Hooking Upby Tom Wolfe
Only yesterday 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
America's maestro reporter/novelist gives America an MRI at the dawn of a new age.
Only yesterday 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.
And how rarely our hooked-up boys and girls learn each other's names! -- as Tom Wolfe has discovered from a survey of girls' Filofax diaries, to cite but one of Hooking Up's displays of his famed reporting prowess. Wolfe ranges from coast to coast, chronicling everything from the sexual manners and mores of teenagers ... to fundamental changes in the way human beings now regard themselves, thanks to the hot new fields of genetics and neuroscience ... to the reasons why, at the dawn of a new millennium, no one is celebrating the second American Century.
Printed here in its entirety is Ambush at Fort Bragg, a novella about sting TV which has prefigured with eerie accuracy three cases of scandal and betrayal that have lately exploded in the press, as well as Wolfe's forecasts ("My Three Stooges," "The Invisible Artist") of radical changes about to sweep the arts.
Hooking Up is a chronicle of the here and now, but for dessert it closes with the legendary, never-before-reprinted pieces about The New Yorker and its famously reclusive editor, William Shawn, which early on helped win Wolfe his matchless reputation for reportorial bravura, dead-on insight, and stylistic legerdemain -- qualities everywhere evident in this gloriously no-holds-barred, un-put-downable new book.
“At heart he is and always will be a terrific reporter. Hooking Up provides a great introduction to Wolfe the nonfiction stylist: the peerless portraitist, the contrarian social critic and the literary bomb thrower. The book's title is a sexual metaphor, but in Wolfe's hands, it means making connections among the culture's disparate corners. And nobody hooks up better than he does.” Malcolm Jones, Newsweek
“The rich retrospective of one of America's finest writers.” Michael Pakenham, Baltimore Sun
“The publication of Hooking Up, Wolfe's first book of short pieces in 20 years, is reason enough for celebration . . . Delicious.” Benjamin Svetkey, Entertainment Weekly
“Turn to the three essays grouped under the title "The Human Beast," and you will be in Wolfe heaven. The first of these--is an exuberant history of the birth of Silicon Valley...'Digibabble, Fairy Dust, and the Human Anthill' moves from the semiconductor industry to the Internet and then, by a kind of intuitive leap, to neuroscience and sociobiology. 'Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died' delves into brain imaging and the genetic determination of character. Jesuit priest Piere Teilhard de Chardin, closet Catholic Marshall McLuhan, and scientist Edmund O. Wilson are the pivotal figures of these two essays.” Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times
“I love Tom Wolfe 'Whenever some big bizarro thing happens' I want the man in the white suit to do his usual exhausting reporting, turn the labels inside out and the hypocrites upside down . . .and tell me what's what in one of those jittering, dazzling riffs of his.” Maureen Dowd, The New York Times
“His fans will find plenty of evidence that Wolfe remains willing to plunge into 'the raw, raucous, lust-soaked rout that throbs with amped-up octophonic typanum all around [him]' and that--especially in his nonfiction--he can still grab the brass ring.” Publishers Weekly (starred)
Read an Excerpt
What Life Was Like at the Turn
of the Second Millennium:
An American's World
By the year 2000, the term "working class" had fallen into disuse in the United States, and "proletariat" was so obsolete it was known only to a few bitter old Marxist academics with wire hair sprouting out of their ears. The average electrician, air-conditioning mechanic, or burglar-alarm repairman lived a life that would have made the Sun King blink. He spent his vacations in Puerto Vallarta, Barbados, or St. Kitts. Before dinner he would be out on the terrace of some resort hotel with his third wife, wearing his Ricky Martin cane-cutter shirt open down to the sternum, the better to allow his gold chains to twinkle in his chest hairs. The two of them would have just ordered a round of Quibel sparkling water, from the state of West Virginia, because by 2000 the once-favored European sparkling waters Perrier and San Pellegrino seemed so tacky.
European labels no longer held even the slightest snob appeal except among people known as "intellectuals," whom we will visit in a moment. Our typical mechanic or tradesman took it for granted that things European were second-rate. Aside from three German luxury automobiles the Mercedes-Benz, the BMW, and the Audi he regarded European-manufactured goods as mediocre to shoddy. On his trips abroad, our electrician, like any American businessman, would go to superhuman lengths to avoid being treated in European hospitals, which struck him as little better than those in the Third World. He considered European hygiene soprimitive that to receive an injection in a European clinic voluntarily was sheer madness.
