March 10, 2008
Simply Devine: Mar 05
Wolfe howls at loose moon units of the Left
After thoroughly enjoying Tom Wolfe’s latest novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, it came as some surprise to read review after review that panned the book. Wolfe has had negative critiques of his earlier work, the smash hit Bonfire Of The Vanities and the more recent A Man In Full; during a celebrated literary bitchfight with a jealous Norman Mailer, John Updike and John Irving, Wolfe wrote an essay titled “My Three Stooges”.
But there was nothing like this near-universal condemnation by the literary establishment, so spiteful and so personal.
Wolfe “has become an old fart, and the worst kind of old fart, too: a right-wing scold, a moralising antique”, wrote Henry Kisor of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Wolfe “has grown into an unremitting scold, excoriating perceived depravity”, wrote The Washington Post’s Michael Dirda. The book is, “a (slightly disguised) hellfire tirade, a vision of students who belong in the hands of an angry God”.
Wolfe is “irredeemably, programmatically super-ficial” wrote Theo Tait in the once-great magazine The Spectator.
Many reviewers sneered about Wolfe’s age, 73, as if it somehow disqualified him from writing about young people.
“What can be expected when a novelist in his 70s takes on the subject of undergraduate life? Mainly voyeurism,” wrote Princeton professor Elaine Showalter in the Chronicle Of Higher Education. Wolfe was “titillated by the sexual revolution that has arrived on campus since his own student days”. There must be a reason for such spite which goes beyond the pages of Wolfe’s new book. And, of course, it is politics. The day before the US presidential election last November, Wolfe was quoted in The Guardian as saying he might vote for George Bush. Social death!
What’s more, he poked fun at the Bush-hating New York liberal dinner party set, to which he belonged.
“Tina Brown wrote in her column that she was at a dinner where a group of media heavyweights were discussing ...what they could do to stop Bush. Then a waiter announces he is from the suburbs, and will vote for Bush. And ... Tina’s reaction is: ‘How can we persuade these people not to vote for Bush?’ I draw the opposite lesson: that Tina and her circle in the media do not have a clue about the rest of the United States. You are considered twisted and retarded if you support Bush in this election. I have never come across a candidate who is so reviled.”
Wolfe’s book is about a high-minded 18-year-old virgin, Charlotte Simmons, from a conservative hillbilly family, the first to go away to a prestigious college. But instead of an intellectual Shangri-la she found a shallow, status-obsessed world of rampant sex, crudity and drunkenness, where her virginity was a joke and being “cool” was everything.
It explores social status and the primal human need to belong to a group. How ironic, then, that the book was the trigger for Wolfe to become a pariah within his own group, the New York liberal elite.
“I cannot stand the lockstep among everyone in my particular world,” he told The Guardian. “They all do the same thing, without variation. It gets so boring. There is something in me that particularly wants it registered that I am not one of them.”
Wolfe also accepted an invitation from Laura Bush to the White House last year to speak at a literary function.
But the final affront to his peers was when The New York Times discovered President Bush loved I Am Charlotte Simmons.
“It is unclear exactly what Mr Bush liked so much about the book,” wrote the newspaper’s Elizabeth Bumiller. Shock horror, the President was even, “enthusiastically recommending it to friends”.
“Does Mr Bush like the book because it is a journey back to his keg nights at Deke (his jock fraternity at Yale), or because it offers a glimpse into the world of his daughters’ generation?” Miaow.
Then, to make matters worse, another British paper, The Sunday Times, revealed Wolfe’s daughter, Alexandra, 24, had confessed that she, too, was intending to vote for Bush. “If I say it out loud, it’s death,” she whispered to writer Sarah Baxter at a Manhattan black tie arts party. “In a place like this, people look at you like you are a freak.
I believe in abortion and I totally believe Kerry is right on some social issues, but I just don’t trust him on terrorism.”
Maybe this determination to escape intellectual lockstep and think for oneself is hereditary. Or, scary thought, for Wolfe’s detractors, maybe it is contagious.
