Capitalizing on a Voyeuristic Public in "The Pump House Gang"

Andres Idarraga, English 118, Creative Nonfiction in Electronic Environments, Brown University, 2007, Brown University

Capitalizing on the American public’s voyeuristic appetite for people that somehow have entered public consciousness as intriguing, cool, or mysterious—a segment that we have limited access to, Tom Wolfe, in “The Pump House Gang,” immediately immerses us into the slang used by the young surfers. By disorienting the reader with an unfamiliar vernacular and mimicking their cadence, Wolfe situates himself as a privileged insider before weaving in a conventional journalistic approach to his account of the surfer community in La Jolla, California:

Our boys never hair out. The black panther has black feet. Black feet on the crumbling black panther. Pan-thuh. Mee-dah. Pam Stacy, 16 years old, a cute girl here in La Jolla, California, with a pair of orange bell-bottom hip-huggers on, sits on a step about four steps down the stairway to the beach and she can see a pair of revolting black feet without lifting her head. So she says it out loud, “The black panther.”

Somebody farther down the stairs, one of the boys with the major hair and khaki shorts, says, “The black feet of the black panther.”

“Mee-dah,” says another kid. This happens to be the cry of a, well, underground society known as the Mac Meda Destruction company.

“The pan-thuh.”

“The poon-thuh.” [p. 15]


1. What additional reasons do you think Wolfe immediately uses the lingo of the kids, speech that we readers cannot yet know the meaning of? What does he hope to establish?

2. The first five sentences are short, choppy, and jargon-filled. Then we encounter a descriptive, journalistic sentence. Are both styles equally convincing? If not, which one is more so and why?

3. Is the author taking on the role of a detached observer with insider knowledge, or as a complete insider of the underground society? According to the role you believe the author is assuming, what do you believe will be the account’s biases and prejudices?

4. Can the author maintain his credibility with both audiences—the surfer community and those outside of it?

5. From the passage can you venture a guess as to the meaning of hair out, black panther, and major hair?

Victorian Web Overview Tom Wolfe

Last modified 1 February 2007