He went after the left because the left was the establishment.
Yes, true enough. But somehow he never got a Nobel Prize in literature, despite vastly outranking almost everyone else who has.
So I guess I am corrupting things a little when I state the obvious about Wolfe: he did write; he did observe; he did skewer; and by gosh, it all added up to making the left look stupid, particularly the cultural left, because it is the establishment. There is no way a writer this honest could not find them. And because he was a ferocious believer in and chronicler of American exceptionalism, he got them good.
Oh, he made the left look stupid. It’s why reading his work is such a delicious pleasure.
I read through the long, awesome piece in Vanity Fair by Michael Lewis, called “How Tom Wolfe Became Tom Wolfe,” to make sure I didn’t miss any clues, and though it took me an hour to read, it was extremely useful.
Turns out Wolfe got his start in red country, the genteel world of Richmond, Virginia, and was close to his conservative father. He never abandoned that world, which meant he stayed an outsider, a “deplorable” all his life. He was amused by President Trump and seemed to like the man – read this short passage of his thoughts in this American Spectator here, an incisive, original analysis from Wolfe about Trump.
There’s a heck of a lot more from deep in his background. Lewis wrote that Wolfe was right on to the left from his late college days, at least – his Ph.D. at Yale was all about the communist influence in American literature, a topic that almost didn’t pass muster from the leftists at Yale then and certainly wouldn’t even be entertained at such an establishment now (except in oozingly flattering terms, perhaps).
Wolfe understood the importance of rural America in the creation of heroes and the stultifying groupthink of too much exposure to cities, a “deplorable” idea indeed that we are living now. Such were the good takeaways from Lewis.
As a result, Wolfe’s glory was in destroying the left with his words.
How on Earth can anyone look at Lenny Bernstein sucking up to the 1960s Black Panthers the same way after a passage like this?
MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM. THESE ARE NICE. LITTLE Roquefort cheese morsels rolled in crushed nuts. Very tasty. Very subtle. It’s the way the dry sackiness of the nuts tiptoes up against the dour savor of the cheese that is so nice, so subtle. Wonder what the Black Panthers eat out here on the hors d’oeuvre trail? Do the Panthers like little Roquefort cheese morsels rolled in crushed nuts this way, and asparagus tips in mayonnaise dabs, and meatballs petites au Coq Hardi, all of which are at this very moment being offered to them on gadrooned silver platters by maids in black uniforms with hand-ironed white aprons?
When I first read that as a college student, I couldn’t stop laughing. I memorized that passage because it was so funny.
Wolfe did fantastic work targeting the academic left in general. One of his finest passages was on how leftists always yelled about fascism in America, yet it was Europe that had the problem:
The dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe.
He wrote about what a bunch of perverts these fashionable lefties were, too, lusting after the college girls as they gave their pompous progressive lectures, with one such lecturer thinking:
“The little blonde bud from the creative-writing class is a sure thing, but she’ll insist on a lot of literary talk first[.] … The big redhead on the lecture committee will spare me that, but she talks to me as if I’m seventy years old[.] … Little Bud? … or Big Red?
He went after the mainstream media, too, acting as paparazzi on the astronauts ofThe Right Stuff, seeking to interview “the dog, the cat, the rhododendrons,” which told you all you needed to know – and was hysterically funny, too.
He fried the “Me Generation” and all the nut-bags from California’s quiche-eating, hot-tubbing cultie groups, mouthing New Age drivel. “Let’s talk about me,” as he summed these jackasses up. It was the only right way to treat them.
So many leftists got it good from Wolfe. There were the ad men in “The Commercial” who wanted to bow to political correctness by casting the first black baseball player in a deodorant ad and how they tiptoed around the subject of race as “flatfoot Irishmen” scared and dancing around in their great fear of being thought of as racist, even as they were breaking racial barriers.
There were the suck-up liberal bureaucrats in “Hush Puppies,” who gladly atemerde at the feet of Tiki-stick stomping minority groups “mau-mauing” them in their quest for “summer jobs for youth” out in the San Francisco projects, a classic case of left-wing-on-left-wing stupidity.
He tore apart the Rev. Al Sharpton as a colossal charlatan in his later novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, exposing him for his left-wing race-baiting.
He made the art world, with all its nutty emperor’s new clothes ideas about what’s art and how ugly some of its stuff looked, look like a bunch of idiots in The Painted Word.
He trashed the disgusting hook-up culture that has ruined university culture in I am Charlotte Simmons.
All of this stuff riled the left. In one passage in one of his books – think it was the one on meeting porny feminist Germaine Greer, who set her hair on fire because she was bored (you’d never forget a passage like that) – somewhere in the piece spoke of an enraged lefty who wanted to dump spaghetti sauce all over his own suit.
And as a coda, Wolfe stated the obvious about the heroism and self-sacrifice of our military and American exceptionalism in spades in his oh, so dazzling and utterly readable more than once masterpiece, The Right Stuff.
What a treasure he was. He wrote about the world as it is, telling our American story because he loved our American story. How sad that we don’t have him to write about the ongoing story of America. He wrote about the world as an outsider, and he examined the establishment as it needed to be examined, and naturally, that added up to making the left look stupid. There was no other way for a writer this honest, and we are the richer for it.