"Meet the Press"

Cecilia Kiely '04, English 171, Brown University, Autumn 2003

In The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe shows the tension between the pilots/astronauts and the general public. The press serves as the link between these two groups, and the problematic love-hate relationship between the pilots and the press is shown in this passage:

Yeager and the rocket pilots who soon joined him at Muroc had a hard time dealing with the publicity. On the one hand, they hated the process. It meant talking to reporters and other fruit flies who always hovered, eager for the juice . . . and invariably got the facts screwed up . . . But that wasn’t really the problem, was it! The real problem was that reporters violated the invisible walls of the fraternity. They blurted out questions and spoke boorish words about . . . all the unspoken things!—about fear and bravery (they would say the words!) and how you felt at such-and-such a moment! It was obscene! They presumed a knowledge and an intimacy they did not have and had no right to. Some aviation writer would sidle up and say, ‘I hear Jenkins augered in. That’s too bad.’ Augered in!—a phrase that belonged exclusively to the fraternity!—coming from the lips of this ant who was left behind the moment Jenkins made his first step up the pyramid long, long ago. It was repulsive! But on the other hand, one’s healthy pilot ego loved the glory—wallowed in it!—lapped it up!—not doubt about it! The Pilot Ego—ego didn’t come any bigger! The boys wouldn’t have minded the following. They wouldn’t have minded appearing once a year on a balcony over a huge square in which half the world is assembled. They wave. The world roars its approval, its applause, and breaks into a sustained thirty-minute storm of cheers and tears (moved by my righteous stuff!). And then it’s over. All that remains is for the wife to paste the clippings in the scrapbook.

How does the narrative voice portray the pilots’ attitude towards the press? The language used to refer to the journalists (“fruit flies,” “ant”) combined with the liberal use of exclamation marks to punctuate statements as well as questions (“But that wasn’t really the problem, was it!”) has the effect of creating an attitude of indignant condescension towards the reporters on the part of the pilots. Does the narrator share this attitude—is the pilots loathing of the media seen as justified or is it presented as extreme? Does the contradiction (the admission that they love the glory) make the narrator’s attitude more apparent?

Language is at the center of the conflict between the pilots and reporters. What is at stake in this battle over who can use certain words?

The passage ends with the image of a wife pasting clippings into a scrapbook. What does this show about the role that the wives play in this novel?

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Last modified 3 November 2003