Simply Devine: Feb 05
The new counter-culture groundswell
You know that by the time a new way of thinking makes it into a Hollywood blockbuster it is already deeply embedded in the culture. When it comes to Team America: World Police, how the thought must make lefties cringe.
Made by South Park’s Trey Parker, 35, and Matt Stone, 33, as a Thunderbirds-style puppet movie, it has a team of trigger-happy, flag-waving Americans fighting terrorists, while the peacenik liberals of FAG, the Film Actors Guild, headed by an “Alec Baldwin” puppet, try to stop them.
It features “Michael Moore”, a hot dog in each hand, as a suicide bomber, “a fat socialist weasel”.The movie opened at No. 1 in Australia last month and was still at No. 5 after three weeks. It strikes a chord, despite the lukewarm reception from a lot of reviewers.
They have said the movie attacks left and right with equal vigour. It does not. They liked the beginning because gung-ho Team America blows up the Eiffel Tower while chasing terrorists. “Let’s go police the world,” say the puppets. But those who thought the movie was a satire against American warmongers were shocked to find the opposite.
To her credit, Margaret Pomerantz of ABC’s The Movie Show gave Team America four stars and declared it “hilarious”.
But her co-host David Stratton was “really disgusted”. “It seems to become completely skewed, in the second half of the film, towards attacking liberals in the film industry,” he said. “Sean Penn and Tim Robbins have been very principled in what they’ve said about the Iraqi war and to deliberately destroy them the way this film does is really playing into the hands of George W. Bush.”
All I know is the teenage boys in the theatre I was in laughed heartily at the obscene jokes, puppet sex and savage mockery of Penn and co.
“As actors, it is our responsibility to read the newspaper and then repeat what we read on television like it’s our own opinion,” explains
“Tim Robbins” complains that corporations are “all corporation-y . . . and they make lots of money!”.
“Sean Penn” keeps saying, “I went to Iraq, you know” and says before Team America arrived there were “flowering meadows and rainbow skies and rivers made of chocolate, where children danced”.
In one scene, evil North Korean dictator puppet “Kim Jong Il” won’t let UN weapons inspector “Hans Blix”, or “Brix” as Kim calls him, inspect his palace.
“We will be very angry with you, and we will write you a letter, telling you how angry we are,” threatens Brix, just before Kim feeds him to his shark.
After terrorists blow up the Panama Canal, TV newsreader puppet “Peter Jennings” intones: “Team America has once again pissed off the entire world”. Then “Alec Baldwin, FAG” comes on the screen: “Who’s to blame for these attacks? The terrorists? The people who supplied them with WMDs?” No. “Team America, the blood of the victims of Panama is on your hands.”
The final summation of why the world needs Team America, even if they are, “reckless, arrogant, stupid d—ks”, to save them from terrorist “a—holes” is unambiguous, despite reviewers who expected a puppet Fahrenheit 9/11.
“We tried to make the movie optimistic and pro-American,” said Stone in an interview.
Even new movie The Incredibles has an anti-political correctness theme: super hero family forced to blend into society and hide talents. Super-fast runner Dash thinks it’s not fair: “Everybody is special, Dash,” says his mother. “That’s just another way of saying nobody is,” he moans.
The movie also celebrates family: “Mom and dad’s lives could be in jeopardy, or worse - their marriage!” says daughter Violet. These subversive themes are the new counter-culture.
The way it works is that those who build a culture, over 40 years or so, have a vested interest in maintaining it. So the old counter-culturalists become the conservatives, even though they still think they are progressives and deride as “conservative” those who disagree with them, though disagreeing is counter-cultural.
Then along comes a generation which has known nothing but the old “counter-culture” and feels oppressed by it, because there are so many rules now about how you should think, and to a fresh mind many are absurd.
So you get the first signs of rebellion from the most independent-minded, and soon enough it builds into a tsunami that breaks down the old counter-culture and begins the process anew. This is what is happening now, vomit jokes, puppet sex and all.