Indirectly, subconsciously, his views perhaps had to do with the fact that his own country, the United States, was now the mightiest power on earth, as omnipotent as Macedon under Alexander the Great, Rome under Julius Caesar, Mongolia under Genghis Khan, Turkey under Mohammed II, or Britain under Queen Victoria. His country was so powerful, it had begun to invade or rain missiles upon small nations in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean for no other reason than that their leaders were lording it over their subjects at home.
Our air-conditioning mechanic had probably never heard of Saint-Simon's, but he was fulfilling Saint-Simon's and the other nineteenth-century utopian socialists' dreams of a day when the ordinary workingman would have the political and personal freedom, the free time and the wherewithal to express himself in any way he saw fit and to unleash his full potential. Not only that, any ethnic or racial group any, even recent refugees from a Latin country could take over the government of any American city, if they had the votes and a modicum of organization. Americans could boast of a freedom as well as a power unparalleled in the history of the world.
Our typical burglar-alarm repairman didn't display one erg of chauvinistic swagger, however. He had been numbed by the aforementioned "intellectuals," who had spent the preceding eighty years being indignant over what a "puritanical," "repressive," "bigoted," "capitalistic," and "fascist" nation America was beneath its democratic façades. It made his head hurt. Besides, he was too busy coping with what was known as the "sexual revolution." If anything, "sexual revolution" was rather a prim term for the lurid carnival actually taking place in the mightiest country on earth in the year 2000. Every magazine stand was a riot of bare flesh, rouged areolae, moistened crevices, and stiffened giblets: boys with girls, girls with girls, boys with boys, bare-breasted female bodybuilders, so-called boys with breasts, riding backseat behind steroid-gorged bodybuilding bikers, naked except for cache-sexes and Panzer helmets, on huge chromed Honda or Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
But the magazines were nothing compared with what was offered on an invention of the 1990s, the Internet. By 2000, an estimated 50 percent of all hits, or "log-ons," were at Web sites purveying what was known as "adult material." The word "pornography" had disappeared down the memory hole along with "proletariat." Instances of marriages breaking up because of Web-sex addiction were rising in number. The husband, some fifty-two-year-old MRI technician or systems analyst, would sit in front of the computer for twenty-four or more hours at a stretch. Nothing that the wife could offer him in the way of sexual delights or food could compare with the one-handing he was doing day and night as he sat before the PC and logged on to such images as a girl with bare breasts and a black leather corset standing with one foot on the small of a naked boy's back, brandishing a whip.
In 1999, the year before, this particular sexual kink sadomasochism had achieved not merely respectability but high chic, and the word "perversion" had become as obsolete as "pornography" and "proletariat." Fashion pages presented the black leather and rubber paraphernalia as style's cutting edge. An actress named Rene Russo blithely recounted in the Living section of one of America's biggest newspapers how she had consulted a former dominatrix named Eva Norvind, who maintained a dungeon replete with whips and chains and assorted baffling leather masks, chokers, and cuffs, in order to prepare for a part as an aggressive, self-obsessed agent provocateur in The Thomas Crown Affair, Miss Russo's latest movie.
"Sexy" was beginning to replace "chic" as the adjective indicating what was smart and up-to-the-minute. In the year 2000, it was standard practice for the successful chief executive officer of a corporation to shuck his wife of two to three decades' standing for the simple reason that her subcutaneous packing was deteriorating, her shoulders and upper back were thickening like a shot-putter's in short, she was no longer sexy. Once he set up the old wife in a needlepoint shop where she could sell yam to her friends, he was free to take on a new wife, a "trophy wife," preferably a woman in her twenties, and preferably blond, as in an expression from that time, a "lemon tart." What was the downside? Was the new couple considered radioactive socially? Did people talk sotto voce, behind the hand, when the tainted pair came by? Not for a moment. All that happened was that everybody got on the cell phone or the Internet and rang up or E-mailed one another to find out the spelling of the new wife's first name, because it was always some name like Serena and nobody was sure how to spell it. Once that was written down in the little red Scully & Scully address book that was so popular among people of means, the lemon tart and her big CEO catch were invited to all the parties, as though nothing had happened.
