and this Wolfshiem bought up a lot of side-street drug-stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter. That's one of his little stunts. I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him, and I wasn't far wrong.” Gatsby was quite simply a criminal. This truth about Gatsby deleted his opportunity to be with Daisy forever. Gatsby was so focused on achieving his dream that he never stopped to realize who would get hurt along the way including himself. Somehow society has become so focused on their desires that they risk themselves and others. They will go to any means, criminally, morally, or ethically to obtain them and keep them. Penn State could not lose their desired status and Gatsby could not achieve his desired status. They both failed.

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Shadow of what was

American society is so centered around wealth and social status that no other qualities could mean as much. Today, society is plagued with countless scenarios similar to those depicted in “The Great Gatsby” and those found in daily headlines like Penn State. We live in an already corrupt American society, a society where lies, cover-ups, and disregard for others dominates. Our actions are driven by our own expectations of the "American Dream", but in order to achieve it, we will do anything even if it is wrong. Why couldn’t Daisy accept Gatsby for who he was and why couldn’t Penn State reveal one mans indiscretions at the start?