The Fish
for 18 January 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
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Man Handled

Dear Skinner,

I whole-heartedly agree with
your "assessment" of a shift
- we'll call it a paradigm
shift to make it contemporary
and a little worthy of
contempt - from post '80s
ultra-liberalism toward a
more conservative stance. But
the information age has
shell-shocked the population
into believing that history
is comprised merely of the
past few quarters
(market-obsession?), while in
fact, societal beliefs shift
to a more subtle beat. Look
at the more subtle changes in
sports, like the WNBA and
that women's basketball
league that just went under.
I recently discovered that
fly-fishing had become
trendy, much to my chagrin,
because I had become an avid
practitioner of the ancient
art only recently. Now was I
victim of some unconscious
shift toward male machismo
or an innocent bystander? Who
can judge? (I want you to
know that I only grudgingly
use the overused and
frequently misrepresented
buzzword of our times
"victim.") The shift that you
speak of is something that is
still shrouded in the mist -
and not of antiquity but of a
more pervasive and disturbing
phenomenon, the age of
information overload. It's as
if the tip of the iceberg has
just been noticed off the
Titanic's bow, because
avoidance is denial, and
denial is a more accurate
buzzword, if you couple it
with a shake of ignorance.




Changes are more subtle than
you might think? There's a
dangerous shift toward
conservatism occurring? Or
more women's basketball
leagues are appearing? Or
those leagues are appearing
but then going under?

Maybe the real shift here is
from effective to ineffective

Avoiding being victimized by
trying to understand your


Fish With Letter Icon

Tom Wolfe has this narrative
style where he defines his
characters in burdensome,
nay, mincing, detail and then
puts them in a social Skinner
box. How the characters react
become the plot of the book.

Still, one of the better
parts of A Man in Full is
that it illustrates how it
sucks not to have any
guidance when yer in a bad
situation and you don't know
what the hell to do. Wolfe
shows us that it is books
that can help us: not
self-help narcissism or New
Age dithering, but good fat
weighty tomes from the Great
Books canon. If Wolfe had
used the Bible instead of the
writing of Epictetus, A Man
in Full
would have been a
rather mundane testimonial to
the salvation offered by
religion. True, you could say
that it's a testimonial of
the followers of Zeus, but I
prefer to believe that it
speaks to the benefits of a
classical education.

Still, while the Greek
philosophers instructed "know
thyself," we more pragmatic
Americans subscribe to the
philosophy of "know thy
neighbor." How else to
explain Springer? In that
spirit, I wish to thank you
for the link in the article
to the fake nude celebrity
Web site. I now marvel that
there are folks out there who
fantasize over Who's The
Judith Light.

(What? No Rexella Van Impe?

Simon Adkins

I think your take on Wolfe's
MO is just about right.
Elsewhere, it's described
charitably as "journalistic
realism." Suffice it to say
that Wolfe believes the best
way to characterize real and
imaginary people is to start
with the clothes and stop at
the skin. Erm, you might call
that superficial. I think I
will. It tends to work better
in real-life journalistic
settings, because if you
violate the truth, you'll be
nailed for libel. Sadly,
there are no such safeguards
in fiction. And I seriously
think that for all his
"social relevance," he misses
the truth by a wide mark on
several vital plot points and
characters in A Man In Full.

Lots of more conscientious
reviewers have made a stink
about the weird conclusion,
saying it's the book's only
real flaw - that is, Croker's
supposed conversion to this
neo-pagan religion thang. But
it's vintage Wolfe, and the
book would be a shambles
without it; like the author
himself, in lieu of his
ridiculous white linen suits.

Anyway, I'd never urge anyone
not to read, but shit,
there's too much that's too
good to not speak up about
the abominable crap that gets
so much mindshare.

E. L. Skinner

Fish With Letter Icon
Nice work,
as usual. I'm disappointed
that you didn't spend more
time on Wolfe's novel. In
particular, I'm sorry you
didn't spend more time making
fun of it. I've read several
excerpts from it now, and I
keep thinking, "Gee, I really
don't like this." Apparently,
I'm missing the joke. The
reviews of the book are
nearly as shocking: " ...
passages as powerful and as
beautiful as anything written
by ... any American
novelist." Can they be
serious? I've read better
stuff on Usenet. Anyway,