Meanwhile, sexual stimuli bombarded the young so incessantly and intensely they were inflamed with a randy itch long before reaching puberty. At puberty the dams, if any were left, burst. In the nineteenth century, entire shelves used to be filled with novels whose stories turned on the need for women, such as Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary, to remain chaste or to maintain a façade of chastity. In the year 2000, a Tolstoy or a Flaubert wouldn't have stood a chance in the United States. From age thirteen, American girls were under pressure to maintain a façade of sexual experience and sophistication. Among girls, "virgin" was a term of contempt. The old term "dating" referring to a practice in which a boy asked a girl out for the evening and took her to the movies or dinner was now deader than "proletariat" or "pornography" or "perversion." In junior high school, high school, and college, girls headed out in packs in the evening, and boys headed out in packs, hoping to meet each other fortuitously. If they met and some girl liked the looks of some boy, she would give him the nod, or he would give her the nod, and the two of them would retire to a halfway-private room and "hook up...."
*Endnotes have been omitted.
Meet the Author
Tom Wolfe is the author of more than a dozen books, among them such contemporary classics as The Electric Kool-Aid Test, The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and A Man in Full.
- New York, New York
- Date of Birth:
- March 2, 1931
- Place of Birth:
- Richmond, Virginia
- B.A. (cum laude), Washington and Lee University, 1951; Ph.D. in American Studies, Yale University, 1957
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HOOKING UP is an anthology of some of Tom Wolfe¿s famous satirical, often nasty, but humorous takes on American society, especially the literary world. He also compares the beginning of the ¿American¿ millennium to that of four decades ago. Mr. Wolfe leaves no doubt what he feels and what he believes most of the world thinks of the current American Revolution that centers on tremendous technological progress in genetics, computers, and the neurosciences. The title story is very entertaining and if the reader has a teen or someone in their young twenties ask them about its accuracy. The other twelve short story-commentaries are all enjoyable though Mr. Wolfe¿s fans have read some of them already. The novella forecasts TV scandals and though it does not quite hook the reader beyond second base (remember this reviewer is from the old school) quite like the rest of Mr. Wolfe¿s stinging commentaries, the tale seems accurately plausible. Fans of Mr. Wolfe will round the bases (old school) with HOOKING UP. Harriet Klausner
Tom Wolfe has managed to be all things to all people. For fiction fans, he offers 'A Man in Full' and for those who prefer non-fiction, he tells it like it is with 'Hooking Up.' Like the the Thomases before him, Wolfe is as insightful as Aquinas and Merton and as courageous as Becket. May his words be taken as seriously.
This is a fascinating tour de force regarding the foibles and mores of contemporary society.
'Hooking Up' started promisingly but the further I read, the more baffled I became; with the final chapters leaving me perplexed and faintly disgusted. The book starts well with a chapter describing the rise of Robert Noyce and Intel. The story is opinionated, lively, and engaging. Things go rapidly downhill thereafter. The following chapter is a broad ramble about de Chardin, McLuhan, and E.O. Wilson; ending with a glowing description of Wilson's version of genetic determinism. In this chapter we learn that Wolfe makes arguments by appealing to authority and belittling his opponents. I used to think that these were the tactics of small amd peevish minds, but apparently Great Authors do it too. The descent continues with a discussion of 'neurometrics'. Wolfe is no scientist and manages to tread straight in the dung of pseudoscience in his discussion. This disasterous foray is followed by diatribes directed against European intellectualism and Updike, Mailer, and Irving. Here we learn that an author is good if his books sell well. I suppose that Danielle Steele and R.L. Stine are Really Great Authors. Can things get worse? Yes! Inserted in the middle of a nonfiction book are 70 pages of superfluous fiction. Apparently the editors at Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux thought the book was too short. The final 40-some pages rehash a dusty and long-forgotten 30 year old intellectual battle between New York editors you never heard about. I didn't care then, and I certainly don't care now. The disappointment of it all is enhanced by one of Wolfe's peculiar grammatical afflictions -- he loves the ellipsis and uses it constantly, which ... is ... enough ... to ... drive ... any ... sane ... person ... up ... the ... wall.