F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic 1925 American novel The Great Gatsby has been made into several films and TV programs over the years. Robert Redford played the title character in 1974. In the recent HBO hit Entourage, Vincent Chase (played by Adrian Grenier) starred in a critically lauded version helmed by Martin Scorsese.
Australian auteur Baz Luhrmann (Australia, Moulin Rouge!) teamed back up with his Romeo + Juliet star Leonardo DiCaprio to re-tackle Gatsby, and their effort is currently playing in theaters. Like Romeo + Juliet, the film is a colorful, bombastic ball of energy, a stylish retake on a familiar story that is rocked-up by contemporary music.
Although a number of critics have whined that the latest Gatsby film isn’t as good as the book, it makes for an enjoyable evening. The story weaves in commentary on organized crime, Prohibition, class struggle, Wall Street excess, and changing social values. And once again, the competing fictional towns of East and West Egg serve as provocative settings.
In a leafy part of Long Island with sweeping coastal views, East and West Egg sit away from the bustle and pollution of New York City. East Egg is home to the stately mansions of old money, while West Egg, just across a bay, is marked by the garish castles of the nouveau riche, punctuated by boho cottages. Commentary on American society in the Roaring Twenties wasn’t subtle.
Those rival towns got us thinking about other great fictional settings. Suggest your own in the comments.
1. East and West Egg
Source: The Great Gatsby
Real-life inspiration: Great Neck and Manhasset Neck, New York
Possible symbolism: Old vs. new money, excess, class struggle, privilege
In 1922, F. Scott Fitzgerald moved his family to Great Neck, New York, on Long Island. The town was an up-and-coming suburb of the Big Apple that was attracting creative professionals and new money. Across a bay sat Manhasset Neck, home to many established wealthy families. Sounds a bit like East and West Egg, no?
Fitzgerald is known to have attended elaborate parties at mansions on Long Island’s North Shore, perhaps at the (now demolished) Beacon Towers, which bears a striking resemblance to Gatsby’s place in the recent film.
Source: The Simpsons TV show
Real-life inspiration: Springfield, Oregon
Possible symbolism: Ridiculousness of contemporary American life
Fans of The Simpsons have speculated for years about the real-world inspiration for the home of Homer, Marge, and gang. Was it Springfield, Illinois, or Springfield, Massachusetts, or perhaps one of the other many Springfields? To tease fans, the show’s writers slipped in jokes about the mysterious location, often shifting the geography.
Part of Springfield’s charm is that it could be any town, but Matt Groening, the show’s creator, recently told journalists that he was most inspired by Springfield, Oregon, which is near his native Portland. Groening said, “I also figured out that Springfield was one of the most common names for a city in the U.S. In anticipation of the success of the show, I thought, ‘This will be cool; everyone will think it’s their Springfield’. And they do.”
3. South Park
Source: South Park TV show
Real-life inspiration: Fairplay, Colorado
Possible symbolism: Small town U.S.A., myopia
Fairplay is a small mountain town in Park County, Colorado. It started as a gold mining town but is most famous as inspiration for the fictional South Park. Part of Fairplay is called South Park City, and the town is home to South Park High School. Like its fictional version, the town is also home to a burro race.
South Park’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, grew up in Colorado, though neither was from Fairplay. Their long-running animated show has skewered many aspects of pop culture, from politics to celebrities, from environmentalism to gun rights.
Source: The Andy Griffith Show
Real-life inspiration: Mount Airy, North Carolina
Possible symbolism: Nostalgia, the American dream
A generation of Americans grew up watching The Andy Griffith Show in the 1960s. It was set in a fictional town called Mayberry, which many viewers considered the epitome of small-town, wholesome living.
Andy Griffith told Larry King in 2003 that one of the show’s creators had come up with the name Mayberry, although it’s worth noting that there is a real Mayberry in Virginia just 22 miles from where Griffith grew up, in Mount Airy, North Carolina. According to local news reports, Griffith frequented the Mayberry Trading Post while growing up.
5. Silent Hill
Source: Silent Hill video games and movies
Real-life inspiration: Centralia, Pennsylvania
Possible symbolism: Environmental pollution and disaster, greed, darkness
The popular Silent Hill video games spawned a series of horror movies, and both feature a nightmarish town overrun by zombie-like ghouls and strange phenomena. The creepy introduction to the first game puts the town of Silent Hill in rural Appalachia, and explains that it was abandoned because of a massive coal mine fire blazing under the surface.
Perhaps the creepiest aspect of all is that it is based on the real-life town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, where a coal mine fire has burned for 50 years.
6. Gotham City
Source: Batman comics, movies, and TV
Real-life inspiration: NYC (duh)
Possible symbolism: Crime, corruption, urban decay, redemption
New York Times journalist William Safire once described Gotham City, the home of the comic book hero Batman, as “New York below 14th Street, from SoHo to Greenwich Village, the Bowery, Little Italy, Chinatown, and the sinister areas around the base of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges.”
Batman writer and artist Frank Miller has said, “Metropolis [home to Superman] is New York in the daytime; Gotham City is New York at night.”
7. Sunnydale (aka Hellmouth)
Source: Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series
Real-life inspiration: Generic SoCal towns
Possible symbolism: American life, horror tropes, pop feminism
Joss Whedon’s outstanding series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) featured the efforts of blonde teen Buffy Summers and her friends, the “Scooby Gang,” to protect their wholesome town (and by extension, the world) from an outpouring of vampires, demons, and other “baddies.” The fact that the fictional town Sunnydale was actually the center of a mythical “Hellmouth” was clearly meant to be ironic.
Stand-ins for Sunnydale landmarks were found across Southern California, which arguably has its own horrors beneath the sunny veneer. Whedon has also said he was inspired by many of the pleasant-sounding names used in classic horror flicks.
8. Twin Peaks
Source: Twin Peaks TV show and movie
Real-life inspiration: Towns in Washington state
Possible symbolism: Darkness in all of us, hypocrisy, surrealism
Running for two seasons in 1990 and 1991, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks brought surrealism to the small screen. The bizarre cult-hit was a kind of black comedy sendoff of soap operas and was set in a fictional town in Washington state.
Twin Peaks exteriors were shot in Snoqualmie and North Bend, Washington, although the small-town characters with dark secrets were probably intended to be much more universal.
The only question is, which is weirder, Twin Peaks, Washington, or Eerie, Indiana?
9. Star City/Starling City
Source: Green Arrow comics and TV show
Real-life inspiration: Various locations in the comics, currently NorCal; TV show is vague, with city skylines shot in Frankfurt, Germany, Philadelphia’s Center City, Back Bay in Boston, and Tokyo.
Possible symbolism: Crime, corruption, vigilantism
The DC Comics hero Green Arrow first appeared in 1941, as a kind of Robin Hood version of Batman. A billionaire playboy by day and crime fighter by night, Green Arrow appears on the small screen now in the CW show Arrow.
In the TV show, Arrow’s home is called Starling City. According to comic books, Star/Starling City was placed on the Great Lakes in the 1960s. In the 1970s and ’80s it shifted to New England, but more recently it has been placed in northern California, in the San Francisco area.
10. Cloud City
Source: The Empire Strikes Back (and derivative works)
Real-life inspiration: None
Possible symbolism: Technology, dreams, the future
What kid doesn’t want to visit Cloud City, the hovering metropolis perched above the fictional planet Bespin? Overseen by Lando Calrissian, Cloud City was the site of Han Solo’s betrayal. It also shows up as a colorful setting in various Star Wars stories and video games.
What is your favorite fictional town? Perhaps Woodbury from The Walking Dead? Or Smallville? Vice City from Grand Theft Auto?