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Hooking Up

By the year 2000,
the term "working class" had fallen into disuse in the United
States, and "proletariat" was so obsolete it was known only to a
few bitter old Marxist academics with wire hair sprouting out of
their ears. The average electrician, air-conditioning mechanic, or
burglar-alarm repairman lived a life that would have made the Sun
King blink. He spent his vacations in Puerto Vallarta, Barbados, or
St. Kitts. Before dinner he would be out on the terrace of some
resort hotel with his third wife, wearing his Ricky Martin
cane-cutter shirt open down to the sternum, the better to allow his
gold chains to twinkle in his chest hairs. The two of them would
have just ordered a round of Quibel sparkling water, from the state
of West Virginia, because by 2000 the once-favored European
sparkling waters Perrier and San Pellegrino seemed so

European labels no longer held even the slightest snob appeal
except among people known as "intellectuals," whom we will visit in
a moment. Our typical mechanic or tradesman took it for granted
that things European were second-rate. Aside from three German
luxury automobiles -- the Mercedes-Benz, the BMW, and the Audi --
he regarded European-manufactured goods as mediocre to shoddy. On
his trips abroad, our electrician, like any American businessman,
would go to superhuman lengths to avoid being treated in European
hospitals, which struck him as little better than those in the
Third World. He considered European hygiene so primitive that to
receive an injection in a European clinic voluntarily was sheer

Indirectly, subconsciously, his views perhaps had to do with the
fact that his own country, the United States, was now the mightiest
power on earth, as omnipotent as Macedon under Alexander the Great,
Rome under Julius Caesar, Mongolia under Genghis Khan, Turkey under
Mohammed II, or Britain under Queen Victoria. His country was so
powerful, it had begun to invade or rain missiles upon small
nations in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean for no other
reason than that their leaders were lording it over their subjects
at home.  

Our air-conditioning mechanic had probably never heard of
Saint-Simon's, but he was fulfilling Saint-Simon's and the other
nineteenth-century utopian socialists' dreams of a day when the
ordinary workingman would have the political and personal freedom,
the free time and the wherewithal to express himself in any way he
saw fit and to unleash his full potential. Not only that, any
ethnic or racial group -- any, even recent refugees from a Latin
country -- could take over the government of any American city, if
they had the votes and a modicum of organization. Americans could
boast of a freedom as well as a power unparalleled in the history
of the world.  

Our typical burglar-alarm repairman didn't display one erg of
chauvinistic swagger, however. He had been numbed by the
aforementioned "intellectuals," who had spent the preceding eighty
years being indignant over what a "puritanical," "repressive,"
"bigoted," "capitalistic," and "fascist" nation America was beneath
its democratic façades. It made his head hurt. Besides, he was
too busy coping with what was known as the "sexual revolution." If
anything, "sexual revolution" was rather a prim term for the lurid
carnival actually taking place in the mightiest country on earth in
the year 2000. Every magazine stand was a riot of bare flesh,
rouged areolae, moistened crevices, and stiffened giblets: boys
with girls, girls with girls, boys with boys, bare-breasted female
bodybuilders, so-called boys with breasts, riding backseat behind
steroid-gorged bodybuilding bikers, naked except for cache-sexes
and Panzer helmets, on huge chromed Honda or Harley-Davidson

But the magazines were nothing compared with what was offered on an
invention of the 1990s, the Internet. By 2000, an estimated 50
percent of all hits, or "log-ons," were at Web sites purveying what
was known as "adult material." The word "pornography" had
disappeared down the memory hole along with "proletariat."
Instances of marriages breaking up because of Web-sex addiction
were rising in number. The husband, some fifty-two-year-old MRI
technician or systems analyst, would sit in front of the computer
for twenty-four or more hours at a stretch. Nothing that the wife
could offer him in the way of sexual delights or food could compare
with the one-handing he was doing day and night as he sat before
the PC and logged on to such images as a girl with bare breasts and
a black leather corset standing with one foot on the small of a
naked boy's back, brandishing a whip.  

In 1999, the year before, this particular sexual kink -- sado-
masochism -- had achieved not merely respectability but high chic,
and the word "perversion" had become as obsolete as "pornography"
and "proletariat." Fashion pages presented the black leather and
rubber paraphernalia as style's cutting edge. An actress named Rene
Russo blithely recounted in the Living section of one of America's
biggest newspapers how she had consulted a former dominatrix named
Eva Norvind, who maintained a dungeon replete with whips and chains
and assorted baffling leather masks, chokers, and cuffs, in order
to pre-pare for a part as an aggressive, self-obsessed agent
provocateur in The Thomas Crown Affair, Miss Russo's latest

"Sexy" was beginning to replace "chic" as the adjective indicating
what was smart and up-to-the-minute. In the year 2000, it was
standard practice for the successful chief executive officer of a
corporation to shuck his wife of two to three decades' standing for
the simple reason that her subcutaneous packing was deteriorating,
her shoulders and upper back were thickening like a shot-putter's
-- in short, she was no longer sexy. Once he set up the old wife in
a needlepoint shop where she could sell yam to her friends, he was
free to take on a new wife, a "trophy wife," preferably a woman in
her twenties, and preferably blond, as in an expression from that
time, a "lemon tart." What was the downside? Was the new couple
considered radioactive socially? Did people talk sotto voce, behind
the hand, when the tainted pair came by? Not for a moment All that
happened was that everybody got on the cell phone or the Internet
and rang up or E-mailed one another to find out the spelling of the
new wife's first name, because it was always some name like Serena
and nobody was sure how to spell it. Once that was written down in
the little red Scully & Scully address book that was so popular
among people of means, the lemon tart and her big CEO catch were
invited to all the parties, as though nothing had

Meanwhile, sexual stimuli bombarded the young so incessantly and
intensely they were inflamed with a randy itch long before reaching
puberty. At puberty the dams, if any were left, burst. In the
nineteenth century, entire shelves used to be filled with novels
whose stories turned on the need for women, such as Anna Karenina
or Madame Bovary, to remain chaste or to maintain a façade of
chastity. In the year 2000, a Tolstoy or a Flaubert wouldn't have
stood a chance in the United States. From age thirteen, American
girls were under pressure to maintain a façade of sexual
experience and sophistication. Among girls, "virgin" was a term of
contempt. The old term "dating" -- referring to a practice in which
a boy asked a girl out for the evening and took her to the movies
or dinner -- was now deader than "proletariat" or "pornography" or
"perversion." In junior high school, high school, and college,
girls headed out in packs in the evening, and boys headed out in
packs, hoping to meet each other fortuitously. If they met and some
girl liked the looks of some boy, she would give him the nod, or he
would give her the nod, and the two of them would retire to a
halfway-private room and "hook up."  

*Endnotes have been omitted.

Excerpted from HOOKING UP (c) Copyright 2000 by Tom Wolfe.
Reprinted with permission from the publisher, Picador USA. All
rights reserved.

© Copyright
1996-2011, All rights reserved.

Hooking Up
by by Tom Wolfe

  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 0312420234
  • ISBN-13: 9780312420239