Sunday, 18 April 2010

Fear, Loathing, and Drinks With a Friend

Nobody likes being told what to do. I don't like it, and I'm betting that you don't like it, and I would think that the people in authority hate it as well, probably even more in fact, considering they actually tell people what to do. How they must feel when they get told what to do, man I would not like to feel that. Thankfully, I have almost no authority in any part of my life, so I do not feel the combination of unbridled anger and depression that must come from being someone like Gordon Brown. God forbid. The energy and strength it must take for him just to be him is incredible.

This got confusing...

Speaking about confusion, drugs are a mysterious thing. But no one wants to hear about them. Instead, its time to talk about a subject that seems to be almost directly linked to drugs, Gonzo Journalism.

In the 1970's, a man named Hunter S. Thompson, a self proclaimed"Doctor of Journalism" fashioned a type of writing in which the author would involve themselves so much in a piece of work that they would become part of the story. This illustrious style eventually came to be known as "Gonzo Journalism". This seemed to be a style closely resembling, but with many key differences, the New Journalism movement started by Tom Wolfe. This style, popular in the 60's and 70's, was a form of literary technique, in which Journalism and Prose were intertwined into a mesh of sorts, meaning that a writer could give a frank account of an event, with heavy description, mixing the artistic and literary with the heady Journalism. Some examples of this literary/journalism movement are;

  • Truman Capote's In Cold Blood in which a Capote researches a true crime to the point where he is able to write a non-fiction tale about the whole ordeal, in almost complete prose.

  • Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, In which Wolfe experiences LSD, and write about it at length, reflecting on different people, places and things in a different light along the way.

  • Hunter S. Thompson's The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved a sports article in which Thompson is said to have started the first inklings of the Gonzo movement, by being too close to deadline and ripping pages from his notebook to send in as copy.

Gonzo Journalism was different to the "New Journalism" in the sense that it was very much the same, but a little more dangerous. It disregarded clean and polished Journalism techniques and instead opted for everything to be a little grittier, a little more like an Editorial, and full of profanity. The use of drugs, in particular psychedelics, were a common factor in the creation of a piece of writing, and especially the use of LSD.

Now, I have never tried LSD, and I imagine it's just one of those things that you have to experience first hand before describing it, but from descriptions and readings, I have learned that upon ingesting such a substance, your mind begins to distort things, hallucinate things, and your brain begins to alter its perception of things, in the sense that everyday things that we see every day would suddenly take on different meaning and purpose. In other words, your shit's fucked up.

This brings me almost directly to my new favorite book, written by Dr. Thompson himself, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey into the Heart of the American Dream. Thompson wrote this book as a response to a seemingly ridiculous whim; "What would happen if we got completely blasted and rented shiny car and then went to Vegas at 150mph in Acapulco shirts?". He pretty much answers the question, and the prose that follows makes complete sense, whilst making none at all. At its barest, it is a journey of two men who are completely wasted, with hilarious consequences, but dig deeper and what you see is a harsh criticism of America, humanity, and life. One particular part stuck with me as hilarious and harrowing at the same time, in which Raoul Duke, Thompson's alter ego, and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo are in the middle of "an ether binge", are devoid of all bodily function, and are spouting nonsense whilst being acutely aware of all this, are actively encouraged into a casino. It comments on how the American Dream is essentially broken, how by completely cheating at life, showing no regard for humanity, a casino is successful.

Obviously this is only one of many Thompson articles, and I should not jump to conclusions, but there is something about Gonzo Journalism that strikes a chord. Maybe it is the mix of journalism and literature, perhaps it is the appealing thrill of reckless abandon for the sake of journalistic prose. It could be many things, but it all seems pretty awesome.

Nobody likes being told what to do, even people in power. However, the people who write can be those who answer to nobody. What they write is their own. Hunter S. Thompson was a classic example of this, he took no sass from anybody. He had a distaste for authority, so much so that he strived to bring it down. Plus, he owned many, many guns.

This is a man who refused to wait to die.

(The images seen in this blog are all by Ralph Steadman, a British Cartoonist and Caricaturist who worked with Hunter S. Thompson many times)

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