"Victory as recorded on those screens made them feel like Masters of the Universe."
January 4, 2013 7:41 AM   Subscribe

Eunuchs of the Universe: Tom Wolfe on Wall Street Today: [Daily Beast]
"As America teeters on a cliff, Tom Wolfe draws up a sterling indictment of our unscrupulous financial culture. Twenty-five years after Bonfire of the Vanities, the author returns to Wall Street to see what happened to the Masters of the Universe."
posted by Fizz (35 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Tom Wolfe writing for the Daily Beast/Newsweek. Wow, a lot has changed in 25 years .....
posted by blucevalo at 8:15 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


We are ablaze!—ablaze with excitement, burning, yearning for a glimpse of the John Jacob Astor, the Andrew Carnegie, the E.H. Harriman, the John D. Rockefeller, the Henry Ford, the Bill Gates of our century… and that’s him! Look at him! He’s not wearing Astor’s wing collar debouching a silk four-in-hand or John D.’s stiff silk topper and morning coat with a red carnation in the buttonhole of the left lapel and a pair of striped pants, nor even Bill Gates’s off-the-Joseph A. Bank—rack sack suit. No, our man is only 27 years old and attired as a tycoon of our time… His shirt is a gray T-shirt, one of the 30-some gray T-shirts he has on hand in order to make sure he is clad in the same rebelliously fashion-defying teenager garb every day… and over it, a dark-gray sweatshirt with a hood, a garment known familiarly as a hoodie. From this day, May 7, 2012, forward, the hoodie becomes his symbol, his trademark, his battle standard.
To anyone (if there is anyone) who believes that Tom Wolfe is not hopelessly lost in self-parody: wrong.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:16 AM on January 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Is this 4 or 5 different Wolfe essays that have been mashed together, or has he always written like this an I just didn't notice? He's skittering from tech companies, to endocrine levels, to the computerization of markets, to misogyny, to racial politics, with only some sort of tenuous "remember that book I wrote 25 years ago?" framework. I'd like to criticize the piece, but I'm not even sure where to start, or if there's anything substantial enough to actually criticize.
posted by Panjandrum at 8:33 AM on January 4, 2013


So am I supposed to feel some sort of sympathy for the "Masters Of The Universe" assholes?
posted by vibrotronica at 9:02 AM on January 4, 2013


tl;dr - Ultimately it's a GQ article disguised as business news.

Being a cocaine fueled adrenaline junkie used to be a surprisingly sensible lifestyle for a trader because gambling millions on a hunch required an altered state of consciousness. Now that the quants are in charge the lifestyle of a trader no longer revolves around drugs, casual sex and chest-thumping displays of status. Wolfe is somewhat nostalgic for that dying lifestyle, the same way some of us are nostalgic for the booze-for-breakfast lifestyle seen on Mad Men.

Guess what! The aristocrats at court are wearing a new style of hat this year!
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:03 AM on January 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


Now I understand the song lyric:

For purple mounds of majesty

It's about Tom Wolfe's prose!
posted by Mister_A at 9:08 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


It always has been.
posted by blucevalo at 9:11 AM on January 4, 2013


Wolfe is somewhat nostalgic for that dying lifestyle, the same way some of us are nostalgic for the booze-for-breakfast lifestyle seen on Mad Men.

He really does have a point, though. If the guys making billions out of computers (or whatever it is) are dreary nerds who can't party, what's the point in anything?
posted by colie at 9:15 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


If the guys making billions out of computers (or whatever it is) are dreary nerds who can't party, what's the point in anything?

Which attire is more practical for insane parties:

a) grey t-shirt and hoodie
b) white 3-piece suit

Just sayin'.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:21 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The high concept of the essay, which he makes quite plain, is that he was asked how Bonfire of the Vanities would be different today. And BotV isn't just a story about a stock trader who makes a wrong turn; it's a big, sprawling, at times messy expose of several different cultural strata and the people that live within them and how incompatible they are.

