The essay is a critical examination of Hunter Thompson’s experiences and writing style. The current events, activities and procedures have a strong link with the contributions of all those who came before us. Their experiences as well as the manner with which they did their activities have a bearing with what we are currently doing in the corresponding fields.
According to Nocera 44 Hunter Stockton Thomson was a great American journalist of his time. He was behind the publication of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as well as Fear and Loathing on Campaign Trail in the years 1971 and 1973 respectively.
He was born in July 18, 1937 in Louisville, Kentucky as the first son of Robert Thomson (a public insurance adjuster) and Virginia Davison (a librarian). His father died when he was only fourteen years.
Hunter joined Louisville Castlewood Athletic Club where he was a pro in baseball. He also attended I.N Bloom Elementary School. He later joined Highland Middle School before transferred to Atherton High School then moved to Louisville Male High School. At the school he joined Athenaeum Literary Association where he contributed immensely in development of the yearbook of the club.
However he lost his membership after being accused of robbery. He later joined Air Force and his quest to be an aviator was not realized. While in service he was a sports editor. This gave him an opportunity to travel across the United States of America. However he was honourably discharged from service in 1958.
Thomson continued working as a sports editor although with different employers. He got married to his long-term girlfriend Conklin in 1963. Through his work, he came up with a writing style known as “Gonzo journalism which entails a concept where a reporter actively involves him/herself in the action to such a degree that he becomes central figures of their stories” (Thomson 91)
Hunter Thompson’s experiences
He lacked the affection of his father. In my humble opinion, Hunter had trouble in school; this can be depicted by the several numbers of schools he attended. Despite his contribution to the club’s yearbook, he lost membership when he was found in a stolen car. This landed him a jail term of two months.
After joining the Air Force he studied electronics but his desire to be an aviator was thwarted forcing him to transfer to Eglin Air Force Base. He gained interest in being a sports editor and worked for The Command Courier covering base football team.
After four years of service, he was honourably discharged from service and the ground of dismissal is summarized; “This airman, although talented, will not be guided by policy… Sometimes his rebel and superior attitude seems to rub off on other airmen staff members” (Nocera 49).
He landed a job as a sports editor in Jersey Shore. Moving to New York City he enrolled for part-time studies in Columbia University School of General Studies studying creative writing.
Working for Times as a copy boy he engaged himself in trying to understand the writing styles of such great artists as Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. He was later fired for insubordination. He moved on and worked for The Middletown Daily Records but was fired when he destroyed a candy machine (Nocera 45).
Thomson relocated to Puerto Rico and got a job with El Sportivo magazine, the company later collapsed forcing him to look for a job elsewhere leading to The San Juan Star.
Thomson later returned to the United States of America and worked as a security guard in Big Sur, California. During this time he published an article feature in Rogue magazine. His article was about “artisan and bohemian culture of Big Sur”. This kind of undesired publicity made him loss his job.
Two novels were written immediately he lost his job- Prince Jellyfish and The Rum Diary. His efforts to submit several short stories for publication hit a snag. He moved to South America and worked as a correspondent for National Observer newspaper. Additionally he worked as a reporter in Brazil.
After marrying his long-term girlfriend, they managed to give birth to a son. The desire to have additional children was not achieved as the pregnancy was either miscarried or the infants died immediately after birth. After 17 years of marriage the two divorced. His family relocated to California in 1964 where he continued working with the National Observer.
He fell out with his employer after his work The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby was not published. This prompted him to move to San Francisco where he was a drug addict and took a job as a writer for The Spyder (Nocera 44).
Hunter was offered a chance to write a story by McWilliams who by then was the editor of The Nation; the article was his (Hunters) experience while he was working with Hells Angel motorcycle club. After the publication, Hunter received numerous book offers. However things turned out the other way round when the gang established that Hunter would gain from such partnership.
This prompted them to demand for a share of the profit Hunter accrued leading to an argument. He was thoroughly beaten up. This happened in 1965. With the success of Hells Angel, Hunter was able to publish numerous works in well known and established magazines.
In 1968, he is remembered for vowing not to pay tax raising serious concerns about the war in Vietnam. During the same time, he was among the team that was trailing the presidential campaign and from his hotel room; he saw the fight between the civilians and the police. This shaped his political stand.
The desire to publish the book was never realize, however the theme was of American dream was evident in his later works. He published his first book; Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in 1972. A year after moving to Colarado he ran for a local office but narrowly lost. The Rolling Stone magazine shown Hunter carrying beer which he claimed was used to derail his campaign.
A year after publishing his famous book, he worked for Rolling Stone and extensively covered presidential campaign of Nixon. His desire to provide the same coverage to the magazine he was working for with presidential campaign 3 years later did not see the light as an advance check was pulled out by the company’s publisher (Nocera 46).
He was later sent to Vietnam to cover stories related to the war. His health insurance and financial support was withheld by the same publisher making his life difficult prompted him to distance himself from the magazine. Thereafter, Hunter engaged in other literal works such as novel, short stories as well as movies.
