O'Rourke, P. J. (1947—)

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O'Rourke, P. J. (1947—)

In 1998, satirist P. J. O'Rourke announced his intention to write a memoir. The most serious problem with this idea, he wrote, is "that I haven't really done much. But I don't feel this should stand in my way. O. J. Simpson wrote a memoir, and the jury said he hadn't done anything at all." A sharp social critic, O'Rourke finds himself one of the most loved—or hated—literary figures of the twentieth century

Patrick Jake O'Rourke grew up in Toledo, Ohio. He went to the state university in Miami, Ohio (where he majored in English), and then to Johns Hopkins. He became a strong leftist which, according to him, caused some distress to his Republican grandmother. He says that he informed his grandmother that he was a Maoist, prompting the reply, "[j]ust so long as you're not a Democrat."

From 1969 to 1971, O'Rourke worked for an underground Baltimore newspaper entitled Harry. He then moved to New York in 1971 and later told the magazine New York that he came to the city to "write experimental, deeply incomprehensible novels." Instead, he went to work for another underground publication, the East Village Other, after which he joined the humor magazine National Lampoon. He rose through the ranks, becoming a junior editor in 1973 and editor-in-chief in 1978.

O'Rourke left National Lampoon in 1980 and worked in Hollywood for a brief time as a scriptwriter. He eventually returned to New York and joined Rolling Stone, where he is the foreign affairs editor; he probably comprises Rolling Stone's entire foreign affairs desk. O'Rourke has written for other magazines, most notably Car and Driver and The American Spectator. Additionally, he has published several books, including both original works and reprints of his journalistic efforts. As evidence of his political acumen, O'Rourke became an H. L. Mencken research fellow at a libertarian think-tank, the Cato Institute.

O'Rourke's political views evolved since his days as a young Maoist in the 1960s. By the late 1990s he wrote as a libertarian Republican. "You know," he said in a 1993 speech at the Cato Institute, "if government were a product, selling it would be illegal." O'Rourke explained in a 1995 article why he shared the conservative faith in individualism: "Under collectivism … [i]ndividual decision making is replaced by the political process. Suddenly the system that elected the prom queen at your high school is in charge of your whole life."

Despite his association with the conservative movement, O'Rourke disassociates himself from the more puritanical conservatives. In 1994, over drinks with a reporter from the Toronto alternative newspaper eye, O'Rourke said that "I would be incredibly hypocritical if I were to say that I was in favor of the sort of morality that is put forward by some elements of the right wing: … never get a divorce, never touch drugs and, more to the point this evening, never touch booze! Forget it!"

A look at O'Rourke's publications shows that he can discuss both high politics and less exalted matters. In his satirical etiquette book Modern Manners, O'Rourke includes a section on the etiquette of drug use, especially the use of cocaine—"cocaine is bad for the health. And this is why it's never bad manners to go off alone and fire some 'nose Nikes' and not share them with anyone else … when offered someone else's cocaine, you should Electrolux as much as possible for their sake." An article by O'Rourke that originally appeared in National Lampoon, and which he included in his book Republican Party Reptile, is called "How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink." Indeed, the article lives up to its title: "Most people like to drive on speed or cocaine with plenty of whiskey mixed in. This gives you the confidence you want and need for plowing through red lights and passing trucks on the right."

O'Rourke somehow manages to combine this kind of style with serious political commentary. Discussing the Savings and Loan scandal, he deplores what he sees as the incompetence of the government investigators who might have prevented the mess: "Federal bank regulators … had to clean their room and mow the laws before they were allowed to go regulate banks." Commenting on allegedly anti-American attitudes in the Jordanian Rotary Club, O'Rourke imagines a meeting of that organization: "Okay, fellows, any member who hasn't drunk the blood of an infidel dog since the last meeting has to stand on his chair and sing 'I'm a Little Teapot."' It is exactly this kind of "call-'em-as-you-see-'em" critique that has brought O'Rourke fame—or infamy—in his attempts to entertain and educate Americans in the latter half of the twentieth century.

—Eric Longley

Further Reading:

Burrill, William. "On the Way to Hell with P. J. O'Rourke." eye. October 20, 1994.

Ickes, Bob. "White Mischief." New York. December 21-28,1992, 126-127.

MacLaughlin, Steven. "P.J. O'Rourke: A Brief Sketch." http://www.web-presence.com/mac/pj/pj_biography.html. March 1999.

O'Rourke, P.J. Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence and a Bad Haircut: Twenty-Five Years of P. J. O'Rourke. New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995.

——. The Enemies List. New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1996.

——. Give War a Chance: Eyewitness Accounts of Mankind's Struggle Against Tyranny, Injustice and Alcohol-Free Beer. New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1992.

——. Modern Manners: An Etiquette Book for Rude People. New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989.

——. Parliament of Whores. New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1991.

——. "Putting the Moi Back in Memoir." The New York Times

Book Review. March 1, 1998, 35.

——. Republican Party Reptile. New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987.

——. "Up Ulster Way." National Lampoon: This Side of Parodies. New York, Warner Paperback Library, 1974, 97-100.

Saffer, Paul. "Animal House Meets Church Lady." The American Prospect. March-April, 1996, 50-52.

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