Barbecue of the Absurdities

Forget the miserable movie long ago with the terribly miscast Tom Hanks and even more unwatchable Melanie Griffith. Wolfe’s Bonfire is too dense, too intricate and simply too damn long to make into a contemporary movie — especially with sub 120 minute running times. So the project was doomed from the start. Hanks and Griffith just made sure it tanked.


The book? No one familiar with the City can deny Wolfe’s deft insight and devastating eye for detail. Fast forward:

Almost exactly a year ago, Tom Wolfe, the author of “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” was wandering the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Dressed in his trademark white suit, he darted around traders and whisked past trading booths, shaking hands and waving, just before the market was about to open.

It was a sunny, ebullient morning. The Dow stood at 13,337. Deals were zipping across the ticker: Barneys, the luxury retailer, was sold that morning to an investment arm of the Dubai government. Investment bankers were getting ready to take a half-day Friday and drive out to the Hamptons.

But the real excitement — the reason, traders whispered, that Mr. Wolfe must be in attendance — was that the Blackstone Group, the big private equity firm, was minutes away from going public, the largest initial public offering in the United States since 2002. (At the time, he told The New York Observer that a friend was giving him a tour.)

Just then, a CNBC reporter pulled Mr. Wolfe aside to ask him what he made of all the hubbub. Mr. Wolfe paused for a moment to contemplate his answer.

And then, with a wry smile, he delivered a prophetic declaration: “We may be witnessing the end of capitalism as we know it.”

Obviously, everyone there just needs to get with the program and chant, “Yes we can . . .” Or perhaps they can do an asset-backed deal and collateralize the non-public financing of Obama’s campaign. Obama’s law school notebooks have to be worth something . . .


  1. says

    Fair enough about the art of the possible, but the legislation is not significantly altered from Jan. The real deal with amnesty is not that telecoms won’t be held accountable, but that the government won’t. Aside from intense lobbying, the government has managed to thwart maybe the last route to accountability–the civil courts. There were probably legal avenues to indemnifying the telecoms and holding the government accountable (I suspect the Stiftung knows something about the legal standards of substitution that might have been offered) after all.

    “Obama’s point that the FISA court now has review has some relevance” is not true. Greenwald’s column does a better job than I can explaining this.

    If it’s a choice between the guy who shelves the constitution because he thinks it’s the right thing to do and one who does because he wants to be president and might backtrack later, well, I may still choose the latter but I’ll be damned if I praise him for it. That Olbermann does it is inexcusable. Maybe it’s all a question of the aesthetic for me. KO’s rapidly going from indispensable to unbearable.

    As for Obama, he’s the unknown quantity I prefer to the evil I know, so I want him to be held accountable for the craven compromises that are his price of admission, unavoidable or not (and I’m already going long so I won’t bore your with my reactionary critique of the Prince’s fatuous personal narrative that seems to be the sole basis of his appeal–that and he’s a really good politician, which is like saying “vote for me because I’m really good at saying ‘vote for me’ “). After all, if we’re not to even criticize the side that’s been cowed into submission by circumstances and the Movement, the coup has already occured. We’re just playing patsy to the patsy that is Barack.

    From a Simpson’s episode: It’s the Dole v. Clinton campaign, at an event both candidates suddenly split open, revealing themselves to be aliens, each intent on enslaving the planet. You have no choice, they inform the people. “We can vote for a third party candidate!” Someone shouts. “Go ahead, throw your vote away!” They respond. The crowd groans, conceding the point. Cut to Ross Perot putting his fist through his straw-hat.

    I think we all forget just how much the original FISA was a compromise of civil liberties–“secret courts” are not really courts at all. This is how the progression from republic to tyranny plays out; one right is conceded, becomes established practice from which the next concessions are launched. With the observable phenomenon of entities always seeking to gather more power and never to concede it, the path of least resistance is toward greater state power. It takes a tremendous effort and the rarest substance of all–republican (small r) integrity–to move things in the other direction. Politicians can’t or won’t do it without some force acting upon them coming from outside the partisan sphere. We all need to hold parties, and in particular personalities, at a decent remove. The Barack phenomenon is disturbing enough already with its (dare I say) fascist fuhrerprincip undertones.

