Magazine article The Spectator

Tom's Field Day Down South

Magazine article The Spectator

Tom's Field Day Down South

Article excerpt

More than any other author, Tom Wolfe, that master of American pop culture, has evoked the past three decades with a trio of remarkable books - The Electric Kool Acid Test, The Right Stuff and Bonfire of the Vanities, respectively. The last was published a full ten years ago, and so it is with considerable interest that one awaits his literary view on the Nineties. What could the man who summed up the Sixties with the phrase `Radical chic', dubbed the Seventies as `The Me Generation', and skewered the go-go Eighties with `Masters of the Universe', possibly have in store for us now?

In the event, his commentary may well be in the packaging of Ambush at Fort Bragg, released in America this past August as a cassette tape - `an audio exclusive not available in print'. Further, the novella is an excised chunk from Chocolate City, Wolfe's novel in progress, said to be published late next year. And on paper (the novella was published in Rolling Stone last December) Ambush reads very much like a cast-off in need of an anchor.

Adding to this already boiling media saturation, Wolfe takes as his topic the television news industry, in the wry guise of an `investigative news' programme called Day and Night. A miserably defeated producer has videotaped the confession of three apparently backward Southern soldiers who have beaten a fellow gay soldier to death. He and his glamorous anchor woman go down South and confront the soldiers on camera with their own confessions, whereupon the tables are turned with the delivery of an unexpectedly eloquent ode to patriotism and duty by one of the soldiers.(This confrontation between the finely tuned smugness of the New York media elite and the rough hewn edge of good ol' Southern boys is curious indeed, given that Wolfe himself is inextricably part of the media elite while being a consummate Southern gentleman.) In the end, with the use of censoring, editing and glamour, television wins out, silencing the rousing patriotism in favour of outing the homophobia, and Wolfe has his inimitable field day touching on sex, media and class warfare.

There is, of course, little room for subtlety or nuance. Characters are described as efficiently as possible. The prostitute who lures the soldiers back to the trailer for the showdown is summed up with the words, '. . . her diction and grammar, like her jumbo breast implants, were strictly low, rent American'. The soldiers are referred to once too often as `lords of testosterone', and the anchor woman, Mary Cary Brokenborough, is variously referred to as `Her Blondness' and `Madame Bombshell'. …

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