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Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers ()

Mr. Doggett's Suggested Summer Reading for Students

If you are a conservative, one of the things you become accustomed to is Society's tacit assumption that liberals--even when disastrously and predictably wrong--are well-intentioned, while conservatives--even when demonstrably right--are motivated by selfishness, animus or simple crotchetiness.  Even those who should know better accept this general proposition, witness George W. Bush's savvy but offensive campaign slogan "Compassionate Conservative" or Winston Churchill's famous dictum: Any man who is not a liberal when young has no heart, any man who is not a conservative when older has no brain.  This notion is particularly galling if you rooted for the Chicago police at the 1968 Convention and for the Guardsmen at Kent State, while aged 6 & 10 respectively.  It is really frustrating that this misconception prevails regardless of the evidence of human experience.  Thus, the American Communists and fellow-travelers of the '30s & '40s are considered to be misguided do-gooders, but those who opposed them on the Right are considered fascists.  Like something out of Alice in Wonderland, it is better in social circles to be Alger Hiss than Whittaker Chambers.

But there's no use complaining about any of this, first because no one cares, second because it is so deeply ingrained in the political psyche.  It is something that we simply learn to accept, sort of the way you learn to accept that Blacks will continue to vote Democrat despite the fact that Democrat policies have lead directly to the ghettoization or imprisonment of a significant portion of the black populace.  It does however lead to some uncomfortable moments, especially when you are young.  So most conservatives have some Ur-text that has a particular meaning to them--that first book (or magazine--for many it was National Review) that whispered: "You are not alone.  You are not abnormal."  Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (read Orrin's review), Witness, Buckley's God and Man at Yale, Conscience of a Conservative (read Orrin's review), all of these books fit the bill for many, but for me, the first great text was Radical Chic by Tom Wolfe.

Radical Chic, which famously chronicles a party hosted by Leonard Bernstein and his wife to raise money for the Black Panthers, did something unique, something which I don't believe had been done up until that time.  It's not a polemic; it doesn't come right out and say anything directly negative about the Panthers or their white upper class supporters.  It does something much more insidious; it makes them appear ridiculous.  What a sublime moment that was, to have someone out there saying, not simply that the other side was wrong, but that they were silly.  Somehow it made it alright that folks considered us troglodytes, after all, if our views seemed harsh and uncaring at least we didn't look imbecilic.   Since then of course the floodgates have opened--much of Ronald Reagan's appeal lay in his ability to make conservatives feel proud of their beliefs and to poke gentle fun at the most ridiculous aspects of liberal dogma and authors like PJ O'Rourke and Chris Buckley do a brilliant job of exposing the profound idiocy at the heart of liberalism.  The old dictum that to a liberal life is a tragedy, to a conservative a comedy, is amply borne out in the writing of these genuinely funny observers.

Had Tom Wolfe never written another word we would still be beholden to him for blazing this trail.  Lucky for us, this was simply the first great salvo in a long career of puncturing the pretensions of the Establishment Left, as evidenced by the second story in the book, Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers.  Here he chronicles the exploitation of white guilt by minority activist applying for government grant money in San Francisco.  He would go on to write several terrific conservative novels--Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full (read Orrin's review)--and one great audio novella--Ambush at Fort Bragg (read Orrin's review)--but he may never have written anything better than Radical Chic.


Grade: (A+)