Michael Mull

I couldn't agree more. The
problem is where to start on
Wolfe's crappy tome. Having
actually marched through it
cover to cover, I have to
tell you the excerpts were
the only modestly interesting
parts in the damn thing. And
I'm hard pressed to explain
the perennial line that forms
among critics to administer
the obligatory ass-kissing
every time Wolfe breaks wind.
Mostly I blame Jann Wenner,
who apparently doesn't have
anything better to do than
hype a good reporter who's
gotten too old and lazy to
trick other people into
saying what he wants them to

E. L. Skinner

Fish With Letter Icon

Did some pissed off feminist
write this article? Some
female whose just mad at men
in general and sees us as
micro-brained beer-chuggin'
machines? Beer certainly
plays a delightful role in
male bonding, but to say that
male bonding doesn't exist is
just wrong. Guys just don't
blab about it as much.

-I. J.

A man wrote that article,
FYI. Way to choose your
battles: "Male bonding does
exist, dude!" But please,
tell us more about male
bonding so some of us
pissed-off feminists can
chuckle about it over beers.

Fish With Letter Icon

Year of the Rat

Well, it's nice to know that
the current generation is
capable of finally finding a
cause for rebellion against
the previous one. Is the
sanctimony of the boomer
generation worth any amount
of indignation, though? The
boomers are coming to terms
with their own mortality, and
now they want, belatedly, to
treat their elders with the
illusion of respect and
compassion so that they
themselves may be treated
with such in their old age.

Unfortunately, in a
generation which prizes
honesty and sincerity so
highly because of their utter
scarcity and which has grown
able to perceive the man
behind the curtain all too
easily as a result of being
constantly bombarded with
coercive illusions, the
latter-day ancestor worship
of the boomers will ring
immediately false. Instead of
vouchsafing respect in their
old age, the boomers are
ensuring thoroughgoing
contempt from their progeny,
a doom they have wrought for

Tom Maddox

Would the last boomer to
leave Zabriskie Point please
turn off the lights? The
latter-day ancestor worship
of the boomers is immediately
false, and to paraphrase
boomer Jimmy Buffett, it's
their own damn fault. They
gave birth to Rosemary's
; what did they expect,
that the kid would turn out

Mr. M

Fish With Letter Icon



Right on! I am a boomer too
and rather indifferent to the
whole schmozzle. The
planet is geting slowly raped for
resources so that everyone
can throw away anything and the
socialist disaster of the old
USSR and the relentless
grip of the feudal
capitalistic aristocracy is crushing
the beleaguered middle class:
Who cares about boomers &

Yeah - it's like listening to the
Rolling Stones sing the
blues. Give me a break. The
Western culture is
turning into a sniveling
little fat boy - who we
expect to perform brain
surgery on a comatose
"humanist tradition."

Buying slaves from the
Sudanese to liberate them: I
don't know whether to laugh
or cry. I hope that the Net
survives as a PUBLIC medium
after Gates et al. are
through trying to
control/rape/dominate. I
don't know what's going on,
but most of it smells bad.
Nonetheless, Happy New Year.

John Blankenburg

Gates is a rapist? The feudal
capitalistic aristocracy has
a crushing grip on the
beleaguered middle class?

We feel sorry for whoever has
to talk to you over dinner
every night.

Sniveling little fat boys,


Fish With Letter Icon

Beet Regards

Dear Fish!

I've read the last article
and wonder whether your irony
allows for the respect of
beets. The vegetable, which
is a proud part of the Ukrainian
diet, was brutally diminished
to the place of speech. I won't
linger over the erroneous
citation of "borsch" as a
"soup with beets"; rather I'll just
state that one should try
actually ordering anything
with beets. I am sure he (or
she) will be rewarded
with healthy meals,
getting less fat at
no additional cost.

You may play with our
constitution but should not
even think about exploiting our
very foundations.

One of the readers,

Serge Chychkan

Serge, thank you for speaking
out for beet lovers
everywhere. It seems you
might have misinterpreted our
writings - we wouldn't dream
of maligning this much-loved
vegetable. Developing a taste
for beets can be tricky, but
once one learns to take
advantage of our little
hot-pink friends, one is
endlessly rewarded with
tastiness and vitamins. We
suggest a variation on the
beet soup theme: Boil beets
with curry spices, several
cloves of garlic, and a jalepeño
or two until beets can be
poked easily with a fork. Put
the whole mess, water and
all, in a blender. Blend.
Serve with nonfat yogurt and
good bread.

Respecting beets more than
you know,


Fish With Letter Icon

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