February 03, 2009
Who is Writing the Next Bonfire of the Vanities? Tom Wolfe or David Brooks?
Posted by Christine Hurt

David Brooks has an editorial today, Ward Three Mentality, that is strongly reminiscent of Bonfire of the Vanities, a brilliant book by Tom Wolfe chronicling the events of the 1980s mostly through the perspective of a bond trader who fancies himself a "Master of the Universe."  (Unfortunately, the legacy of the book was utterly destroyed by its being made into one of the worst movies of all time, with the bizarre cast of Tom Hanks (as the bond trader), Melanie Griffith and Bruce Willis.)

Brooks' editorial today pits the ultra-wealthy against a group he calls the "Ward Three" community.  I've never lived in Washington, D.C., but I get the picture:  "Ward Three is a section of Northwest Washington, D.C., where many Democratic staffers, regulators, journalists, lawyers, Obama aides and senior civil servants live. . . .On any given Saturday, half the people in Ward Three are arranging panel discussions for the other half to participate in.  They live in modest homes with recently renovated kitches and Nordic Track machines crammed into the kids' play areas downstairs. . . .As lawyers, TV producers and senior civil servants, they make decent salaries, but 60 percent of their disposable income goes to private school tuition and study abroad trips.  They have little left over to spend on themselve,s which generates deep and unacknowledged self-pity ["Sublimated Liquidity Rage"]. . .At work they are flattered and feared.  But they still have to go home and clean out the gutters because they can't afford full-time household help ["Status-Income Disequilibrium"]. . . As law school grads, they resent B-school grads.  As Washingtonians, they resent New Yorkers.  As policy wonks, they resnt people with good bone structure.  In short, people in Ward Three disdain three things;  cleavage, hunting and dumb people who are richer than they are."

In short, this was one of the conflicts in Bonfire:  the assistant district attorney who can't figure out how to pay for a nanny and takes the subway to work, carrying his Johnston & Murphy shoes to change into later versus the bond trader, who can't really describe what he does to his son and has a mistress with ample cleavage.

Obviously, the conflict Brooks sees today still has plenty of fodder for a new novel on class, society, greed and money twenty years later.  Who would be the archetype for Sherman McCoy, our hated bond trader?  The ADA?  Surely the journalist (Bruce Willis) would be a blogger.

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