Tom Wolfe Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Tom Wolfe
    -INDEX: Tom Wolfe (Harper's)
    -INDEX: Tom Wolfe (Esquire)
-ESSAY: Tom Wolfe Appreciates "Studs Lonigan" (Tom Wolfe, Top Ten Books)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Studs Terkel and Tom Wolfe discuss architecture and Wolfe's book, From Bauhaus to Our House (Studs Terkel Radio Archive, BROADCAST: Nov. 16, 1981)
    -ESSAY: The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (Tom Wolfe, Esquire)
    -ESSAY: The Marvelous Mouth of Cassius Clay: The year before he became Muhammad Ali forever, legendary writer Tom Wolfe spent a week and a half with the legend (Tom Wolfe, Esquire)
    -ESSAY: The Birth of ‘The New Journalism’; Eyewitness Report (Tom Wolfe, New York)
    -ESSAY: Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s (Tom Wolfe, New York)
    -ESSAY: The Building That Isn't There, Cont'd: One of the most important buildings in the history of 20th-century architecture will soon be vaporized. (TOM WOLFE, 10/13/03, NY Times)
    -AUDIO: A TimesTalks Event: Tom Wolfe (NY Times, 3/08/03)
    -QUESTIONS: Tom Wolfe: Following his participation in the TimesTalks series on March 8, the author answered readers' questions. (NY Times, April 24, 2003)
    -ESSAY: REVOLUTIONARIES: how the Manhattan Institute changed New York City and America (Tom Wolfe, January 30, 2003, NY Post)
    -ESSAY: Idea Fashions of the Eighties: After Marx, What? (Tom Wolfe, January 1984, Imprimis)
    -ESSAY: Stalking the billion-footed beast: A literary manifesto for the new social novel (Tom Wolfe, Harper's)
    -ESSAY: THE LAST AMERICAN HERO IS JUNIOR JOHNSON. YES! (Tom Wolfe, 3/01/1965, Esquire)
    -AUDIO: The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!
-PODCAST: The Wolfe in the White Suit (w/ Osita Nwanevu): Writer Osita Nwanevu joins to discuss the life and work of novelist and "new journalist" Tom Wolfe. (Know your Enemy, 7/05/24)
-ESSAY: The Electric Kool-Aid Conservative Tom Wolfe was no radical. (Osita Nwanevu/January 5, 2024, New Republic)
    -ESSAY: Why does no one write like Tom Wolfe any more?: In a polarised culture, appetite for the late writer’s brand of wry conservative satire has waned – and he is partly to blame. (Nick Burns, 12/28/23, New Statesman)
    -TRIBUTE: The Statustician!:Tom Wolfe was death on intellectual pretension, and he mocked those who always sought out the worst in America. (JOSEPH EPSTEIN, May 24, 2018, Weekly Standard)
    -PROFILE: Status Reporter: Tom Wolfe's advice: Escape the "parenthesis states" and explore America (JOSEPH RAGO, March 11, 2006, Opinion Journal)
    -INTERVIEW: Mummy Wrap: an interview with Tom Wolfe (George Neumayr, 1/10/2005, American Spectator)
    -ESSAY: The author in full: Tom Wolfe: Wolfe excelled at capturing human foibles and petty vanities; anything deeper than that escaped him (Chilton Williamson, Jr., 11/11/20, The Spectator)
    -INTERVIEW: Tom Wolfe on how speech made us human (Steve Heilig, March 16, 2008, SF Gate)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr.: Tom Wolfe and The Painted Word (Firing Line with William F. Buckley, Jr., Episode S0191, Recorded on July 9, 1975)
    -PROFILE: The Ice Cream Man with the Clean White Suit (Alex Belth, The Stacks Reader)
    -EXCERPT: Wolfe and Breslin and the Birth of New York Magazine (Richard Kluger, From The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune)
    -ESSAY: Tom Wolfe: The Satirist Whose Wit Hardened into Contempt 1930-2018 (KEVIN BAKER, December 30, 2018, Politico)
-ESSAY: Bush's Official Reading List, and a Racy Omission (ELISABETH BUMILLER, 2/07/05, NY Times)
-ESSAY: Against De-Materialization: Tom Wolfe in the Age of NFTs (Julia Friedman and David Hawkes, 09 Mar 2022, Quillette)
    -ESSAY: ‘Radical Chic’: Still Cringey After All These Years: Like author Tom Wolfe's caustic take in 1970, radicalism is being cultivated today in the best penthouses and corporate suites. (JAMES PINKERTON, 6/10/20, American Conservative)
    -REVIEW: of The Purple Decades: A Reader by Tom Wolfe (James Walcott, NY Review of Books)
    Modern, All Too Modern: Tom Wolfe's new novel, largely reviewed as a satiric report on the sexual mores of today's college students, is fundamentally about the nature of the human will.: a review of of I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe (S. T. Karnick, Books & Culture)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Tom Wolfe - A Clear Eye for Human Biodiversity (Steve Sailer, January 02, 2005, V-Dare)
    -REVIEW: of I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe (Dana B. Vachon, American Conservative)
    -REVIEW: of I am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe (Ken Masugi,
    -REVIEW: of I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe (Priya Jain, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe (S. T. Karnick, Books & Culture)
-REVIEW: of The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe (Andrew Zwart, Books & Culture)


