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The Essential Ellen Willis$
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Ellen Willis and Nona Willis Aronowitz

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780816681204

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816681204.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM MINNESOTA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.minnesota.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Minnesota Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in MNSO for personal use.date: 18 May 2022

Tom Wolfe’sFailed Optimism

Tom Wolfe’sFailed Optimism

(p.115) Tom Wolfe’sFailed Optimism
The Essential Ellen Willis

Nona Willis Aronowitz

University of Minnesota Press

This chapter examines Tom Wolfe’s contradiction between his populist faith in human possibility and his essentially conservative political instincts. A subtheme of utopianism during the 1960s was the attempt to arrive at some sort of honest optimism. This chapter analyzes books such as The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, The Pump House Gang, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and The Painted Word to explain how Wolfe indulged in mindless yea-saying and thus betrayed the tension at the core of pop by converting it to a more sophisticated version of the traditional American booster mentality. It argues that Wolfe’s populism is hard to take because it willfully ignored certain discomfiting facts, and that his optimism denies rather than affirms. It also considers Wolfe’s continuing inability to seriously confront unpleasant political realities and how he diverted his energy to attacking the left when there were no more cultural fireworks to celebrate.

Keywords:   left, Tom Wolfe, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, The Pump House Gang, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Painted Word, populism, utopianism

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