A Reflection on Excerpts from Tom Wolfe’s “The New Journalism”

Returning to Albany for a job interview this past Friday put me in the unfortunate position of having to miss Kate Daloz’s reading. This blog post, reflecting on excerpts from Tom Wolfe’s The New Journalism, seeks to compensate for that absence.

The first text to grab my attention was that of Hunter S. Thomspon, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”. I loved this piece. It’s funny, self-aware, informal, and still somehow falls under the category of journalism, albeit gonzo. In this work, Thompson conjures a rich story which follows his actions as he attends and reports on the Kentucky Derby, largely carried through dialogue and the sharp wit and humor of Thompson, which serve as a lens through which we see the events at hand. We follow Thompson from playing head games with various strangers he encounters upon arrival to bullshitting his way into a press pass for the race. Thompson is admittedly drunk for the vast majority of the time he spends in Kentucky, due to the fact that he didn’t bring any “strange illegal drugs”. Additionally, Thompson offers us bits of scathing political commentary, particularly calling out then-President Nixon. Accompanying Thompson at this event is an English artist by the name of Steadman, who sketches unfortunately bad portraits of the many people they encounter over the course of the weekend, adding evermore to the comedic nature of the piece and the tensions the two of them face. The piece ends with Steadman ceding, “You know–I’ve been thinking about that. We came down here to see this teddible scene: people all pissed out of their minds and vomitting on themselves and all that…and now, you know what? It’s us…” followed immediately by a scene of Thompson pepper spraying and verbally berating Steadman as he drives him back to the airport for his flight back to England.

The second text to pique my interest was Terry Southern’s “Twirling at Ole Miss”. I liked this piece for similar reasons, as it is also carried by a satirical author’s jaded perceptions and plentiful dialogue. Southern even misspells many of the words within dialogue to reflect the accents of those speaking in the same way Thompson does. Surrounded by a racist Mississippi culture, Southern keeps himself liquored up for much of the story, and is repeatedly disillusioned by the evidently inherent hatred in the people all around him. Upon speaking with two graduate students who are obvious racists and end the conversation by simultaneously singing a racist jingle, Southern writes, “despite a terrific effort at steely Zen detachment, the incident left me somewhat depressed, so I retired early, to my cozy room in the Alumni House, where I sipped the white corn and watched television.” (White corn refers to the moonshine he bought upon his arrival, Mississippi was a dry state at the time) When Southern finally gets to interviewing the Baton twirlers to whom the piece owes its name, the dialogue is sparse. He only talks briefly to one about the tassels on her skirt, and to another about  In both texts, the author’s opinions and perceptions of the world come to shape the events at hand, adding a particular flavor which, in my opinion, greatly enriches the reading experience.

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