Tom Wolfe, Internet Fogy

Chatterbox was taken aback to open his Washington Post yesterday and see Tom Wolfe dumping on the very communications medium that brings this bulletin to you, dear reader. Asked where he might be making his career were he a 25-year-old today, Wolfe said, “I might just be tempted by television or movies. Not by the Internet. Talk about a blind alley! I’ve known two outstanding young people–with creativity and talent and good backgrounds–who’ve gone into the Internet thinking they’re on the new frontier, and they are, but it’s a frontier that seems to be made of ether. It’s almost impossible to make a name for yourself on the Internet unless you do something scandalous like Matt Drudge. It’s a ghostland. It’s not there.”


Chatterbox is not a “love me, love my Internet” sort of person, and he’s never had much truck with people who think the medium will transform human consciousness. (For example, Chatterbox has never understood a single word that Esther Dyson has written.) But Wolfe’s dyspepsia about the web is dismaying given that he made his name chronicling with a sympathetic (if satirical) eye exuberant subcultures and new forms of expression. (It’s also a bit hypocritical, given that Wolfe himself has taken to the Internet to promote his new novel, A Man in Full; his Town Hall reading last week was broadcast on the web.) Imagine Tom Wolfe saying, “Jeez, those obsessive California surfers, they’re just a bunch of weirdos,” or “Man, that Junior Johnson, he can drive fast, but who cares? Don’t want to waste my time with them!”

This is pretty much the tone Wolfe takes toward the Internet in A Man in Full. We join Atlanta Mayor Wes Jordan and attorney Roger White II on page 736 as they chew over the novel’s denouement (which Chatterbox promises not to reveal here; he already did it in Slate’s book club column). The two black men are discussing two unnamed Internet gossip columnists who previously published the name of a white Atlanta debutante who had privately claimed she was date-raped by a black Georgia Tech running back:

“Who are they, anyway?”

“A couple of Internet creeps, is my considered opinion,” said the Mayor. “They look like two white noodles with hair. Makes you itch when you’re in the same room with them. But they do put out an Internet gossip column. Atlanta’s very short on gossip columns. In New York, all sorts of personal things about well-known people get slipped into gossip columns, but in Atlanta there’s just these two nutcases.”

“It sounds like you metthem.”

“Oh, sure,” said Wes. “After their big coup they began showing up at City Hall as reportersin search of their due deference.”

“For God’s sake.”

Chatterbox thinks a great opportunity was missed when Wolfe decided not to turn these web gossips into full-fledged characters; this is pretty much all we learn about them. Apparently, Wolfe considers Internet denizens so completely beneath contempt that they aren’t even worth satirizing.

Timothy Noah