    -REVIEW: of Radical Wolfe (Stephen Silver, Splice Today)
    -REVIEW: of Radical Wolfe, directed by Richard Dewey (John Tierney, City Journal)
    -ESSAY: Tom Wolfe’s Worldview Came Into Focus In New York (Christopher Bonanos, September 2023, Vulture)
    -PODCAST: Richard Dewey, John Tierney: Discussing the New Tom Wolfe Documentary (City Journal: 10 Blocks podcast, 9/15/23)
    -FILM REVIEW: Radical Wolfe (Titus Techera, Religion & Liberty)
    -TV REVIEW: Less Than Half ‘A Man in Full’: One of US television’s most experienced and talented writers has made a mess of Tom Wolfe’s second novel. (Kevin Mims, 13 May 2024, Quillette)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Tom Wolfe: A Man in Full
    -Caricature from The Atlantic
    -FEATURED AUTHOR: Tom Wolfe (NY Times Book Review)
    -Creative Nonfiction: Writers and Their Works
    -EXCERPT : Chapter One of Hooking Up by Tom Wolfe : What Life Was Like at the Turn of the Second Millennium: An American's World
    -ESSAY : FREDERICK HART, b. 1943 : The Artist the Art World Couldn't See : His Vietnam War memorial was like his other work - a success  with the public and thoroughly ignored by the critics. (TOM WOLFE, NY Times Magazine)
    -ESSAY : Sorry, But Your Soul Just Died (Tom Wolfe, Forbes)
    -ETEXT: The Last American Hero by Tom Wolfe
    -ESSAY: Disciplines: What do a Jesuit priest, a Canadian communications theorist, and Darwin II all have in common? (Tom Wolfe, Forbes)
   -REVIEW: of THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ROY COHN By Sidney Zion Dangerous Obsessions (Tom Wolfe, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of CECIL BEATON A Biography. By Hugo Vickers SNOB'S PROGRESS (Tom Wolfe, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of THE LAST LAUGH By S.J. Perelman THE EXPLOITS OF EL SID (Tom Wolfe, NY Times Book Review)
    -INTERVIEW: Tom Wolfe and His Critics (Firing Line)
    -INTERVIEW : Tom Wolfe, in Full (Nicholas A. Basbanes, Lit Kit)
    -CBC Interview
    -INTERVIEW (Steve Hammer NUVO Newsweekly)
    -PROFILE : BRILLIANT CAREERS : Tom Wolfe :  He put New Journalism on the map with writing that shook as fiercely as it shimmered. (CARY TENNIS, Salon)
    -PROFILE: TOM WOLFE, MATERIAL BOY (Rand Richards Cooper, Commonweal)
    -Profile: Tom Wolfe, in 'Full' flower (USA Today)
    -PROFILE : The Wolfe in Chic Clothing :  Manliness runs a deep course through American life, but it is hard to find at Harvard, says Tom Wolfe.The celebrated author explains the contemporary male. FM returns the favor and examines Wolfe's own dubious masculinity (James Y. Stern, Harvard Crimson)
    -PROFILE: TOM WOLFE (Richard A. Kallan)
    -PROFILE: Don Dapper: Tom Wolfe conquers windmills on Brown's battlefield (Amanda Griscom)
    -Tom Wolfe: The Satirist of Society (Caitlin Allen, Brighton High School)
    -ESSAY : ON LANGUAGE : Hooking Up (WILLIAM SAFIRE, NY Times Magazine)
    -ESSAY :  Schooling Public Intellectuals : A Talking Head Ph.D. (Norah Vincent, Village Voice)

    -Creative Nonfiction: Writers and Their Works
    -NEW JOURNALISM by Dave Selden, Jr.
    -Parajournalism II: Wolfe and The New Yorker (DWIGHT MACDONALD, NY Review of Books)
    -The Birth of Way New Journalism (Joshua Quittner,  HotWired)
    -In Gonzo We Trust: Dr. Hunter S. Thompson as Popular Culture Icon An Essay for Popular Culture: Explorations in Theory and Practice SoSc 4990.06 By: Rev. Dominic Ali for Professor Joe Galbo April. 26, 1993