Wednesday, May 16, 2018

an enconium for Tom Wolfe from someone at ... The Stranger

From Sean Nelson, of which we'll quote some large chunks.
 


 
Of course, Wolfe and his NJ cohort also helped make journalism safe for run-on sentences, overcooked narrative conceits, and onomatopoeic indulgences, so... I hope Hunter S. Thompson and Lester Bangs saved him a comfy seat in the elite section of hell reserved for writers whose brilliant legacies are clouded by all the inferior imitators they inspired. [emphasis added]
 
His other great work was a novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, which performed a similar function for the culture of extreme greed in 1980s New York. Except instead of a eulogy, the book was more like one of the seven angelic trumpets announcing the coming rapture.
 
Bonfire nailed it: The saga of Sherman McCoy, self-proclaimed "master of the universe," his mistress Maria, the black kid they hit with their car, the particularly New York-style media frenzy that whips up around them, is an eerily timeless lens through which to view so many powderkeg issues of privilege, class, race, fame, inequity, ambition, avarice, bigotry, and indeed vanity that snake around the contemporary news and media landscape like silver dental floss through rotten teeth loosely wobbling in bleeding gums.
 
It's also a fantastically vivid and kinetic piece of writing—a little lightweight supermarket pop-fic perhaps, but nonetheless full of passages that never leave your memory. The prologue, "Mutt on Fire," set at an especially tense mayoral press conference, and it thrums like a wasps' nest:
 
It'll be on TV. The whole city will see it. They'll love it. Harlem rises up! What a show! Not the hustlers and the operators and the players rise up-but Harlem rises up! All of black New York rises up! He's only mayor for some of the people! He's the mayor of White New York! Set fire to the mutt! The Italians will watch this on TV, and they'll love it. And the Irish. Even the Wasps. They won't know what they're looking at. They'll sit in their co-ops on Park and Fifth and East Seventy-second Street and Sutton Place, and they'll shiver with the violence of it and enjoy the show. Cattle! Birdbrains! Rosebuds! Goyim! You don't even know, do you? Do you really think this is your city any longer? Open your eyes! The greatest city of the twentieth century! Do you think money will keep it yours?
 
Come down from your swell co-ops, you general partners and merger lawyers! It's the Third World down there! Puerto Ricans, West Indians, Haitians, Dominicans, Cubans, Colombians, Hondurans, Koreans, Chinese, Thais, Vietnamese, Ecuadorians, Panamanians, Filipinos, Albanians, Senegalese, and Afro-Americans! Go visit the frontiers, you gutless wonders! Morningside Heights, St. Nicholas Park, Washington Heights, Fort Tryon-por que pagar mas! The Bronx-the Bronx is finished for you! Riverdale is just a little freeport up there! Pelham Parkway-keep the corridor open to Westchester! Brooklyn—your Brooklyn is no more! Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope-little Hong Kongs, that's all! And Queens! Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Hollis, Jamaica, Ozone Park-whose is it? Do you know? And where does that leave Ridgewood, Bayside, and Forest Hills? Have you ever thought about that! And Staten Island! Do you Saturday do-it-yourselfers really think you're snug in your little rug? You don't think the future knows how to cross a bridge?
 
And you, you Wasp charity-bailers sitting on your mounds of inherited money up in your co-ops with the twelve-foot ceilings and the two wings, one for you and one for the help, do you really think you're impregnable? And you German-Jewish financiers who have finally made it into the same buildings, the better to insulate yourselves from the shtetl hordes, do you really think you're insulated from the Third World?
 
 
 
That line, "You don't think the future knows how to cross a bridge?" has been on the tip of my mind's tongue for 30 years, still probably the best encapsulation of the inevitability of class uprising I've ever read.
 
 
Wolfe, as more than a few have noted, was just fine with Reagan.  Sometimes a writer has enough influence that even folks writing for The Stranger can grant that influence while disagreeing with political positions staked out by said authors.  When Joan Didion passes I'm not sure everyone is going to lead with how she, by her own account, voted ardently for Barry Goldwater or how she distrusted Reagan because he didn't seem like he was actually conservative about anything.
 
If there was something Wolfe could be memorably good at, it was roasting the elites of the New York scene for their insularity, privilege, and decadence ... all the while seeming to enjoy it a bit himself ... possibly like a late 20th century F. Scott Fitzgerald in a vague sort of way. 
 

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