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Tom Wolfe’s Contempt of Trends

Published: May 15, 2018

Tom Wolfe has passed away at 88 years old. Before the decorated “New Journalist” wrote about Ken Kesey’s acid cult or the Project Mercury astronauts, he wrote for The Saturday Evening Post.

Wolfe penned a scathing editorial against the trend of sinning (“Down With Sin!”) in June 1965. Along with a sexual revolution and an inevitable loosening of morals, Wolfe thought the new normal was turning into a chic taste for lying, cheating, and stealing. Thieves and hitmen were becoming the new guests of honor at cocktail parties, and Ivy League and Wall Street types couldn’t get a romantic leg up on the pot-smoking beatniks.

Wolfe wasn’t necessarily on the political left or right, he was just a colorful writer calling for authenticity in place of groupthink: “Well, anyway, what is needed is some kind of suicidal Castro to raise the banner and come out against the Sin Fad,” he wrote. “If it will help at all, I am willing to do that. It is a shocking position, but I will come out now, flatly, against Sin. Right Now!”

Wolfe’s thick, startling prose suited the technicolor times, and — as it turned out — the rest of the century too. His novels and nonfiction, like The Bonfire of the Vanities and The Right Stuff, continued to cement Wolfe’s place in the American literature tradition.

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