Which sucks more? The press or the networks?

Hilda Leung '05, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2005

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The way the press behaved during Project Mercury is a major target of criticism in Wolfe's The Right Stuff. The journalists saw "blazing patriotic passion" everywhere through their "great colonial animal" lenses and filtered everything that suggests the otherwise. (p.95) These well-dressed gentlemen also lacked manners, and scared the crap out of the chimpanzee by their "yammering, yelling, groaning, cursing" (p.177) The newspapermen were hypocritical, deceiving and rude, but maybe they weren't that badly behaved at all, compared to Wolfe's portrayal of the networks. This is how Wolfe describes the aggressiveness of the networks as they tried to hunt down Rene Carpenter, who was hiding in a "safe house" in Cocoa Beach, away from the crazy network people:

The networks took the situation as an insult and a challenge. Before Rene left for the Cape, a correspondent for one of the networks called her and told her they were going to find out where she was staying . . . They could do it the hard way, if they had to, but they'd rather do it the easy way. So she'd better just tell them. It was something out of a gangster movie. But sure enough, when she reached the Cape, the networks had people watching every bridge and causeway into Cocoa Beach. Rene knew they would be looking for a car with a woman and four children, So she had the children lie on the floor, and they slipped through. The networks were not going to be foiled that easily. After all, how could they camp on her front lawn and film her drawn shades if they didn't even know where she was? So they hired helicopters and began scouring Cocoa Beach. They went up and down the hardtack beach, looking for congregations of four small children. They would swoop right down on children on the beach until they could read the terror in their eyes. People were running for cover, abandoning their Scotch coolers and telescopes and cameras and tripods, trying to save their children from the amok helicopters. It was crazy, utterly bananas, but by now not knowing where the wife was—it was like not knowing where the rocket was. Finally, Rene was sending her children over to the beach two by two, in order to foil the insane people in the network helicopters. [pp. 295-96]

The newspaper people now look like dutiful citizens, in contrast to these network gangsters who hunt down innocent woman and children with their intimidating helicopters-just so that they could have some fascinating footage of Rene's lawn and drawn curtains!


Hyperbole litters The Right Stuff. But this paragraph seemed a little too much. It resembles a spy movie screenplay more than a juicy description of an actual incident. How can we trust that the helicopter chase happened as described? Where is the line between spinning out tales and reporting?

How should we take Wolfe's criticism of fellow colleagues? Does he merely point out the flaws of a profession like a sage, or does he deliberately undermine mainstream media so as to elevate and promote his new style?

In "The Decay of Lying," Oscar Wilde speaks critically of other writers such as James, Meredith and Zola. How is Wolfe's criticism of his colleagues similar or different?

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Last modified 14 February 2005