So it's no surprise that to answer that question Wolfe has to write a fairly big, sprawling, at times messy essay full of the purple prose that is his trademark and dots that occasionally don't connect the way he thinks they do -- that's OK, because the individual dots really don't matter. It's like one of those pointillist paintings whose subject can only be perceived from a distance. BotV and this essay are both about entire worlds that Wolfe wants to show us.

For the most part the things Wolfe drags into this essay really do connect, and it's best read as an episode of Connections narrated by Hunter S. Thompson. I found it quite enjoyable.
posted by localroger at 9:26 AM on January 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


For someone whose stock-in-trade is (or was) up-with-it-ness, it's sad how clear Wolfe really isn't anymore. There's nothing that sounds older than someone who used to be hip, and mistakenly believes that they still are.
posted by percor at 9:31 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Which attire is more practical for insane parties:

Depends on what kind of party you want to go to. Me, I'll take the 3 piece white suit kind of party. I've been to the hoodie parties...ain't no one gonna write Electric Kool Aid Acid Test about THOSE parties.
posted by spicynuts at 9:38 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Which attire is more practical for insane parties:

If you are judging the practicality of your wardrobe, you are insufficiently insane for those parties.
posted by Etrigan at 9:42 AM on January 4, 2013 [5 favorites]



Which attire is more practical for insane parties:

Trick question; obviously it's a custom-made green feather headdress.
posted by Comrade_robot at 9:47 AM on January 4, 2013


Where I live a 'hoodie party' consists of some teenagers and a bull terrier standing in the stairwell of a run-down housing estate sharing a cigarette.
posted by colie at 9:59 AM on January 4, 2013


Straightjackets all the way!
posted by mannequito at 10:01 AM on January 4, 2013


Where I live a 'hoodie party' consists of some teenagers and a bull terrier standing in the stairwell of a run-down housing estate sharing a cigarette.

That's because you live "in a Second World country, England?!"
posted by Sys Rq at 10:02 AM on January 4, 2013


Someone should let him know that the IPO went tits up on 5/18, not 5/17, especially if he's going to go crowning it "the day Wall Street got vaporized." At least so we can celebrate it on the right day every year.
posted by cloax at 10:06 AM on January 4, 2013


That's because you live "in a Second World country, England?!"


IT BE CRIMBO SIX-A-BONG!
posted by colie at 10:19 AM on January 4, 2013


Small derail, but this is post 123456, which is cool.
Sorry, carry on.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 10:34 AM on January 4, 2013 [18 favorites]


Guess what! The aristocrats at court are wearing a new style of hat this year!

They all look stark naked to me.
posted by jquinby at 11:06 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also:

Metafilter: 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.
posted by jquinby at 11:10 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


When a piece starts to pose jocks against nerds, my eyes roll and my attention flags. Wolfe saw that one New York cover and decided to spin a conventional little story out of it.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:11 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


When a piece starts to pose jocks against nerds

Where do Emo Goths fit into all this?
posted by colie at 12:39 PM on January 4, 2013


the Daily Beast/Newsweek.

Tina should rename it The Daily Beastweek
posted by octobersurprise at 1:33 PM on January 4, 2013


One day, I wrote for Newsweek for a year.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:41 PM on January 4, 2013


Tina should rename it The Daily Beastweek

The Newsly Beast is more evocative, IMHO.
posted by gompa at 2:10 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wolfe is somewhat nostalgic for that dying lifestyle

Is he? Or does he think it was silly then, and now hilarious that the "poor Masters of the Universe" have been squeezed out by "quants" who have gotten so caught up in their abstractions that they didn't even know they were lost in eidolonic fantasies? I read the descriptions of "manliness" here as withering disdain, not as nostalgia.
posted by valkyryn at 2:12 PM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


valkyryn, when I first read the piece, I thought it was nostalgic. Most stories about history's losers make the losers look good. Moreover, he put "civil rights lawyer" in quotation marks, which made it look like he was supporting his asshole-trader character. Finally, he connects virility to goodness, which connection asshole traders would thoroughly support. Anyone who reads his other writing knows he's an unashamedly dirty old man.