In several occasions he found himself in the wrong side with the authorities, however most cases brought forth against him were dismissed. I believe all these experiences are what contributed to his writing style where he expressed his feelings while reporting-the Gonzo writing style.
His writing style
One thing that made and will continue making Hunter so famous at his time, now and even in the future is his journalist style the Gonzo. Writing style “that blurs distinctions between fiction and nonfiction” that came to the limelight between 1960s and 1970s. His efforts aimed at changing the “objective style mainstream reporting during his time” (Thomson 74).
Most of his work was written in first person accompanied by personal experiences as well as emotions. A close look at his work reveals that they were colourful, hilarious and peculiar with lots of exaggeration to attract the attention of readers. Hunter acknowledged that;
[I have stolen more quotes and thoughts and purely elegant little starbursts of writing from the Book of Revelation than anything else in the English language… because l love the wild power of the language and the purity of the madness that governs it and makes it music.] (Nocera 49).
The concept of language and madness are evident in his work. His style of reporting took the “form of volatile denunciatory literary jeremiads, challenging and reproving conventional morality, politics, and culture” (Nocera 48).
The use of certain words in his work for instance ‘certain death’, ‘total failure’ among others made people feels nauseous and he hinted that such words are worth listening to. In this style of journalism the reporter take the role of a performer and this is summarized by what he said “True Gonzo reporting needs the talents of a master journalist, the eye of an artist/photographer and the heavy balls of an actor” (Thomson 125).
A typical example of his writing style was depicted in the book titled Hell’s Angel in which he narrated his experiences with the motorcycle gang in which he used such strong words as “riding, loafing, plotting, and eventually being stomped” (Thomson 279).
It is no doubt that he injected himself as an active participant in narrations which was closely linked with invention of metaphoric element that led to a product that brought with it “amalgam of facts and fiction notable for the deliberately blurred lines between one and the other” (Nocera 50).
Additionally his writing style was full of weird humour as well as strident invective. This contributed to making his work distinct from the normal straight forward reporting. To him satire and humour contribute to creation of a good work that will leave readers at the edge of their seat trying to establish what is in the next line.
Hunter managed to “wields them with deadly and hilarious vengeance” (Nocera 47). There are some examples that clearly illustrate this concept. In reference to George Bush he wrote;
[He has the instincts of a dung beetle. No living politician can match his talent for soiling himself in public. Bush will seek out filth wherever it lives… and when he finds a new heap he will fall down and wallow crazily in it, making snorting sounds out of his nose and rolling over on his back and kicking his legs up in the air like a wild hog coming to water] (Thomson 228).
On the same note Hunter more often than not used ‘harsh and strong words’ words to make his points. For instance in a case where he was denouncing televangelist he said that these individuals are nothing but “the scum of the earth who act like a gang of baboon”.
Although it has been suggested that Hunter’s style of writing and reportage had roots from Wolfe’s the later said of the former’s style, “…part journalism and part personal memoir admixed with powers of wild invention and wilder rhetoric” (Nocera 49)
It is worth mentioning that other journalists were of the view that Hunter was undermining the professional way of reportage and he was branded “quintessential outlaw journalist”. However there were those who praised his work, for instance Nocera noted Hunter’s work led to a new reportage with “a new general form that would merge fact writing and opinion-writing” (Nocera 45)
Impact to journalism
It is no doubt that Hunter’s Gonzo writing style had tremendous influence in what is happening in the field of journalism. He paved way for contemporary journalism in which reporters actively got involved in their stories.
This continuously makes the readers to “grasp a better sense of happenings and situations.” The style has made it possible for current journalists to witness an event and immediately record it making the magazines and other print media to be understood into facts and opinions.
Additionally his writing style made it possible for the field of journalism to come to terms with the fact that reporting or writing in first person is acceptable. The contribution of this was a product or article that logically flow and unique. Similarly the desire to use humour, colour, metaphor, satire as well as personal peculiar accounts made journalism to be not only informative but entertaining.
More importantly, his writing style went a head in trying to seek the highest degree of truth. His efforts yielded higher levels of truth compared to conventional journalism. His influence in journalism can be seen through the efforts of current journalists who have tried but failed to impress and fit into his shoes.
From the review of experiences and writing style of Hunter Thomson, it is evident that his writing style Gonzo was shaped by what he went through while in school and the numerous jobs he took.
He is credited for coming up with a reportage style in which the reporter takes the role of a performer and fully indulge himself in writing using the first person. Hunter is known to use very harsh words to air his views. It is apparent that his work has been described as full of satire, humour, bizarre account that contributed in making his work informative and entertaining.
It is no doubt that his efforts had a clear impact on contemporary reporting, although some criticized him. His style of reporting resulted to soliciting for higher truth. Future generations will continue going through his work since there is no other work that can match Hunter’s as it gives truthful insight on American life.
Nocera, Joseph. How Hunter Thompson killed new journalism. Washington Monthly, 13.2 (1981), 44-50. Print.
Thompson, Hunter. Hell’s Angels: A strange and terrible saga. New York: Random House, 1966. Print