  2. Comment says

    Pandering + Capitualation = Pragmatism, Reaching Accross, and Election.

    Strictly speaking – the bill Olberman denounced was slightly different than the one Obama supported – Plus, we think the real politics always centered around the notion that Bush violated the FISA law that already existed and people suspected surveillance was being used for more than terrorism.

    So Obama’s point that the FISA court now has review has some relevance.

    Is there some politics? Maybe.

  3. says

    To clarify, “Obama’s not caving to the Left” above refers to his support for the new FISA bill, which Olbermann was quite eloquent in denouncing back in Jan., before the Anointed One signed on. Sorry.

  4. says

    Re the HuffPo thing above. Check out Glenn Greenwald’s column on Olbermann’s conversion to surveillance state cheerleader (warrantless wiretapping? “yes we can!” indeed):

    See, Obama is not caving a la congressional Dems (mere mortals they), but “showing strength” by not caving to “the Left” This after KO applauds BO for…not caving to the Right, getting all tingly while quoting the Prince’s bluster about “I don’t do cowering” (pandering and capitulation, well…); I suppose it all gets rather mystifying once one attaches himself to personalities and detaches from ideas–and reality.

    Candidates and media figures must always disappoint.
    Brings to mind the cop/doctor television drama cliche, where the grizzled vet tells the idealistic youth “don’t let yourself get emotionally attached…”

    Maybe it’s only a matter of time before the number of those opposed to it all, Right or Left, becomes so small as to be irrelevant.

    “The overwhelming number of Germans didn’t seem to mind that so much of their freedom had been taken away, that so much of their culture had been destroyed and replaced with a mindless barbarism…”
    –William Shirer, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”, on his experience of Nazi Germany in 1934.

  5. says

    True about Bonfire being unsuited to film and Hanks/Griffith evident-from-a-mile off miscasting. Also the lilly-livered sop of installing Morgan Freeman to play the Numinous Negro in place of the book’s wise old jewish judge–perhaps the only blameless character in the piece–and then Bruce Willis, how could we forget! It just gets worse and worse. DePalma wholly unsuited for social commentary–witness his “Redacted”. The casting agents should have been rounded up and sent to rehab.

    This might have made a good mini-series on HBO; maybe with Mike Nichols, if he’d be willing to take on something that was essentially about resentment of WASPs. You’ll still find the book declaimed as “racist” in certain Right Thinking circles. Mamet might have been a good choice to adapt to screen.

  6. Anon says

    The reason we think so is that Perlestein defined being divisive too wide. Technically, Pat is correct about 1972.

  7. Comment says

    Meant to add that someone like Klein is just no longer willing to work hard enough to pull it off – He relies on cliche etc – He could be interesting, but the sun has begun to set. He is coasting. Wolfe is brilliant, btw. Hanks never could play Sherm McCoy.

  8. Comment says

    Meant to say there are people now who practice New Journalism, as Wolfe described it, who have no business doing so. Kit Seelye is just not up to it. MoDo writes mostly about her own anxieties now. There are a few people who can pull it off – Joe Klein can, when he wants to – But most are not bright enough or perceptive enough – They are too addicted to narrative templates. Conrad Black was correct about the limitations of the bourgeois press mentality w/ its relentless conformism and lack of perspective.

  9. Comment says

    We just happened accross a 1972 issue of New York wherein Wolfe describes bearing witness to the birth of New Journalism while at The NY H-T with Charlie Portis, Breslin, and others.

    Reading it now – we were amazed how he was prophetic, but we are also seeing the end of what he saw develop. The New Journalism was dependent on educated writers – formally or informally – who had nuanced minds enough to prevent being taken in by false narratives. Now – narrative still rule – but false narratives dominate now matter who is being writtem about. It’s hard to say who it hurts or helps. Why is McCain regarded as wise on terror? Obviously it makes no sense. Similarly, the obviously bright Obama is not a genius and he never had a halo.

  10. Dr Leo Strauss says

    As an aside, we can’t whip up much enthusiasm for the DoJ story about Monica Goodling. We’ve known this for years. SImilarly, Black and Obama’s alleged Muslim problems are such faux stories necessary to feed the maw of the blogosphere and MSNBCNNFOX etc.

    Perhaps our next post will be about . . . cheese sandwiches.

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