Having read your comment, I'm not so sure of the nostalgia. Maybe he's just a misanthrope.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:05 PM on January 4, 2013


Finally, he connects virility to goodness

I didn't exactly get that from his depiction of Trader Sex excerpted above by jquinby.

I recall Bonfire as one of those unusual stories with no heroes. It has a protagonist, and he prevails in the end, but he's a thoroughly unlikeable narcissistic shitbag and he fact that he prevails is properly read as the denouement of a tragedy. An understandable tragedy, of course, because in this world rich people havea tendency to win. I consider it the godfather of a similarly structured story, American Psycho.

Wolfe is scathing in his ridicule of every actor in the new essay too. Sure he complains that the quants have built a ridiculous machine nobody understands and sold our future to it but that hardly makes it nostalgic to note that neither the quants nor the traders they've booted from their MotU throne are enjoying the cocaine and hookers any more. Is the machine nobody understands better or worse than a herd of frat boys conducting the world's business in a haze of testosterone-fueled risk-taking? Wolfe really doesn't pass a judgement on that, he just notes the change and that both states are ridiculous.
posted by localroger at 3:43 PM on January 4, 2013


valkyryn, when I first read the piece, I thought it was nostalgic.

I guess I always perceived Wolfe's perspective on the things he writes about as... complicated. As if he can appreciate style even if he decries excess and lunacy. I took this piece as saying "Look, the quants aren't nearly the same kind of assholes that the Masters were in their personal lives, but in a sense they were even bigger assholes professionally. Regardless, the Masters did at least know how to have a good time. A reprehensible good time, admittedly, but one must at least give credit for their sheer excess. The quants are just boring."

In a sense, he's offering a far more subtler critique of the MotU than might be found by simply yelling about them. Instead of saying that they're terrible, just terrible, he emphasizes what the MotU would think are good qualities, and in so doing shows that they're actually horrible people. Showing how something is horrible on it's own terms is a lot more difficult--and effective--than critiquing it from the outside.

So I don't think he approves of any of what goes on on Wall Street. He didn't in the 1980s, and he hasn't since then. But I'm reminded of the old saw about the young heir who spent his inheritance on wine, women, and loose living, and wasted the rest. Conspicuous consumption has, at the minimum, the virtue of being conspicuous. Inconspicuous consumption offers very little in the way of entertainment value for spectators. If you're going to make a shit ton of money doing godawful things to consumers, at least have the decency to spend it on coke and strippers.
posted by valkyryn at 5:07 PM on January 4, 2013


I don't know how anyone could not enjoy reading that article. And I even learned a thing or two about finance!
posted by fraxil at 5:19 PM on January 4, 2013


"Look, the quants aren't nearly the same kind of assholes that the Masters were in their personal lives, but in a sense they were even bigger assholes professionally. Regardless, the Masters did at least know how to have a good time. A reprehensible good time, admittedly, but one must at least give credit for their sheer excess. The quants are just boring."

Maybe the quants are boring, but I don't have to credit anyone for their excess unless I'm a journalist who wants to report the obvious.

I should read Bonfire, though it doesn't sound like my kind of thing. I re-read the article and caught a lot more free indirect discourse than I had on the first reading. The cartoonishness of it put me off on the first go.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:47 PM on January 4, 2013


I liked that essay more than I liked I am Charlotte Simmons.
posted by box at 2:24 PM on January 5, 2013


On the trading floor they were slightly older, vastly richer versions of the frat boy. Beneath the frat boy’s wild times, the drinking, the cocaine, the practical jokes, the drinking, the getting laid, the talk about getting laid, the whoring around, the talk about whoring around, the drinking, the sarcastic cracks classified Sarc I, Sarc II, Sarc III, the dilations upon such esoteric topics as the size of turds and the span of projectile vomiting, the drinking… lay a single, simple desire: to present a man’s view of the world.

A brilliantly colored article. I'd take this passionate, ebullient writing over the usual castrated, generic story any day. And Wolfe is such an acute observer.

I also gotta say I loved I am Charlotte Simmons.
posted by shivohum at 8:34 AM on January 25, 2013


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