[Paleopsych] CNBC: Tom Wolfe interviewed by Tina Brown
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Wed Apr 6 22:48:32 UTC 2005
CNBC: Tom Wolfe interviewed by Tina Brown
Tom Wolfe discusses his new book and the sexual pressures on college
ANCHORS: TINA BROWN
TINA BROWN, host:
Four facts about Tom Wolfe, author of the new novel, "I am Charlotte Simmons.
Roots: Raised in Richmond, Virginia; unexpectedly found his calling as a
newspaper reporter at The Springfield Union making 55 bucks a week.
Claim to Fame: Pioneered the `New Journalism' with his 1965 book, "The
Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby."
Embedded Reporter: While researching his new book, set at fictional DuPont
University, he spent time in dorms, classrooms and frat parties at a variety of
Quote: On coed dorms, "How can you put these downy, nubile young things and
young men in the season of the rising sap together in testosterone valley and
not expect some unpleasant outcome?"
Tom Wolfe's third novel, "I am Charlotte Simmons," about loose college life
at an elite, imaginary Ivy League college, just out this week.
Mr. TOM WOLFE (Author): Well, thank you, Tina.
BROWN: Good to have you.
So how did a 74-year-old New York writer brilliantly get into the brain, you
know, of this young 18-year-old girl from the Blue Ridge Mountains? This book is
written in the first person, and you had to inhabit Charlotte Simmons. How did
you make the transition from you to her?
Mr. WOLFE: To me, it was like any other reporting assignment. I have been so
unlike most of the people I've written about that I don't even try any longer to
fit in. Fortunately, this was a novel, and so students would open up to me--I
wasn't going to name their names. I wasn't going to identify them in any way--to
the point where girls would show me their Filofax diaries. Well, they keep them
as diaries. They're really, you know, date books. And a number showed me their
entries. And girls will record every hook-up--I started to say amours; that's a
word that nobody knows the...
BROWN: That would already date you. Yeah.
Mr. WOLFE: And they're very scrupulous about that, strangely enough, even
when they have no idea what the guy's name was, which is a new thing. So anyway,
they were very forthright, as were the basketball players that I interviewed and
got to know to some extent. You know, college students love to talk about their
lives, as we all do.
BROWN: What was the single most fascinating thing that you learned, though,
in this tour of these campuses?
Mr. WOLFE: That the sexual pressure that exists on campuses today has many
unfortunate effects. It's so great and it's so easy, in other words, to have sex
practically any time you want it, because if you've got coed dorms, and there's
5,500 students, let's say, that means there are 5,500 beds in buildings that
anybody, male, female, whatever, can walk in any hour of the day or night, and a
lot of students really don't want that. And...
BROWN: And did they talk to you about the fact that they don't want that?
Mr. WOLFE: Yes, some did. I mean, there is a--one of my characters is a
senior male virgin. Well, like males of any era, he desperately does not want
anybody to know that he's a virgin. But now this to me is a big change: Neither
does a girl. When I was growing up, the worst, if I may say, `slut' in school
would maintain a facade of innocence, would never admit that she's had sexual
experience. Today the female virgins will cover up their virginity, because they
'll be branded a VC, that is, a member of the `virgins' club.' And that to me is
a complete change. Also the language, both boys and girls, surprised me. But the
girls now talk like American Army soldiers from the '30s. You know, there's just
one word that's used participially, adverbially, as a noun, as an interjection.
That just--their speech is full of it.
BROWN: So do you think--I mean, you once said that coed dorms were a terrible
idea. I mean, do you think that this has come from coed dorms, and do you think
that sex, in a way, has become a tyranny on these kids, or is this really the
perspective of an older-generation guy?
Mr. WOLFE: It may well be the perspective of an older--but I found that the
girls, particularly, were under such pressure on this front, such pressure
to--if--you know, to give the guy dessert first, and then get to know him. That
turns everything upside down. And there's also very few ways of--through the
rules, to avoid sexual pressure. And now a girl can't plead, `Well, gee, I have
to be back in the dorm by 12:30, and this is--you know, I'm going to get into a
lot of trouble.'
BROWN: So I mean...
Mr. WOLFE: Today they're not getting into any trouble.
BROWN: Now did a lot--did some of these perceptions come about by your own
daughter when she went to Duke? I mean, did that really sort of start you
fascinating on this?
Mr. WOLFE: I tell you. This is Daddy talking, but I consider my two
children--my daughter, who graduated from Duke two years ago; my son Tommy is a
sophomore at Trinity College. I think so much of them. I really think they have
such strong characters. I never worried at all. And I would never ask either one
of them about their private lives, particularly since Daddy--he may be
blind--really feels that they're just people of sterling character. But
Alexandra and Tommy, too, were very good at spotting false notes. And they were
wonderful at that after I gave them the manuscript.
BROWN: But you know, the genie's now out of the bottle, so it's not going to
change, you know. None of this is going to get reversed. I mean, you've got such
a keen sense of trends and where things are going. I mean, where do you see
this, you know, high pressure of instant intimacy and all this kind of heavy
drinking and so on, where do you see this going in terms of a trend in this
country? Is it going to be pushed back, for instance, in this new, so-called
moral values climate?
Mr. WOLFE: It's entirely possible. You know, I always think about regency
England, which was a licentious--that's another word you never hear anymore. It
was a licentious era.
BROWN: Go right ahead.
Mr. WOLFE: Women with see-through dresses. They were taking--really
highfalutin people were taking nitrous oxide as an hallucinatory drug. Things
were loose, followed by the Victorian era. And I've never really been able to
figure out why that happened. I don't think there was any great evangelist who
went running through England, saying `Repent, repent.' But it did happen. I
could see that happening on the campuses. I'm not going to predict that it will,
but it could easily happen, because there's so much uncertainty now.
You know, Nietzsche warned many, many--well, in the 1880s when he said God is
dead. He then predicted the World Wars over there--he really did. In the 1880s,
he said the 20th century--he called it by name--there will be wars beyond all
imagining, catastrophic wars, such as the world has never seen. That's a pretty
good prediction, World War I and II. Then he said these will occur because the
place that used to be filled by God will be now be filled by barbaric,
nationalistic brotherhoods. He was predicting the Nazis and the communists. But
he went on to say the 21st century will be worse because there will be a total
eclipse of all values.
BROWN: OK. Well, I think that "I Am Charlotte Simmons" introduces an
extremely lovable red-state girl to the liberal elite, and she's going to live
with us forever, so thanks so much, Tom, for joining us.
Mr. WOLFE: Oh, thank you. I hope you're right.
BROWN: Thank you.
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