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“Of course, I had it pimped out”

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In his talk today, Tom Wolfe seemed to fully embody the ideals and cultures that he explores in “Kandy-Kolored Taangerine-Flake Streamline Baby” and “The Last American Hero”.  He claimed that the most important invention ever was that of the internal combustion engine, primarily due to the freedom that we are allowed by the cars they power.  Throughout the book, Mr. Wolfe shows the importance of self expression and freedom offered by cars, from customization, to bootlegging, to the simple freedom to take yourself wherever you need to be, and to do so on your own terms.  Today, it became clear that these were not just Mr. Wolfe’s observations, but what he truly believes.

As shown by his everything from his pimped out Cadillac to his American flag socks, Mr. Wolfe clearly views these forms of self expression and individuality as essential parts of our life.  Similar to our cars, he seems to think that they are part of our constant awareness of how we fit in to certain groups.  Despite his claims that there are not rigid class divisions in the United States, he acknowledged that a very influential part of our culture is how we view our status, and what we do to alter our positions.  To him, cars seem to offer freedom from constraints put in place by society, but can also be used as tools for creating status.  “Good old boys” in North Carolina are able to bond over their love of fast cars and their rebellious drivers, while Los Angeles teenagers shared different styles and standards of form and beauty.

Even when he wasn’t discussing cars, Mr. Wolfe seemed very aware of  freedom and rebellion in our culture that cars can create.  He looked fondly upon the good old boys who want no part of government control, and are happy to live by their own standards and take matters into their own hands.  However, he also seemed to dislike the differences between his generation and the more recent ones where “nobody wears a neck tie” and “stock brokers dress like rock and roll drummers”.

Despite not always supporting the ways people choose to express themselves, or how they deviate from the norm, Mr. Wolfe clearly puts a very high value on the individuality allowed by cars in our society.  As he said, when you are in a car, you will never be forced into a situation you don’t want to be in.  They offer us freedom to go where we want, do what we want, and say what we want.


  1. Joseph Kimbell
    Joseph Kimbell

    His reference to the “good old boys” struck me as similar to the “Tea Party” today. Both have a distaste for authority and overbearing government. He even referred to the “good old boys” as gun toting.

    April 25, 2014
  2. Louisa Ortiz
    Louisa Ortiz

    I think it is interesting to note that while Tom Wolfe described the internal combustion engine as a basis of freedom and self expression, he also was very aware of the downside of this invention; primarily, the fact that the “engine allowed families to explode”. He discussed how the engine allowed people to move away from their family and community and not think twice about it, stating that the presence of the engine “first broke up families and then communities”. Yes, cars and engines gave us freedom and a mode of self expression but some would argue, Tom Wolfe included, that there was a steep price to pay.

    April 26, 2014
  3. Peter Wittwer
    Peter Wittwer

    I thought Tom Wolfe’s comments on how he disliked modern style were very interesting. Since style also played a very significant role in the 1960’s during the hot rod movement, I was surprised with his general disapproval of modern clothing. Many of these hot rodders during the 1960’s and 1970’s were personified by their leather jackets and skin tight jeans as well as their customized cars. The style during the hot rod movement was simply another form of self expression and rebellion versus adults and other the authority at the time who labeled that style of dress inappropriate. It’s peculiar that someone like Tom Wolfe who seems to be all about self expression and rebellion would have a distaste for modern clothing styles, when the outlandish and different styles of the 21st century continues to represent self expression and a continued rebellious nature amongst the youth.

    April 27, 2014
  4. Interesting to note his reaction to modern (youth) style. Perhaps he is focused on formal situations – tight jeans for car customizers, yes, but then they’d change to go to work. And then there are hats – caps, on backward at that?! W&L students can surely do better.

    May 12, 2014

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