City Journal Winter 2016

Current Issue:

Winter 2016
Table of Contents
Tablet Editions
Click to visit City Journal California

Readers’ Comments

Michael Anton
Tom Wolfe’s California « Back to Story

View Comments (31)

Add New Comment:

To send your message, please enter the words you see in the distorted image below, in order and separated by a space, and click "Submit." If you cannot read the words below, please click here to receive a new challenge.

Comments will appear online. Please do not submit comments containing advertising or obscene language. Comments containing certain content, such as URLs, may not appear online until they have been reviewed by a moderator.

Showing 31 Comment(s) Subscribe by RSS
“The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby” first introduced me to Tom Wolfe while I was a naïve college student. It's a classic. I never return to California without pondering its insights.
Richard W. Ramsey June 29, 2014 at 3:38 PM
Really enjoyed this article. Made me want to read more Tom Wolfe books. And I have purchased City Journal in the past, when it was available where I lived.
I have been a fan of Tom Wolfe since I first read his pieces in the pages of "Rolling Stone". I loved his writing instantly, but was too immature to catch the cautionary undercurrent that ran through the headlong, rollicking prose. That was in the '70's, and when I think back now it's amusing how counter-establishment types of the time missed it too, embracing his writing presumably because they were delighted to see themselves portrayed by an iconoclast they mistakenly took to be one of their own.
Tank you for all the good store ,i like and i in joye.
Tank you for all the good store ,i like and i in joye.
So...the first Catholic missionaries to California were infused with "Religious fanaticism". Well, can now safely dismiss their works with a trite, two-word phrase. And Phil Spector just "picked up" a "women" at nightclubs and took one home and killed her. Well, this "woman" had a name; then again, her murder is just another prop for this soulless article.
Enrico Blastini IIIrd March 01, 2013 at 3:10 PM
This is a remarkably good piece of work that manages to summarize whole movements and times, cohortism, as I call it, defined from the Sixties and afterward. IN FACT, I think it is one of the most outstanding pieces commenting not just on Wolfe, but California, the era and epoch of those decades.... and it is easy even now to see that the political threats that were created by the group in North Oakland (and elsewhere) are being replicated in every aspect of our lives. Hard to be an Edwardian Republican in this era. And it should be. Great work this... thanks.
"Without Wolfe, we would not understand California" -- Oh really? I think Joan Didion had a hand in it too.
I am really depressed I grew up so badly and missed all those good times in California
I don't remember all the negative buzz about "I Am Charlotte Simmons". I liked it but it certainly wasn't his best. Who were these prudes who got shocked by it?
The movies Cruel Intentions and Rules of Attraction were there before Tom Wolfe regarding teen hookup culture.
Nathaniel, great article. Read This!
A neat piece, even with the mistakes pointed out by other commenters. Thanks!

(When I read "The Bonfire of Vanities" many years after its publication, I did not realize that it was written _before_ the Tawana Brawley case broke.)
Wonderful article,and a bit in the style of Wolfe, oddly enough. I recall being puzzled by "The Electric Kool-ade Acid Test" as a precocious nine year old, but six years later it was essential reading (the ones who did read, that is) for the high school group added by California, and existing to this day according to my children - the "freaks." Go to any high school in the morning before classes begin and you can see them - the ones with the long hair smoking cigarettes.

For a description of California in the 1830's I recommend "Two Years before the Mast" by Richard Henry Dana. The epilogue to the book also describes the changes as a result of the '49ers."
I worked as a community organizer in 1968. That's what it was called then. Tom Wolfe did not invent the term.
There we have it, in black and white (so to speak). The "revolutionaries" have now succeeded beyond their wildest ghetto dreams in infiltrating the halls of power. Were the standards of news reporting equal to those of the 1960's, the TRUE story of the left's insidious ascension to political power would be better known. Imagining just a decade earlier a young community organizer like Obama marching aside Black Panthers and Marxists is a scene the left-dominated Media has, at all expense, worked tirelessly to keep from the minds-eye of the general public. The underpinnings of a great nation have been laid to waste by the radical notions of a tribe of machinationists. And the gangrene continues...
Incidentally, the New York Times reporter who described "community organizing" in Oakland in 1966 was Sol Stern, contributing editor to City Journal.
A quick search of Proquest's historical newspapers archive shows that "community organizing" was in use from about 1964. A June 1964 story from the Chicago Tribune tells of how the Logan Square Neighborhood association hired a temporary executive director who wanted to find a man "fully qualified in city planning and community organizing." A November 1964 report from the New York times described antipoverty programs on the Lower East Side that included "job training and placement, an Urban Youth Service Corps, community organizing and various neighborhood services." A long and very detailed article on Oakland's attempts to "avoid being the next Watts" from the Times in June 1966 describes a very Wolfean scene half a decade before Wolfe: "The 'revolutionaries' also include in their ranks ministers, lawyers and students from the nearby Berkeley campus, all doing volunteer community organizing in the Oakland ghetto. They cover a spectrum of diverse political and social beliefs. Many are members of the New Left, trying to find in the ghettos of Oakland a new constituency for radical change; some are ministers carrying out their concept of 'Christian Witness;' some are Black Nationalists trying to build a base for black political power; some are Marxists." Wolfe may have described all this particularly well, but he didn't discover it. Ordinary reporters were actually doing quite a good job of covering the social and political currents of the 1960s in daily newspapers. Wolfe undoubtedly read their work, which is probably why he was surprised when he was told he'd invented a term in 1970 that arose from Johnson's Great Society programs in the early 1960s.
The neatest thing about Tom Wolfe and his comic twin P.J. O'Rourke is how long it took the Left to realize that these two writers were like vipers at their breast, despite being utterly clear in their lampooning of all the liberal vanities. I think they may have been mistaken for radicals attacking the mild Left from the hard Left, something that is always allowed among these folks. I'm not sure Jann Wenner has figured it out yet.
indeed, I fell under the spell of california many,many years ago, it was a good thing, the only time in my life I was totally alone against the world, and survived said world and myself...
Top notch article Mr. Anton. I've had difficulty articulating this, but it's always nagged at me that the Leftist, multicultural tyranny currently defiling the West is really just a coward's version of Victorian White Supremacy.

