Tom Wolfe Strikes Familiar Chords

Author slightly repetitive in Newsweek feature

Newsweek trumpeted its first digital cover story by Tom Wolfe as his return to Wall Street, a quarter century after his classic The Bonfire of the Vanities. But Wolfe actually wrote about Wall Street more recently than that in the '07 launch issue of the watch-it-now-it’s-gone Condé Nast Portfolio. Here’s a cheat sheet of how Wolfe captured the underbelly of capitalism, then and now:

Cartoony sound effect

"Not bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, but bama bampa barama bam bammity bam bam bammity barampa FIRE! was the first thing she thought of because nobody ever banged on your apartment door in a building like this nobody would be so impolite as to even rap on your door with his knuckles unannounced in a building like this much less bang on it with both fists for this was not one fist pounding on the door but both fists."

"When it came to sex, on the other hand, his explication never waxed garrulous, never went off on tangents, and his demonstration rarely took more than 60 seconds. It went, pump pump pump pump pump pump pump pump oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-ooooh uh oo agghhh and bingo—roll off, snore like a bear."

War metaphor

"They talk about business in young-warrior metaphors: 'pulling the trigger' (making huge risky bets on the market); 'mowing them all down' (overpowering companies that try to block your strategies); 'This is war!' (get out of my way—or else I’ll make you suffer); 'Surrender your booty!'…"

"Up until 2006 a spirit of manly daring had pervaded Wall Street’s investment bankers. Trading stocks and bonds was the next thing to armed combat. The warriors, i.e., traders and salesmen, told of how fighting in combat—confronting not an armed enemy but a fan-shaped array of computer screens—created a euphoria more exhilarating than any other conceivable state of mind."

Manly men

"THE TRADERS ARE ON THE FRONT LINES moment by moment, pulling the trigger with only seconds to think about it. They are our kind! They are aggressive—real men! Their plain vanilla CEOs know it too. They will pay a daring, battle-hardened trader $50 million and up per year to keep him from defecting to our pirate fleet. They pay them more than they pay themselves, because they are worth more, because they are real men, because they are willing to fight."

"The Master of the Universe doesn’t worry about manliness. He is manly. He’s got masculinity to burn. His problem is the reverse. He has irrational exuberance under his very skin. Now, after the battle, as the darkness closes in, his exaltation of himself, like his testosterone, is at a higher level than ever. It suffuses all areas of his life, notably his sexual appetite."


In other words, not much has changed. Two years after Wolfe's feature ran, Portfolio succumbed to its own excesses. Let’s hope Wolfe's feature isn't a harbinger for the end of Newsweek.


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