The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight
Stick with your friends and let something come out of that.
It is not always easy for us, living among them, to imagine that we walk with legendary men. Still, the legends grow; tales of the new New York wits, the “new journalists” who, following the axiom that it is best to write about what interests you most, write often about themselves and each other. In this tradition, Joe Flaherty, a writer for the Village Voice, has put together a tidy book about the slobbish Mailer-Breslin run for municipal leadership of New York City—a campaign for which he was manager and which was begun in order to become legendary. Since one of the popular entertainments of New York night life has long been watching Mailer make an ass of himself, Managing Mailer is a kind of bonus; a compendium of embarrassments concerning Mailer and his gang. We can now know what happened without the pain of attendance.
It is an effect of the age of mass communication that the communicators themselves become celebrities. News programs, the press, the late-night shows give such extensive exposure to the customary celebrities, the news makers (politicians, movie stars, men who went to the moon), as to show them clearly to be, for the most part, stupid, venal, or merely boring. We must look elsewhere for superiority. Writers and intellectuals, since their business is words and ideas, come off better than most. They make judgments on decisions rather than decisions, and that gives anyone the edge on truth and wisdom. It is not surprising, then, that the new journalists would begin to think they might be superior operators in the business of running things.
These journalists, after all, know everything. Like old wives, their tools are intuition and myth. You can tell all about a man from the way his eyes shift, how he speaks to a child, what he says when he’s drunk, how he plays ball. You can measure a government from the cut of the suits of the cabinet or Middle America from a conversation in a bar in Jersey. Since writing which confirms our superstitions is agreeable, the new journalists had so much attention paid them that by the spring of 1969, it seemed the whole country or—in the case of the Mailer campaign—at least New York was ready to give all power to some of the staff of New York magazine and the Village Voice.
Getting Mailer to run for mayor that spring was certainly not difficult. It had been a wildly successful period for him; he was writing brilliantly as the uncontested star of the new journalism and he was winning the mass applause that had previously eluded him. In his public appearances, his statements from platforms, his movies, there was an extra level of hyper-manic energy superimposed on his normal elevation. Mailer had planned to run for mayor of New York once before, but blew it when, in an access of misogyny …