Both the Victorian "muscular Christians" and our own insane Leftists savor strongly of the "sanctimonious twit." White elitists have always been fond, since the Victorian era, of bestowing their largesse on our little brown and black bothers.

The modern Leftists love of the lively and vibrant is really just the coward's version of "The White Man's Burden." The only difference is that instead of ruling the diverses and schooling them on being civilized, the modern White spoils them and tries to buy their love so that he can feel marvelous and fabulous.

The implication here is that Leftist Whites feel so completely superior to blacks and browns that they think they can give them everything and still preserve their privileged position. This is a symptom of a deep mental pathology that requires infinite powers of denial to maintain.

But really the modern White Leftist treats blacks and browns like animals who, if they are fed, will return love. It is insane.

As for the car culture, it's interesting to read the books published by Don Montgomery about 20 years ago. He was involved in the Southern California car culture from the start in the late 40s. He published several books focusing on different aspects of that culture (street vs. racing, drive ins, hot rod vs. custom, etc.). They were mainly photo books, but there are stories in these too that describe the lifestyle. But the photos are a compelling chronicle of the blue collar expert. Men, and women, who know how to DO stuff.

Mr. Montgomery is not interested in being a sociologist or anthropologist. He merely wants to document the phenomenon as the great thing that it was. If ever there was a "workers' paradise" it was California from 1945 to 1965. After that the Lefties began to ruin it, as they ruin everything they touch.
All of which makes Wolfe's prescient gadflyism worth somewhat less than the price of admission. Where he might have been a serious voice of adult reason and resoluteness, instead he succombed to the pasticher's art of parody and egotistically succeeded only in creating another "statusphere", namely himself, sui generis and proud as a florid bantam cock for it. The intelligence, the talent, the instinct, the aura dithered away like so many wastrel lives of California's sun-flecked progeny in search of self-embellishment. Akin to the seafaring days, Wolfe was nothing but a ship's scribbler when a stern captain was truly needed to navigate the rocky coastline.
An astute and enlightening commentary (apart from the garbled Italian quote). I notice it doesn't say much about the book supposedly under review. Perhaps because, as I hear, it's not up to its author's usual high standard?
I see C-J still hates the hippies.
Sorry you missed the party.
Ironic that in a line which lauds Wolfe's attention to detail, you sloppily write "cose piccolo"...

And why name the friars' missionary zeal "fanaticism"?
I would say that Tom Wolfe is better known, but to understand California, one should read Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion.
Interesting article. I have never read much of his work, although I have long been aware of it, much as one is aware of the Beatles or other cultural icons.
It seems that his books will be a great source for those that (perhaps) someday will want to understand how America destroyed itself.
Good job Michael.

As a California native, Berkeley grad, and Haight-Asbury survivor, living happily for many years in Atlanta, I've never been able to resolve California in my mind. It's a bit like an ontological argument: some mornings you believe other mornings, not so much.

I do know something for certain; When I left California, I brought a little Tom Wolf with me, stitched up in the lining of my coat.
Tom Wolfe anticipated Black Eisenhower! When he was 9. Wowee, I missed that.

Also, seems heavy on the irony to read this when the Anti-Sex League has just now taken down General Petraeus for a casual Gray Liner fling.

Michael tosses out mention of "Jacobins and Red Guards" as though silly Cali screwing was parallel to executing and imprisoning people by the tens of thousands. Trying mightily to destroy Petraeus (over getting laid) sounds to me a better fit.
A lovely story. A parent could sum it up: "Spoiled brats who were never told the truth." God says we must teach our children...lest they forget HIm and the ways of their fathers.
Hail Caeser, dude! --JHerr