Friday, September 04, 2009

Tom Wolfe: The rich do have feelings - and he should know


The Tom Wolfe short story that extravagantly kicked off Geordie Greig's editorship of the London Evening Standard several weeks ago has proved to be upwardly mobile by migrating to Vanity Fair.

The Rich Have Feelings, Too is a wanly satirical monologue on all those poor rich CEO financiers who've cost taxpayers billions in whichever currency and been tragically reduced by the recession to flying with the "commercial-aviation herd" after yonks of coking it on private jets.

"We would be lounging lushly in what was designed as a living room, not an airplane cabin," the writer nostalgically recalls of former Learjet heaven. "There were mahogany, walnut, and amboyna inlays all over the place … You never had to sit next to anybody. You had your own virtual easy chair and all the legroom in the world … and cantilevered tabletops made of the same rich, spectacularly grained woods." [Pause to dab eyebags]

If there's a lack of Swiftian rage at this excess - as opposed to a lipsmacking curiosity about how the rich live - then may be that's because Wolfe, who's forever white-suited, is closer to the spirit of his fallen financiers than his fiction might lead us to believe. Commenter MikeyCee recalls on the Wall Street Journal blog The Wealth Report: "Tom Wolfe cannot talk about eccentric rich people, he’s one too. I know someone who customized Wolfe’s Cadillac. He had them do everything in white including the whole interior [for $7,500]. Pretty cool but still a bit over the top."

Yes indeed. Wolfe a little out of touch with the zeitgeist? Commenter King Cash on the same blog answers that with this: "I once heard [Wolfe] go on and on how punk music originated in England to prove a point he was arguing. Sorry, Tom, that you never took a cab to CBGBs [NY] in the time. It was under your nose." Along with the rest of real life.

9 comments:

VF person said...

You only focus on one part of Wolfe's story. In the other half he lampoons the reactions of the rich CEOs as they struggle at an airport, sniffing at the blue denim low renters (ie us). Wolfe then disparages the "tarantulas" - the self-righteous people who bailed out these CEOs - and who've humiliated "great men" out of envy. Wolfe's story fair-handedly sends up all parties, not just the fat cats who've lost their catnip.

Madame Arcati said...

Yes, there's some truth in what you write. I sense however that Wolfe's sympathies are with the fat cats. At the airport there's a visceral loathing of the people you call "blue denim low renters": Wolfe draws on his own reaction to the herds, spins it up a bit for comic effect, and makes the CEOs look a bit daft because that's consistent with the knockabout pastiche of the first half. But his heart is with them. This is called reading between the lines.

Give my love to Graydon if you are a VF person.

Anonymous said...

You're both half-cocked. Wolfe gets into the mindset of his characters so that we see that there's no gratitude for bailing them out at public expense, only carping about lost privileges and the jealous revenge of people not as talented as they are. The would have better titled, The Rich Are Total Cunts.

Anonymous said...

I have a lottery ticket for Saturday. It would be brilliant to become a total cunt. Josh Spero would write about me and I'd spend all day lounging somewhere (think: Maldives under coconut trees) sighing and pondering on the jealous revenge of people not as talented as I am while I moan "life's a bitch".

Anonymous said...

If you're interested in Charles Hawtrey contact Roger Lewis who knows all there is to know about that dead darling.

Madame Arcati said...

Yes, Roger Lewis, thankyou. I read his Widdle book, fascinating. Hawtrey's manner fascinates me, I could write an essay just on his surface.

Miss Boa said...

satire need not rage. it works best with feathery tickles.

Ross Eldridge said...

Do you think Tom Wolfe's mama read him Herman Melville's classic "Moby Dick" when he was a boy? "If you want to get on in life, Tommy, be white ... and a dick."

On a more serious note, one worries that all those once-fabulously wealthy CEOs may not be able to pay off their fines to the SEC, etc to make all those charges "go away".

MA ... Have you noticed that your word verification letters always spell a pharmaceutical product?

Madame Arcati said...

Dear Ross, No I haven't noticed that, probably because I never see the word verification myself unless I am not logged in.

You can rest assured that the fines our CEO friends must pay will be reduced in the course of time.