Wolfe’s skewering essay was not responsible for the initial wave of derision which caused “radical chic” to unravel and become passe, but his detailed observations about the foibles of the “New Society” put it in historical perspective. The roots of the debacle, in Wolfe’s opinion, lay in the aristocratic tendency to romanticize things primitive and proletarian as a way of asserting superiority over the placid life-styles of the middle-class. The French had a phrase for this inverted form of snobbery—nostalgie de la boue, or, literally, nostalgia for the mud. It surfaced in the early 1960’s in excursions to the Peppermint Lounge to dance the twist with killer Joe Piro and in the infatuation with pop art and Andy Warhol. Left-wing cause parties went back at least to the 1930’s, and many of Bernstein’s friends within the communications industry were “red diaper babies” who had been weaned on liberal-left political traditions. A double-track mindset was at work, with subtle contradictions, encompassing noblesse oblige but also a longing to be attuned and avant-garde. In the case of the charismatic Panthers, the envy was almost palpable. Quite aside from the political issues involved, what excited Bernstein’s guests about the Panthers was their hip life-style, language, and mode of dress—in short, their raw, vital presence. As one woman put it: “These are no civil-rights Negroes wearing gray suits three sizes too big—these are real men!”...
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