January 24, 2005

WHAT'S NOT TO SMILE ABOUT?:

Whatsa martyr with you?: The ingenue of Tom Wolfe's new novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, by rights should have been a martyr to debauched university life. By sparing his protagonist from martyrdom, Wolfe ultimately, rather than holding up the mirror of tragedy to his public, ultimately gives us a smiley-face - and thereby comes close to the literary ideal of US neo-conservatives. (Spengler, 1/24/05, Asia Times)

Wolfe's collective biography of America's astronauts (The Right Stuff, 1983) was the ultimate feel-good-about-America book. It made him a cultural icon among the sort of boosters who also think that Mel Gibson's Braveheart is a grand paean to freedom. He did not mention that German scientists once in Adolf Hitler's service devised and built the rockets on which Wolfe's tobacco-chewing pilots flew to glory. Wolfe believes that guts, goodwill, and a smattering of knowledge will always win the day. That is the red thread connecting The Right Stuff and Charlotte Simmons, namely the author's assurance that within US culture as it is are to be found the solutions to the all problems that the United States confronts. Twenty years ago his account of the US space program was merely incomplete; today his portrait of American youth is incongruous.

As a journalist, Tom Wolfe knew better. The youth culture he describes mass-produces martyrs faster than the Emperor Nero. One out of six university students suffers from depression; two out of five college women suffer from anorexia or bulimia at some point, reported Psychology Today in December. This should be no surprise, given what Wolfe himself has reported.

"Only yesterday," Wolfe wrote five years ago in Hooking Up, "boys and girls spoke of embracing and kissing (necking) as getting to first base. Second base was deep kissing, plus groping and fondling this and that. Third base was oral sex. Home plate was going all the way. That was yesterday. Here in the year 2000 we can forget about necking. Today's girls and boys have never heard of anything that dainty. Today's first base is deep kissing, now known as tonsil hockey, plus groping and fondling this and that. Second base is oral sex. Third base is going all the way. Home plate is learning each other's names." Apart from some binge drinking, these lines summarize two-thirds of the content of Charlotte Simmons.


College campuses would actually seem to prove Mr. Wolfe's point--whatever the sexual mores of some, the student body is collectively more conservative tha it has been in decades. America does, uniquely, contain the balm for its own self-inflicted wounds.


MORE:

Today's column offers a hint to spengler's identity, opening with the following:

"What's a motto?" asked the future Lion King Simba, to which Timon replied, "Nothing." "Whatsa motto with you?"

which reveals that he has young children.


Within the Ivy League, a shift to the right on abortion?: Debate grows about an issue once thought all but settled in the elite halls of the academic world. (Mary Beth McCauley, 1/25/05, CS Monitor)

Among the throngs expected to pour into the nation's capital yesterday to mark the 32nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade was an unlikely contingent - two dozen anti-abortion students from the University of Pennsylvania. The robust presence of "Penn for Life," both on campus and off, signals a heightened debate - at Penn and elsewhere - about an issue once thought all but settled in the more elite halls of the academic world.

"At the national level, we've noticed a uniform increase in on-campus pro-life activity," says Michael Sciscenti, president of American Collegians for Life, whose pre-march conference saw attendance grow from 70 students three years ago to 350 students, representing 70 universities, this year. Perhaps most interesting has been the growth at some of the country's most prestigious institutes. Princeton, MIT, Yale, and Stanford are among the campuses that today have active groups that oppose abortion rights.

For many years, Ivy League campuses were seen as unlikely recruiting grounds for the anti-abortion movement. But as the political and social views of college students in the United States have grown more conservative, that has begun to change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 24, 2005 8:34 AM
Comments

I'd have to go dig out the book to be sure, but I pretty certain that "The Right Stuff" mentioned that the rocket scientists (who played the black hats in much of the book) were Germans. In fact, doesn't the saying, "Our Germans are smarter than their Germans" (paraphrasing) come from the book?

Posted by: David Cohen at January 24, 2005 9:50 AM

It reveals no such thing. He could be a doting uncle.

Posted by: joe at January 24, 2005 10:44 AM

Ah yes, the fruits of the feminist driven sexual revolution - depressed, binging, anorexic college women socially pressured to live out adolescent male fantasies.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 24, 2005 11:40 AM

I maintain that he's an Aussie--he has a grudging, chip-on-the-shoulder admiration for the U.S., nothing but scorn for whingeing Europeans, and calls football games "matches."

Odds are, he is married, what with watching "The Lion King."

Posted by: John Ziemba at January 24, 2005 6:04 PM

"What's a motto?" proves he has kids? I think it proves he is either a Marx Bros. fan or he has an abiding affection for Jay Ward product. And a foggy memory.

Posted by: Brian McKim at January 24, 2005 11:30 PM

I was asking for opinions about Charlotte Simmons in my small local book store, which is run by several very nice, progressive, middle-aged ladies (definitely on the farther side of middle-age). They all agreed the rap was it had "the worst sex writing ever." In front of several giggling customers, they proceeded to cite examples in detail and guffaw heartily at Wolfe's supposed naivite about how it is done. What a scary experience that was. It would take Wolfe himself to convey it properly.

Posted by: Peter B at January 25, 2005 5:14 AM

Brian:

No kids, huh? If you doid they'd be watching Lion King incessantly and you'd have heard the line repeatedly.

Posted by: oj at January 25, 2005 6:19 AM

Nah, he's German. Phrases like "red thread" are literal translations from German. He could be a professor of Divinity at an Ivy League university.

Of course, that could be camouflage, inserted on purpose.

The Asia Times is published in Hong Kong, but Spengler could be anywhere. Maybe he made his fortune on Wall Street in the 80s and 90s. That wcould explain how he's been able to afford his prodigious reading habit. (Though I'm told that some of the nonrich pursue the same vice.)

Posted by: Eugene S. at January 25, 2005 12:16 PM
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