Thursday, August 15, 2013

Cheap Trip to Miami - Dios Mio! Na Zdrovia!

“Back to Blood,” By Tom Wolfe, 2012

Well, Tom Wolfe has helicoptered into another city, Miami this time, and written another book about it.  The City has become a main character in his fiction.  Long ago it was San Francisco, then Atlanta, then Charlotte – of course when he wasn’t hanging in Nu Yawk, his home.  By the way, NYC is now rated as the most unequal place in the U.S., and has the income disparities of a third-world city, close to the country of Swaziland.  No wonder he can’t top “Bonfire of the Vanities,” his book about that city's clash between poor blacks and Wall Street kings.   This book clocks in at over 700 pages, but it is a quick read nevertheless - though perhaps an editor should have visited Wolfe's manuscript in the dark of night.

Wolfe is the guy who looks like a dandy and attempts to dress like Mark Twain and fails.  One of his first books in the 60s, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” took on the hippies from a jaundiced, right-wing point of view. (Hippies are stupid!) Another, “Radical Chic & Mau Mau’ing the Flak Catchers” earned him the title of cynical wit. (Yes, the Black Panthers are just a style joke.)  This title, “Back to Blood’ means that at bottom, at least in Miami, everything is ethnic.  Which is what you’d expect from a WASP.  For the most part, Wolfe sees everything as a ‘type’ – and ethnicity is his biggest type of all.  As one character says, “Everyone in Miami hates everyone else.”  That is every ethnicity hates every other. 

Wolfe makes fun of ‘almost’ everyone, and in the process, does reveal something about the various classes and ethnicities.  Overtown?  Incredibly poor black people – slave shacks in the city.  White or Cuban cops?  Racist morons.  Cuban Hialeah and Little Havana?  Isolated, reactionary, working-class and conflicted.  Americano rich people on Star and Fisher islands?  Fucking pathetic.  Young white bourgeois party-goers on their yachts?  A Roman bacchanalia.  The Haitian middle class?  Trying to pass.  Russians in Hallandale?  Mostly crude and backward, or crooked.  White billionaires and their diseased penises?  Look what our ruling class is like under the sheets.  The emperor has no clothes.   

For some reason … the gays on South Beach and along Collins Avenue are missing from the comedy. Workers are put down for their shabby clothing and bodies – befitting a dandy – but are respected by mostly being ignored.  Otherwise, nearly everyone else can be bought and made fool of. 

Wolfe is obsessed with women’s asses and breasts, even if he himself has an indistinct sexual persona that leans gay.  He writes like a cartoon sometimes, as in ‘Pow, Pow,’ interior monologues hanging off rows of colons, or in Technicolor.  Stereotypes are his expertise, and here he indulges again. He crucifies stereotypes, so if you are one, beware.  The hero, Nestor Camacho, is a young, ‘ripped’ Cuban cop having troubles with the older, right-wing generation in Hialeah.  Nestor performs feats of incredible strength and heroism, and they nearly always turn out bad.  The heroine, Magdelena Otero, is an upwardly striving Cuban nurse who is trying to get away from Hialeah.  However, in the process, she hooks up with gringos and Russians who are only interested in her body, much to her dismay.  Nor can she understand half of what the gringos are talking about  Other young people, like the almost white French Haitian Ghislaine, come off better than the billionaires, cringing professors, smooth politicians, status-conscious editors and creepy doctors that inhabit and run a city that will some day sink into the ocean.    

Wolfe does a hilarious send-up of the Art Basel Miami show, which exposes its shallow cultural appeal and its monetary grotesqueries. It reminds me of the first art show ‘opening’ I went to at a local art museum, the Weisman at the University of Minnesota.  The gallery viewers were more interested in slobbering down the free food and slurping up the alcohol shooting off the ice sculpture than looking at the art. Art Basel Miami is 10 times worse. (For a review of art in the U.S. read the review, “9.5 Thesis on Art and Class,”  below.)  The sub-plot involves $70 million of fake art - Kadinsky’s, Malevichs and others - given to the Miami Museum of Art, which didn’t really have a collection worth a dime until the fakes show up. The funny part is that the rubes in the Miami power structure fell all over the rich Russian who donated them, Sergei Korolyov, in gratitude – even naming the museum after him.

It is up to a disgraced Nestor and a blushing white boy reporter from the very Anglo “Miami Herald” newspaper to solve this riddle.  

Wolfe also does depictions of the duplicitous world of ‘reality TV;’ a drunken sex-obsessed suburban-boy boat party; the sad interior of a crack house; a boisterous Russian restaurant; a drunken artist in a loft in Wynwood making fun of abstract art; an old Jewish person’s run-down ‘adult living facility’; a Cuban family pig roast in Hialeah; a strip club full of Ukrainian blondes; a confrontation between the power-hungry mayor and the tough black police chief.  All memorable to some extent. 

In the end, the powers that be – the experts, the rich, the powerful – are a laughing-stock.  Much like we consider them in reality - though the real laughing-stocks also have guns, which means they're not so funny.  The experts, the rich, the powerful have fucked up so many times and have said so many stupid things that fewer and fewer believe anything they say or do anymore.  They are a dying, calcifying class, and Wolfe, with humor, helps them die a little more.  

And I did not buy it at Mayday Books.
Red Frog
August 15, 2013

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