To My Fellow Saltine Americans:
Aren't we sensitive nowadays?! For the descendants of a mongrelized amalgam of western European peasantry we would seem to be terribly uppish about perceived putdowns nowadays on the Internest. It seems we can't use the C word -- as in Premiere Saltines, Ritz, Club, Krispy, Zesta, In a Biskit, etc. -- anymore. The ever vigilant algorithmic robots may allow hair-raising postings from all sorts of face-ists, kite-nationalists, and gnat-sees, but not one little saltine? Suppositories of the Former Precedent Bump can post seemingly endless crude memes defaming VP Hairpin or Joe Vicodin or former Sprecher des Hauses Fancy Pillates, but I call Virginia born writer Tom Wolf a saltine on the Placenook and the Instagrump and I get threatened with virtual exile for violating Impunity Stanfords? Really?! Has it come to this?
I must tell you, my fellow breadnecks, we have a problem. When no arrangement of asterisks, no clever substitutions and near-rhymes can save my post, there's nothing for it but to delete the thing and resort to other means. Thus my present plea.
It's my day off and so with my late breakfast/early lunch of corn chips, salsa, and leftover refied beans, I decided to watch a new Netflix documentary. Here's what I originally posted with a photo of the subject:
"He is the American Waugh and the greatest cracker to write politically reactionary modern English since Faulkner. Watching the new Netflix love-letter/doc Radical Wolfe -- Tom, that is, stinging prose, fancy threads. One of the truly ruthless bastards who turns out to have been nice to his wife and pleasant at dinner. Well, bless his heart."
Did you catch it? The saltine that spoiled the dish?
Before it was nuked, the post generated quite a lot of interesting chat about how good the streamer is at this sort of thing, various opinions about the writers mentioned, some of it from folks who had met Wolfe and found him warm and charming, etc.* It was all fairly lighthearted and good natured and literate and nobody, including me was really looking to pick fights or spit in the eye of the late writer, his people, clan, or countrymen. Shame then to see the whole thread burnt to the ground over that one word.
There is a larger point to be made, if not in that wisp of a social media post, about America's ongoing love affair with dapper little bullies who invariably punch down rather than up, while insisting the opposite is true. (See for example most of the boys in the current roster of the NYT opinion pages.)
It's also true that there was meant to be an implied criticism of both the documentary and its subject in what I wrote. I am not subtle. I meant to flick a bit of the gilding off of the lilies so reverently laid at the great man's tomb. I enjoyed the film as I've enjoyed reading Wolfe my whole adult life, with the knowledge that for all his linguistic refinements and modern flamboyance he was an all but wholly reactionary thinker and a fierce advocate of the most repellent kind of cultural and social conservatism. He regularly and consistently used his wit to hurt the well intentioned and the progressive, to argue again diversity, the empowerment of the disenfranchised, and artistic, cultural, and even scientific evolution, and very much in the service of bad ideas, worse politics, and anti-intellectual barbarism.
That's what made him such a favorite, particularly in later life, with so many people who might never otherwise be heard to ever mention a book.
It is true that as with Evelyn Waugh, my admiration of Tom Wolfe as a writer (mostly) is tempered by my sincere belief that both gentlemen chose to be on the wrong side of history nearly every time they put pen to paper. I have in my library a whole raft of such writers from Chesterton to Zizek whose work I continue to read and admire and who have nonetheless held opinions I find both offensive and wicked. In Wolfe's case I should think a very convincing case could also be made that as an American prose stylist of the first rank he is best remembered in shorter forms and nonfiction. Despite their enormous popularity, I've always felt that his gigantic novels exposed the exhaustion of his sound-effects, adjectival superabundance, and the surprising narrowness of his soul.
The one thing I can guarantee Wolfe would have hated worse than wearing sneakers would have been any attempt to suppress speech on the interwebs or elsewhere. He was an absolutist when it came to the defense of free and unfettered speech. Again, I would not entirely agree, but there is an obvious irony here that I got in trouble with our billionaire media overlords and their mechanical Cerberus for affectionately calling a fellow breadneck a saltine American, for calling a cracker a cracker. Might be the only thing I might ever have to say with which the Great Man may not have taken issue.
(See if I can post this without being banned.)
*I've heard similar anecdotes about the late Justice Antonin Scalia and the equally deceased William F. Buckley. I don't doubt they were all delightful at table and just as adept with expensive flatware as they all were with pickaxe or stiletto.