Tom Wolfe observationPosted: May 18, 2018 Filed under: America, America Since 1945, writing Leave a comment
There are, of course, all sorts of gradations of status, of power, of wealth, influence and comfort, but it is impossible to break America down into classes in the old European sense. “But there is a … dividing line, and above that line are those who have bachelor degrees or better from a four-year college or university. Below that are the people who don’t. That line is becoming a gulf that grows wider and wider. “Like the rest of the West, we live in a highly bureaucratic world and it’s impossible today to advance to the heights of ambition without that bachelor’s degree, without being a part of what Vance Packard used to call ‘the diploma elite.'”
Had to go looking for the source of that one, it was in a 2005 Duke commencement speech. How about this?:
For the last four years, you have been trained to be the leaders of an extraordinary nation. There has never been anything like it. … It is the only country I know of in which immigrants with a totally different culture, a totally different language, can in one-half of a generation, if they have the numbers and a modicum of organization, take over politically a metropolis as large as, say, Miami.
As a Tom Wolfe (Ph.d) superfan, kind of disappointed by the tributes and obituaries. Most of them seemed pretty limp. Maybe because so many journalists were so in awe of him, they seemed to sputter on about the same stuff and barely touch on the vastness of Wolfe’s interests and insights.
Best one imo was Louis Menand. (Update: lol whoops hadn’t seen Friend of Helytimes’ Graeme Wood’s.)
Felt literary world scoffed at
but how many 74 year olds would take on a seven hundred page book about college, rap, hookup culture, basketball, and attempts to get in the head of (among others) a nineteen year old female virgin? A little crazy but I thought it was cool! Also came pretty close to predicting the Duke lacrosse scandal.
If you hunger for Wolfe at full Wolfeness might I recommend his 2006 Jefferson Lecture?:
According to Korean War lore, a Navy fighter pilot began shouting out over the combat radio network, “I’ve got a Mig at zero! A Mig at zero! I’ve got a Mig at zero!” A Mig at zero meant a Soviet supersonic fighter plane was squarely on his tail and could blow him out of the sky at any moment. Another voice, according to legend, broke in and said, “Shut up and die like an aviator.” Such “chatter,” such useless talk on the radio during combat, was forbidden. The term “aviator” was the final, exquisite touch of status sensitivity. Navy pilots always called themselves aviators. Marine and Air Force fliers were merely pilots. The reward for reaching the top of the ziggurat was not money, not power, not even military rank. The reward was status honor, the reputation of being a warrior with ultimate skill and courage–a word, by the way, strictly taboo among the pilots themselves. The same notion of status honor motivates virtually every police and fire fighting force in the world.
Wolfe wrote about what was amusing. Even in say crime or war he found the amusement. A serious writer who was also funny. Not enough of those.
Gotta see if I can find this somewhere: