[Paleopsych] Tom Wolfe in Fox Special Report with Brit Hume
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Wed Apr 6 22:47:10 UTC 2005
Fox Special Report with Brit Hume
Writer Tom Wolfe, Chronicler Of American Politics And Culture For Four
Decades In Books Such As "The Right Stuff" And "Bonfire Of The Vanities," Speaks
About The Past And Some Current Events
Brit Hume, James Rosen
BRIT HUME, HOST: Up next, a FOX News Special, an interview with the writer
Tom Wolfe who has for four decades satirized America's politicians and
celebrities; all for obscuring the short sightedness of liberals and their
causes. He has immortalized our astronaut heroes in "The Right Stuff," and
detailed the greed and racism in New York City in "Bonfire of the Vanities." And
his latest book, about the decline in sexual morals on college campuses is
Up next, FOX News' James Rosen spends an hour with Tom Wolf.
But first, the latest headlines.
JAMES ROSEN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tom Wolfe left from the
ranks of police and feature reporters in the mid 1960s to become one of America
's most respected and successful authors. Fusing shoe leather reporting and a
zippy prose style with the techniques of novel writing, Wolfe helped create the
so-called new journalism.
Dressed in his trademark white suits, he coined unforgettable phrases, while
heaping wicked satire on establishment figures and trends, often liberal in
nature, from the late '60s radical chic to the '70s self- absorption. Wolfe's
nonfiction books and novels have become bestsellers and Hollywood films,
including "The Right Stuff" and "Bonfire of the Vanities." His latest novel, "I
Am Charlotte Simmons" was published in November.
Seated in his apartment on New York's Upper East Side, Tom Wolfe spoke with
FOX News about all of those things and some current events.
ROSEN (on camera): You were quoted recently as saying you have a certain
amount of sympathy for what President Bush is trying to do.
TOM WOLFE, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Yes. I've attracted a lot of European press
coverage since I let this be known. They've been looking -- they've been trying
to find just one American writer who would support George Bush. I mean it's like
discovering a unicorn.
Only George Bush would have invaded Afghanistan. Al Gore or John Kerry or
Bill Clinton, as we sit here today, would be making imaginary snowballs. Well,
on the one hand, we do know that the Afghanistans are -- Afghans are harboring
these terrorists. But on the other hand, it's a sovereign nation and if we are
going to respect our own sovereignty, we have to respect the sovereignty of
others. And I call upon the U.N. to unite in this crusade to stop.
I mean you needed a Christian soldier as in the hymn "Onward Christian
Soldiers Marching As To War," to do the job. And that they had in George Bush.
ROSEN (voice-over): While Wolfe applauds President Bush for taking the
country to war at the right time, he rates the president as a poor
WOLFE: What's happened, has all the trappings so far of a blunder. And the
trappings of a terrible morass from which there is no -- there is no exit.
ROSEN: You're speaking of Iraq right now?
WOLFE: Yes, of no honorable exit. But that doesn't make the enterprise wrong,
even though I honestly can't see how you pull out of this thing.
ROSEN: What are your thoughts about the Vietnam War? Obviously it still
haunts us. And yet, it was a factor in this election yet again. Was that a
WOLFE: In my opinion, it was the most idealistic war in American history.
Well, the Civil War was idealistic too. What was there for the U.S. to gain
there except stop communist? Nothing. Did we want the rubber plantations of
South Vietnam? I don't think so. It's not worth 57,000 deaths, certainly. So, it
was a very worthwhile enterprise.
I think it was fought; it's easy in hindsight, fought exactly the wrong way.
We didn't go up and attack North Vietnam. We could have bombed Hanoi and
Haiphong off the face of the earth. We didn't do that. I think we probably were
afraid of China coming to -- coming into the battle. But it was waged in a
terrible way. And you can't have a foreign war that lasts that long. In my
opinion, that was the only thing wrong with the war in Vietnam.
ROSEN: Another seismic event, in that period in which you emerged as one of
the bright lights was Watergate. And to my knowledge, you've only written very
briefly about that. I wonder what you think about Watergate as a scandal, as a
turning point for this country, Nixon as a figure.
WOLFE: I think one reason there really wasn't a national furor about Nixon;
there was a Washington furor, there wasn't a national furor because everyone
felt -- I mean not everyone, obviously not everybody. A great many people felt,
as I did, that I would have probably done the same thing, protected my men.
RICHARD NIXON (R-CA), LATE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have never
WOLFE: Most people have no idea what Nixon did wrong today. Obviously he
committed a felony, or he wouldn't have quit. But it was covering up for your
men. It's not a moral big deal when you get right down to it. So, I didn't -- I
didn't look upon it as some earth-shaking event.
NIXON: I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.
ROSEN: And so why was he driven from office?
WOLFE: He committed a felony. After all, if I'm not mistaken, Bill Clinton
can't practice law. I think he's been disbarred. Still, there are penalties for
what you do.
ROSEN (voice over): Richard Nixon escaped impeachment when he resigned the
presidency. Bill Clinton was impeached, but survived. And Wolfe thinks Clinton
will be remembered fondly, but more as a larger than life character rather than
as a giant among presidents.
WOLFE: He will be that lovable scoundrel that will be in folk songs. That's
all over. There will be the ballad of Bill Clinton. You know, that will be Bubba
's legacy. What charm, what moral scallywag. He'll be remembered like Jimmy
Walker, the mayor of New York, times were good. Things were fun.
ROSEN: The bare outlines of Clinton's fall from grace, his affair with White
House intern, subsequent lies and the exposure of those lies, Wolfe says any
dime store novelist could have dreamt up.
WOLFE: The details! The details! The details of the affair. The washbasin.
Oh, the dress.
ROSEN (on camera): The thongs.
WOLFE: The thong. I mean you'd have to be a genius to think that stuff up.
And that's the problem fiction has these days. Fiction has to be plausible.
Nothing in that whole thing was plausible. But it happened.
ROSEN (voice-over): One achievement Wolfe credits to Clinton was the way he
made minorities feel a part of his administration.
WOLFE: My daughter was working for the "New York Observer" when Clinton
arrived at his office headquarters in Harlem. And she said you had to be among
the crowd to sense the fervor that people in Harlem had for this man. She said
it was almost like a gospel revival. There was gospel singing. There were bands,
speeches that you'd never heard, and just enthusiasm. Just enthusiasm. Now, that
is a great thing for a white American president to have done.
ROSEN (on camera): Will Clinton be remembered as the mere interregnum between
the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the age of terrorism for the United
WOLFE: Probably. I think so. In terms of just overall politics, not much. Not
much happened. There was the, oddly, the precedent was set for Iraq by bombing
Kosovo. Now what is this bombing Kosovo, for God's sakes, anyway? But it was
just a symbolic gesture I think on his part. You know, what -- what earthly
difference do the Balkans make to United States security? Zero. Zero. I mean if
you keep them secure, we get better basketball players.
ROSEN: (voice-over): Coming up -- America's premier social observer offers
his take on Hillary Clinton, the digital age and the attacks of September 11.
WOLFE: Not even New York changed, our name changed for very long.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To the troop, just keep up the good work. We miss you
and come back home soon.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for all you're doing for everyone else.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without them, we couldn't have what we all have here
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come back safe. Everybody loves you and may God bless
ROSEN (voice-over): If Tom Wolfe sees Bill Clinton as a lovable rogue, his
presidency, a kind of comedic coda to the Cold War, the author is also keenly
aware the Clinton era is not over yet. Especially with Hillary Rodham Clinton,
the junior senator from Wolfe's home state, now a potential presidential
candidate in her own right.
(on camera): Do you think she's got a shot?
WOLFE: I think she has a -- yes. I think she does. I think she is a smart
enough politician. She handled herself very well in this election. Very well. I
think she can make sure that people simply don't remember the things they didn't
like about her. No. She's real good. She can pull it off.
ROSEN (voice-over): Even if Mrs. Clinton reclaimed the White House, Wolfe
argues, the effect of the direction of the federal government would be limited.
WOLFE: In this country, everything is driven to the center, which is fine by
me. I love it. Our government is like a train on a track. Reagan can come in and
say I'm getting rid of the Department of Education. When I get through this
government, it's going to be like the Delta Command. It's bigger than ever.
Education Department has got a bigger budget than ever.
And Clinton can come in and his wife will say everybody in this country is
going to be in a single HMO and there's no buying your way around it. It's going
to be fair from now on. It never happened.
ROSEN: With the same gusto he once brought to lampooning the Black Panthers,
modern art and modern architecture, great historical movements that were
supposed to sweep traditional values away under the tide of their inevitable
force, but never did. Wolfe now disputes the notion of the internet reshaping
the human race, a theme he took up in his last book, "Hooking Up."
(on camera): In "Hooking Up," you wrote that despite all the grand claims of
how the internet was going to create a digital revolution that totally changed
all manner of human interaction, it hasn't happened, folks.
WOLFE: McLuhan's ideas about the changes in media, particularly television
changes the human mind, were interesting, but totally wrong in my opinion. And
he was followed by very intelligent people, like Danny Hollis, he was a computer
genius who said that evolution would now take place in nanoseconds. He said we
are right now caterpillars who have no idea that we're going to soon be
butterflies. This was all believed.
All that the computer, and for that matter the internet has done, is bring
you information faster, I mean much faster in many cases. And you can get much
more of it. And enables you to disseminate it faster. And that is all -- that's
a lot. But that's all it does. I mean anybody who thinks that it's going to have
some magic effect on human life, it's -- really has room to let upstairs.
ROSEN (voice-over): One thing the internet has done says Wolfe, a former
reporter for "The Springfield Union" and "Washington Post," is hasten the death
WOLFE: The newspapers know they're in trouble. They know that it's a dying
industry. And they've tried all sorts of things to counter that influence. "The
New York Times" probably does it best, in that one thing that's very hard for
television news, radio news, any news source that's time-driven, image-driven,
is to explain it and print is still the dominate policy for explanation.
Essentially newspapers have had it, as early as 1927 with the technology to
print newspapers in the home. But it was so cumbersome who is going to wait for
all those pages to come out of a machine. The internet nearly gets around it.
The big problem with the internet and with computers is also technological. They
scroll. It's like a monk's scroll. It drives me nuts.
ROSEN: The great subject of our time, he says, is neuroscience, the study of
nervous system and the brain.
WOLFE: The presence of neuroscience is that we are, after all, we're
machines. There is no eye. We can put "eye" in quotes. There's no self in your
brain. There is no me. It's an illusion. That's their premise. It's their
premise. And that's created by the now guess, six different systems working in
coordination and giving you the sense that it's just you.
The current theory is that your mind is really like a lobby. And anybody can
walk into the lobby and all sorts of climate can get into the lobby. And that
becomes you. you don't know it. But you are, as the great Jose Delgado, a
Spanish brain physiologist put it, he said we are merely transient composites of
items from the environment.
ROSEN: Still to come, Tom Wolfe tackles 9/11 and the horrors of Nazi Germany
and the Soviet Union.
WOLFE: At least Stalin didn't have gang members. But the end result was
pretty much the same.
ROSEN (voice-over): When the attacks of September 11 hit New York and
Washington, Tom Wolfe was busy roaming college campuses, collecting research for
his new novel. But he found reaction among students to the horror of that day
(on camera): Did we turn a page on 9/11, this country, or is it pretty much
the same country as it was? Is there an era to be defined that started on 9/11?
WOLFE: The effect on non-New York, maybe a few eastern New Jersey families,
zero. It was something happening on television and it -- it was more concern
over the possibility of racial profiling against Arabs, than over the death of
3,000 people. And that's just a minority of activists who were worried about the
The rest of the students, it was just something that happened on television,
just as the fall of Nixon was just something that happened on television. Oh,
look at him. He's leaving. Look at him; he waves his hands like that? Gosh.
And I don't think after the initial shock, not even New York changed,
remained changed for very long.
Netanyahu, former Israeli prime minister, has said that all it would take is
one suicide bomber killing one person in New York or Kansas City, for that
matter, and everything would change. Fortunately that hasn't -- that hasn't
happened. It is a very frightening thing.
But I think most Americans have really, at this point, settled down. Look at
real estate prices in New York. And the banks who lend the mortgages for these
purchases, obviously they believe in a secure future.
ROSEN (voice-over): In the aftermath of 9/11, particularly after the passage
of sweeping counter terrorism laws, like the Patriot Act, liberals and civil
liberties advocates cast Attorney General John Ashcroft as a symbol of
repression, a depiction Wolfe found unfair.
WOLFE: I do not see what is fascistic about John Ashcroft. I mean that is a
common accusation by people in my particular world. Most of them are made up of
journalists. They always worry about fascism. There hasn't one person who has
speech on anything about this war or anything else, that's been inhibited by
like John Ashcroft. Where is this guy that's treated as if Goebbels running the
show? I haven't found that guy yet. It hasn't happened.
ROSEN: Joseph Goebbels achieved infamy as Adolph Hitler's propaganda
minister. Though Wolfe has written about many of the 20-Century's seismic
events, he has written next to nothing about the Second World War or the
Holocaust in particular.
(on camera): In recent year, we've seen a debate as to whether or not the
origins of the Holocaust were uniquely German or not. What are your thoughts
WOLFE: Well, if I may, I'd like to go back to Nietzsche. He predicted wars
beyond all imagining in the 20-Century. I mean didn't say a decade from there or
some day. He said the 20-Century. And he said the reason these wars would occur
is that the faith that educated people, leaders, knowledgeable citizens once put
into God would now go into this -- and this is his exact phraseology, "barbaric,
And the Nazis were as if he sketched them. Communists, who after all were
really Russian nationalists no matter what part of the world they lived, it was
another example. And both took slaves. At least Stalin didn't have gas chambers,
but the end result was pretty much the same. It's the barbaric nationalistic
brotherhood, which seizes its opponent's lives, just to have them. You know? It
's just sheer -- it's sheer barbarism.
ROSEN (voice-over): Though Nietzsche, like Hitler, was German, Wolfe argues
The Fuhrer hijacked the philosopher's notion of the Ubermench, or super man.
WOLFE: When he talked about the Ubermench, he was not talking about the
master race. He was talking about himself, really. There would be people like
him who are just above all other men and they would change the world. Well, the
Nazis conscripted his words and made the Ubermench be them.
ROSEN (on camera): Though set on a modern American college campus, Wolfe's
latest novel, "I Am Charlotte Simmons," actually covers similar ground. It
chronicles the disillusionment of a smart, but sheltered co-ed from Allegheny
County, North Carolina, who finds on her arrival at fictional Dupont University
a kind of Duke-Harvard hybrid, that her fellow students are less interested in
the life of the mind, than they are in hard-core partying, sex and status.
If our modern college campuses are so debased, so sex and status obsessed, so
vulgar, how did we get here?
WOLFE: It's what Nietzsche predicted actually in 1880 when he talked about
the death of God. He said this is the greatest event in modern history. Educated
people no longer believing in God. No longer believe in a God that is in their
lives every moment. And for us today, certainly people here in the accursed
media elite, that's a hard concept to believe.
ROSEN: It took "Time" magazine until 1966 to get around to putting it on the
cover, for example. Right?
WOLFE: That's right. That was not a bad cover idea, actually.
And he predicted that if educated people no longer believed in God, there
would be absolutely no standard by which to judge morality. Unless you think
there really is a powerful force that has a long alabaster forefinger that says
thou shalt and thou shalt not. What's somebody else's word against yours? You
feel like, well, that was the way it was in my day, but I guess things have
Now there are people, and they were heard from in this recent election who
still believe that there is an alabaster finger.
The old purpose of undergraduate education is to give young people two
things. One is a broad knowledge of subjects from the arts to the sciences. The
other was to build character, a word that's almost as rare now as cohabitation.
Whoever talks about cohabitation?
ROSEN: It just is.
WOLFE: When I went to graduate school at Yale, the American Studies program,
which I was in had just begun. And the mission statement of American Studies was
very patriotic. It said we have come of age. We are a strong, rich, vital
country. We have our own culture, which is many parts of which are totally
separate from European culture. The world must know how great we are. Can you
imagine anybody proposing such a manifesto today?
ROSEN: Anybody besides Dick Cheney? Right?
ROSEN (voice-over): When we return, the author of "The Electric Kool- Aid
Acid Test" takes a trip back in time to the days of Beatles, the Stones, the
Grateful Dead and Britney Spears?
WOLFE: She baffles me.
ROSEN (voice over): For millions of Americans, the Beatles' arrival in
America four decades ago marked personal and cultural watershed. A moment when
it seemed as though youth itself, in the form of four longhaired kids from
Liverpool, began to at long last asserts itself. And Tom Wolfe was there,
notebook in hand.
WOLFE: I was at Kennedy Airport the day the Beatles in 1964, it was like, it
must have been March. It was kind of a blustery day. And I, without realizing
really what I was looking at, I saw the transformation that they brought.
Perhaps 10,000 New York high school students played hooky to be there when they
arrived. And these children were -- maybe the word "children," had their noses
pressed up against the class. And here they came to see the Beatles; the first
time they'd seen them. They were on the radio all the time. And only fleetingly
were they ever on television.
And I remember this wave of young boys running down the hallway trying to get
closer to where they would actually be coming in, combing their hair forward. At
that time, there were still a kind of duck-tailed hair-dos. The boys had long
hair, but they comb it straight back, and they slick it back, a lot of pomade.
And now they were combing it forward over their -- that symbolized what was
about to happen, which was music was taking off the ballroom floor.
There was some great swing music as it was called, when I was growing up in
the 1940s, even the early 1950s. Glenn Miller was the archetypes, his band. And
it could be very jazzy, but it was still ballroom music. Meaning that it had
been meant to be danced to by proper people. The Beatles ended all of that. And
when they did so, they -- like a big permission slip for a whole generation of
young people, say you know, the hell with your symbols of propriety. We're going
to do it the way we want to.
ROSEN: Other British bands like the Rolling Stones followed in the Beatles'
wake, soon to be joined by San Francisco-based groups like Jefferson Airplane
and the Grateful Dead. It was a convergence of music and drug cultures that
Wolfe chronicled in his 1968 bestseller "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test."
WOLFE: One of the things that young people like about a group like the
Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead is that they were not very good music. And
it made you feel that there was not this great distance between you and them.
On stage, the Rolling Stones were always looking from one to the other and
people thought it was a sign of bonding or something. It was because they couldn
't keep time. And they were wondering, you know, what's the other guy -- and
they couldn't play those damn instruments. It was a kind of a -- a spirited,
youthful rebellion. You think of the song "I Don't Get No Satisfaction."
MICK JAGGER, LEADER SINGER, THE ROLLING STONES: I don't get no. No. No. No.
No. Hey, hey, hey
WOLFE: That's about the extent of the lyrics. You know, music goes right --
bypasses the mind. I mean that's just a great power. And it just went right into
the heart of just, God, tens of millions, perhaps billions of people around the
earth. We're free of the adults.
ROSEN: Today's teenagers, of course, are far more likely to scream for
Britney Spears than for Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger. And the not so innocent
one reappears throughout "I Am Charlotte Simmons."
(on camera): You mentioned Britney Spears maybe a dozen times in this book.
What do you think of Britney Spears?
WOLFE: To tell you the truth, she baffles me. She is the ultimate example
today of Daniel Borstein's definition of a celebrity, somebody who's well known
for being well known. When is the last time she sang a song? I don't know.
WOLFE: Maybe I just wasn't listening. It doesn't matter anymore.
ROSEN (on camera): Sizing of Charlotte Simmons in "The New York Times,"
reviewer Michiko Kakutani faulted Wolfe for relying on, quote, "peculiarly
dated, cultural touchstones" in his portrait of campus life, and she cited
Britney Spears among them. A dig Wolfe responded to in our interview.
WOLFE: A couple of reviews said that it showed how backwards I was that I
referred to Britney Spears in that she's over. She's finished. Well, I want
those people to look at "Us Weekly" this week!
WOLFE: There she is on the cover. Is she pregnant or not? They don't put it
quite that crudely. I mean they don't put it quite that bluntly. It's something
like is there a baby inside?
ROSEN: Another criticism of the novel has been that no brilliant and
beautiful American girl, like Wolfe's protagonist, Charlotte Simmons, would be
so shocked as Charlotte is to find today's college students absolutely obsessed
with sex and partying.
Charlotte Simmons, as you mentioned, comes from the Hill Country, Allegheny
County in North Carolina. In order to find a very bright and very attractive
young woman, as she is in the novel, who would be truly shocked the see all
this, did you have to choose a really remote region, like the Hill Country of
WOLFE: My sister, Helen, lives in North Carolina, had told me about Sparta.
And Sparta really does have an air of remoteness, a very nice air of remoteness.
You know, there's not even a movie house. There is no stockbrokers, there are no
businessmen in drab suits and interesting neckties.
WOLFE: And it's a very different community. Just Sparta itself, maybe 900
people the whole county, it's the only town in the entire county. So
symbolically, if nothing else, I felt this was a good place for her, for an
innocent to come from.
ROSEN: Even Charlotte Simmons is aware of who Britney Spears is. You make
that clear in the book, because a young man comes to hit on her. And he says do
you get tired of hearing that you look just like Britney Spears? And she knew
that was a line because she knows she doesn't look like Britney Spears,
therefore, she knows who she is. Wouldn't anyone who knows who Britney Spears is
kind of know about the extent of the vulgarity of our culture?
WOLFE: Well, at the very outset, I make a point of her feeling separate from
the cool crowd in her high school. And some of the cool boys even break up her
commencement party at her own home, coming in chewing tobacco, spitting on the
lawn. And in her thoughts while she gives her commencement address, she is
thinking about them and their in-crowd, and the fact that they -- that crowd
wants a girl to give it up, talking obviously about virginity.
And so she's not unaware of a coarser side of life. You make a good point.
There's probably no place so remote today that, thanks to television, if nothing
else, that they don't know that there is a seamy life out there.
ROSEN (voice over): Still ahead, the master at work. Out in the field and at
home in the laboratory.
WOLFE: I tried the computer I worked with two years, and this book on the
ROSEN (voice over): Ideas germinate in Tom Wolfe's mind and stay there,
sometimes for decades. For example, the origins of "The Painted Word," Wolfe's
1975 assault on modern art and "from Bauhaus to Our House," his 1981 attack on
modern architecture, both date back to a 1968 article in "New York" magazine; in
which Wolfe declared, "The hell with art history and the New York status sphere.
The hell with Bauhaus, it is really hard to figure out how the old Bauhaus
ideals have hung on so long."
"The Right Stuff," Wolfe's 1979 account of America's first astronauts, began
six years earlier as a lengthy essay for "Rolling Stone." And "The Bonfire of
the Vanities," the title of Wolfe's blockbuster 1987 novel, had been rattling
around inside his brain since 1972.
In "I Am Charlotte Simmons," Wolfe pokes fun at the upscale denizens of the
Big Apple, who talk with what he calls the New York "Honk," a concept he debuted
in the debut issue of "New York"36 years ago.
(On camera): What is your favorite part of the process of doing a book from
the conception of the ideas in your mind straight through to the seemingly
endless parade of interviewers like me, the promoting of it? At all points along
the way, what is your favorite part about this?
WOLFE: I don't really like you, Jim.
ROSEN: I knew this. I knew this.
WOLFE: My favorites part is reporting and coming up with something I had
absolutely no idea existed that might interest the outside world. And I think
reporting is much more difficult than people think, if only because you were a
beggar. I'm always a beggar with a tin cup asking questions of people that I
have no right to ask, asking for answers I have no right to have.
ROSEN: I'll do that later.
WOLFE: And you know, a lot of people just are not willing to do that. I think
that's why there are so many Great British reporters past the age of 30; it's
just too undignified. But I frankly love it.
ROSEN: You like that more than the writing?
WOLFE: Oh, God, yes. I think writing is one of the most difficult things you
can take upon yourself because nobody can help you. People can spot what's
really wrong, and my wife does that with regularity. She sends me no Valentines.
But nobody can really make it work for yourself. And even though you've written
a number of books, I find this true, anyway, the next one is a totally different
The only thing having written does for you is makes you feel yes, I can do
this. If I stick with it, it can be done.
ROSEN: Do you laugh out loud at some things that you've written?
WOLFE: No. I really don't. Sometimes I -- if it's all in print and I read it
over. I'll say to myself gee, that's not bad. That's a chuckle.
ROSEN: I saw in an interview where you said that you were motivated to write
this book, because you had found that there hadn't been any full- scale attempts
to chronicle college life in America today in novel form. How did you arrive at
WOLFE: Well, obviously I don't work for the Library of Congress and I don't
see everything that's written. I was certainly not aware of everything that was
looking at college life from the student's point of view, so that you might feel
like you were looking at it the way that the student looks. There have been
sociological studies really, in which previously 74 percent of women leaving
college were virgins. And currently it's -- the number is down to 42 percent,
and this kind of thing.
And not allowing for the fact that almost anybody can lie on that subject,
according to which way they think they should go.
ROSEN: As our exit polls recently showed.
WOLFE: I love to see polls wrong. I swear I love it. I love it. It just
brings me back to the idea that God has a few jokes up his sleeve still.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to have to do this the old-fashioned way.
WOLFE: And as far as I know, there is nothing except a lot -- there are a lot
of wonderful faculty novels. But I found that today what the attitudes of
faculty and the attitude of students, I'm not just talking politically and
obvious things like that. But just towards life and towards -- and also the
knowledge that one has of the other; it's day and night. So, a faculty novel is
not going to give you very much about the students.
ROSEN: And someone like yourself at your stage of your career, where you
could really write about anything you wanted to, why did you choose collegiate
WOLFE: Well, I'm such a journalist at heart, even when I do a novel. I'd love
to write about things that I receive through the air, conversation. Just hear
people talking rather than pick up a subject from out of the newspapers. And I
began hearing, this is back in the '90s, stories of wilds times in colleges. I'm
talking about sex. I'm talking about drinking, to a certain extend. Drugs,
although that's not a big deal, I don't think, on the campuses.
Political correctness, of course, that term was probably invented about 1990.
And at the same time, colleges had replaced the church as the places where new
ethical outlooks, new moral outlooks are created. And so, it was the lurid side
and the important side. Both intrigued me.
And in fact, I was at one point, in this novel, "A Man In Full," it took me
so long that I was tempted to just drop it and then go do a quick novel on
colleges. And something inside of me said you don't do anything quick anymore.
WOLFE: And so I stuck it out with the "A Man In Full," and I immediately knew
what I wanted to do next.
ROSEN (voice-over): "A Man In Full," published six years ago, focused on an
Atlanta-based real estate developer who goes broke. While Wolfe's first novel,
"Bonfire of the Vanities," followed a white, Wall Street wizard who accidentally
runs over a young black student.
(on camera): "I Am Charlotte Simmons" seems to represent a real departure for
you in the types of people you're used to inhabiting and chronicling. Is that
true? Is that fair to say?
WOLFE: Oh, it certainly is. I suppose I was so wrapped up in the romance of
business that this was a departure to turn -- turn to colleges. And turn to
people who are, in almost every case, more than 50 years older than -- younger
ROSEN (voice over): When "I Am Tom Wolfe," a FOX News special concludes, we
go inside the Wolfe home and find out how many white suits a man in full really
WOLFE: I do drive people crazy.
ROSEN (on camera): What are you working on now?
WOLFE: I'm waiting to tell you the truth for some idea to come through the
air and hit me. Unlike this book on college life, which I knew as soon as I
finished the last book, I knew what I was going to do next. I don't feel that
I'm itemed to do, if the subject somehow comes up, to do another nonfiction
book. Because I really do believe that nonfiction prose was the great literary
push forward in America in the 20-Century. Novels are dying. Novels are a dead
duck, unless people write like me.
WOLFE: If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't write the way I write.
ROSEN: I was going to ask you what you find so alluring about the novel as a
form, that it has been your form for the last three trips out to the mound.
WOLFE: Well, you know, I didn't really mean for it to go on this long. For
the first time, when I fed "The Right Stuff," the book about the astronauts,
which sold pretty well, I had a financial cushion. I swear to God, I never had a
financial cushion before. I mean Financial cushion is something that enables you
to go for a year without outside income.
Later on, I decided well, wait a minute. I really don't want to end my
career. By this time, you know, I was 50-odd-years old. I don't want to end my
career looking back and saying, gee, I wonder what would have happened if I
tried a novel? And also there are lots of people who say this new, nonfiction,
this new journalism is the most elaborative form of writer's block we've ever
You invent a whole theory to avoid facing the challenge of the novel. I said
OK, I'll do it. I'll do a novel. Well, that was "The Bonfire of the Vanities"
and it seemed to come off pretty well. And it went straight to my ego and I said
well, I'll do one more and see how that goes. Well, that took an awful long
time, but it really fed my family well when it came out. And then I succumbed to
the succubae or the incubi one more time. But I do recognize the superiority of
It is nice, though, in fiction, to be able to bring together psychological
motivation, events, different types of people with whom you can connect in a
novel, in a way that you can't find them connected by just going out and looking
for it. For example, Charlotte Simmons' life intersects with the intellectuals
on campus, the big time athletes on campus, the fraternity boys on campus. A
rich life in one sense.
That's intimidating, I found, the freedom the novel gives you. Because after
all, you are God, you can do whatever you want.
ROSEN (voice over): Throughout his career, Tom Wolfe has zeroed in on status
details a telltale clues a person gives in his clothing, furniture and
mannerisms, that signify how much a person is worth and where he thinks he is in
the great human pecking order.
(on camera): You are so obsessed with status and with clothes and
architecture, and that sort of thing. and I wonder if it's caused friction when
your friends or your wife's friends come over. Do they think my God, what can I
wear to this man's house?
ROSEN: He's going to be observing every little aspect. Are my shoes expensive
enough, et cetera? I mean has that actually come up? Do people really...
WOLFE: No, they think I'm -- they believe I'm wrong, so that it doesn't
matter. I have -- my original interest in brain science, brain physiology as
known back then, was that my convictions there must be somewhere in the brain
that makes us conscience moment by moment of our status. At Yale, were taught to
stay "stay-tus." Saying stay-tus had much more status than status. Most say
status, that's what most people call it.
In every single moment I think we are judging how we're doing? What are the
other people thinking about me? And it can go into -- as I try to show in this
book, it goes into sex, certainly among young people. Am I doing it right?
Should I be doing it? If I've gone this far, do I have to go all the way or they
'll think I'm a prude? I mean in the midst of these so-called passionate
moments, I'm convinced that these thoughts are just rolling and it's all that
ROSEN: But your friends don't come over, you know, or refuse to get together
with you because my God, he will be evaluating me and harshly if I don't betray
all the proper status accoutrement. Or...
WOLFE: Well, I do drive people crazy in Long Island, where we move for the
summer. Because the fashions today in the upper orders, is no necktie, casual
look, loafers and no socks, and all that stuff. They do wonders. They come here
to my house. The bastards better have on a necktie and we're going to look bad.
WOLFE: And I've seen people who didn't really want to wear neckties. But
being a bad host, I wear mine anyway.
ROSEN: And he's lampooning your signature here? Do you think?
(voice over): And here is the place where Wolfe gives voice to his inner
voice, a cluttered study, housing dozens of artists renderings of himself,
almost all of them depicting Wolfe in his trademark suit. Indeed, neither he nor
his detractors have ever been sheepish about the Wolfe's clothing. And as our
time together came to an end, FOX News wasn't either.
ROSEN (on camera): If you're gamed for it, Tom, I would like to show -- I
would like -- and I know it's invasive. I know the chutzpah it requires for me
to ask it, but I'm going to anyway. I would like to show the public your closet.
And I want to see all white suits, one after the other, after the other. Come
on; think what a hoot that would be.
WOLFE: I -- I have always drawn the line there.
WOLFE: And the real reason is to have as many white suits, as that reputation
would call for, would mean I'd have to have 50 to 60. And I...
ROSEN: And you don't want to give away the game here?
WOLFE: I mean I used to -- I really did used to have a lot. I have got about
18 now. I think that's sufficient for...
ROSEN: And normal.
WOLFE: For this year, anyway.
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