Tom Wolfe: Zeitgeist of Counterculture.

Tom Wolfe was born in 1931 in Richmond, Virginia. After receiving a Ph.D at Yale in American Studies, his professional interests fluxed during mid-adulthood. He became unsure if he wanted to continue his career as a semi-professional baseball player or journalist. After a failed baseball try-out with the New York Giants, he began a 10 year journalism career as a general report for the Springfield Union, and Washington Post. Wolfe was dissatisfied with his journalistic status, and tested his literary merit in New York City working for New York Magazine, and New York Herald-Tribune. This is where Wolfe’s writing caught widespread attention. His 1st best selling book was an amalgamation of these articles and cultural observations in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby published in 1965.

Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe

Wolfe became determined to capture the zeitgeist of the 1960s and 1970s, writing books that experimented with non-fiction writing and developed into a distinct genre, New Journalism. This crossbred factual reporting with new literary dimensions, applying techniques typically engaged with Fiction. Tom Wolfe plunges into the psychedelic world of Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters, the political tribulations of the Black Panthers, and the countercultural beatniks that ignited movements during the time period. In 1968, Tom Wolfe published two bestsellers on the same day The Pump House Gang, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, cementing him as the journalist for the generation.

New Journalistic tropes are blatantly obvious in FBI Shoes, the 1st chapter of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. He applies lyricism to his factual account, employing a redundant use of repetition. Everything from electric-neon signs, rolling hills, people, and pick-up trucks are “bouncing and streaming down the hill.” It gives San Francisco a highly energized atmosphere that could not be captured by past notions of journalism. The way the introduction reads harnesses the mellifluous feeling of the scene, very free-flowing. Wolfe deliberately alters his sentence structure to enhance feelings of which he writes.

Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters on their painted bus named Further.

Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters on their painted bus named Further.

Another alteration of past journalistic conceptualizations would be in Wolfe’s fragmentation of structure and dialogue to harness people’s mentalities, and thought flow. In describing Lois Jennings, he describes the “long- barreled Colt .45 revolver in her hand, only nobody on the street can tell it’s a cap pistol as she pegs away, kheeew, kheeew, at the erupting marshmallow faces like Debra Paget in …in … -Kesey’s coming out of jail! ” (2). Wolfe reports the sounds of the gun to draw attention to the playfulness of its holder. Wolfe shows, instead of telling. Furthermore, he purposely divides the stream of his description to detail how sporadically thoughts shifted, especially without completion. Seemingly, out-of-nowhere, the topic of Ken Kesey comes to Lois’s mind, and is never followed by any more description. Wolfe writes like this to represent his difficulty in finding a congruent story from these people, and also to represent how these prankster’s thought.

Tom Wolfe gaining press about his genre, New Journalism.

Tom Wolfe gaining press about his genre, New Journalism.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is known as the hippy odyssey that recounts the zany experiences and philosophies of Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters. This book achieved widespread press is because of bizarre way Tom Wolfe describes these factual events. His unorthodox stylistic choices and psychedelic story created enough controversy to prompt the nation to buy his book, and become a bestseller. The book’s popularity cemented Tom Wolfe as one of the founding fathers of New Journalism.

 

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.