Form and Content
In June of 1970, at the time when the first version of “Radical Chic” was published in New York magazine, Tom Wolfe was considered by many to be America’s foremost exponent and practitioner of what had come to be called the New Journalism. Spawned by the turbulent 1960’s and more opinionated than the old-fashioned, who-what-where-when-why school of objective reportage, “participatory journalism,” as it was sometimes dubbed, was experimental in style, sardonic in tone, and intimate in point of view. In The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965) and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), Wolfe had employed language and grammar to fashion moods that were dazzling, rhythmic, and almost surreal. Like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1965) and Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History (1968), Wolfe’s best work seemed a blend of truth and imagination, forming a new genre: the nonfiction novel. More important, Wolfe was a consummate satirist of contemporary popular culture, or more aptly, the plethora of subcultures representing variations on the pursuit of the American Dream. Casting a jaundiced eye, he invented new methods of dissecting and capturing the myths, mores, and flawed nobility of various groups within the social landscape. Thus, his essays have sociological importance as well as relevance as primary source works for students of contemporary American history.
As the title suggests, Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers consists of two separate, distinct stories about black rage and white guilt, the first approximately twice the length of the second, but each easily consumed in one sitting, like a novella or a full-course meal. Both focus on bizarre, ritualistic meetings between ghetto residents and Establishment figures—in one case elite social aristocrats, in the other case government bureaucrats. A New Yorker who had documented San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury subculture in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Wolfe was...
(The entire section is 847 words.)