Thompson an Icon of Gonzo Journalism
‘I would feel real trapped in this life if I didn’t know I could commit suicide at any time.’
The Good Doctor Hunter Thompson’s last stand may have been a question of ‘when’ as opposed to ‘if,’ but that in no way dampens the literary impact of this tragic loss. There is no need to read any further if you are mourning the loss of Raoul Duke of the underground classic ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.’ These are only characters, mere pieces of the greater whole embodied by Thompson.
You can rest assured that although Thompson is now busily haranguing Richard Nixon in the great beyond, the lives he created in his works will continue their depraved yet profound escapades for decades to come.
Thompson’s literary accomplishments traverse decades of history. He has penned such masterpieces as ‘Hell’s Angels,’ ‘The Rum Diary,’ ‘The Great Shark Hunt,’ ‘Kingdom of Fear,’ ‘Songs of the Doomed,’ ‘Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72’ and ‘Screwjack.’
This is by no means a definitive list, or even one that does the King of Gonzo justice, but it should suffice to provide a healthy slice of the Thompson experience.
Thompson’s effect on the written realm may be painfully obvious or suspiciously absent to most, but the question for the sometimes close-minded college student is, ‘Why should we care about Hunter S. Thompson?’
An extensive proof ending with QED and some needless expletives could answer the question for the majority, but the answer for those who are involved in the literary journalism program at UCI is much simpler.
Literary journalism is a synonym for new journalism, which is a cleaned and pampered version of the aggressive, truth-hungry beast born from the womb of Thompson known as Gonzo Journalism (a form where a writer cannot removes himself from the subject he investigates). With a skip and a drug-addled hop one can see that the study of Literary Journalism in its current form would not have been possible if it weren’t for the Good Doctor.
Before moving forward, a few points of clarity should be introduced. To avoid coming across as a mere Thompson groupie I am not afraid to admit that the art of literary journalism, or its twin new journalism, would still exist today even if Thompson had been stillborn.
Elements of literary journalism obviously existed before Thompson’s first writings. The key, however, is that Gonzo journalism, an art in which Thompson can be said to be the sole practitioner, brought about positive changes and expanded the acceptable boundaries of what is called literary journalism today.
Critics and scholars alike document the birth of Gonzo Journalism to be in the June 1970 issue of Scanlan’s Monthly. In its pages was something that no one had ever experienced before.
It was a piece of journalistic reporting that didn’t just merely answer the five W’s, but instead addressed them while successfully using devices of fiction and preserving the truth.
The article was ‘The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.’ Thompson managed to not only convey an amazing account of the Kentucky Derby from an angle that no one had ever touched before, but also preserved its integrity without producing a finished product belonging to the AP wire.
Many of you may still remain unconvinced, and odds are that those of you are the students in the literary journalism program.
To avoid any possible injuries, please sit down before reading on. The art of literary journalism existed long before it ever became a major at UCI.
It even existed before the creation of UCI, and it certainly existed before you were even born. Pulitzer prize-winner and acclaimed writer Barry Siegel has much to do with the fact that UCI has a literary journalism program that is thriving.
In Spring quarter Mike Sager will be joining the already stellar faculty comprised of such skilled writers as the aforementioned Siegel, Carol Burke and John Hollowell.
In the end, however, every established literary journalist owes a debt to the Good Doctor, whether it be large or small.
Hunter S. Thompson, dead at the age of 67, is survived by his son Juan, his second wife Anita, a bevy of legendary writings, assorted masterpieces and every literary journalist who isn’t afraid to write about the truth no matter how dangerous, ugly or offensive it may be.