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If years ago, journalists had been asked about their subjective take on subjects, the insights about historical episodes would have been different. Conventional journalism uses the doctrine of the w’s- when, why, who, where to talk about something. Gonzo journalism on the other hand completely changed the face of journalism. Its pioneer, Hunter S Thompson not just revolutionised the way of looking at journalism but also gave a radically subjective glimpse of the disillusionment with 60’s, counter culture and the complete shattering of the American dream with his classic- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
The fundamental difference between Gonzo Journalism and conventional journalism is the fact that Gonzo journalism uses a touchingly reflective version to approach a story. Thompson was extremely brilliant in his forms of expression that carried the same frenetic poetic energy in his writings. This immediately translated these works into something more subjective that gave the reader a glimpse they had never seen before. Through his works Thompson found his own voice, one that relied placed him as the protagonist in the story. This enabled him to get a different perspective each time, and this depicted the reality in the most authentic manner. Thompson could only do this because he was not following the orders of a higher authority. As has been showcased throughout his career, Hunter S Thompson was not a man who was fond of following authoritarian policies, and this streak of contrarianism is reflected in this classic (Matheson, Sue 2005).
Conventional journalism has always been biased towards their authoritarian governments which meant that everything that was written, it was written with abject objectivity that could never truly give anyone an idea about what it meant to have actually been there at the place of reporting. On the other hand, Thompson, through Gonzo journalism created this frenzy of stream of consciousness that inject each and every line with intense subjectivity and much more involvement. In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson uses the first-person narrative to in an episodic structure to create a novel that presents the pursuit of the American dream. The intense investigation is fuelled with drugs and alcohol and has ample profanity, sarcasm, hyperbole and exaggeration to give an accurate depiction of what it meant to be chasing the American dream.
The failure as a generation was depicted with sheer honestly and made a definite impact in world of writing. The novel depicted how in order to capture the essence of a story a journalist must go so far in their story that fact becomes fiction (Alexander, Rober 2012). This helps them to recognise the subtle essence which conventional journalism fails to capture because of its dryness. A part of the reason why so many could relate with Thompsons’s version of the counterculture was because of the relativity and fictional aspect the novel provided. The readers could now find a tangible proof of their burgeoning frustration in an era of revolution and change. Here was a piece of literature that wasn’t bound by the conventions of what was acceptable.
The reason why Gonzo journalism made such a huge impact was because it gave him the opportunity to resonate with the social and economics forces of his time albeit in manner that allowed him to illustrate his subjectivity and the humanity as the central character of the novel. Gonzo journalism is basically postulated with two conditions – one, where the writer becomes a part of the story and second where they expose the truth of the situation by lying about it in a manner that makes other parts of the entire scenario clearer (Caron, James E 1985).
Just as one cannot not write about protest in an authentic manner if they have not been a part of it, gonzo journalism is rooted in empathy and participation. The greater freedom and greater latitude of expression provides more room for experimentation and exploration various themes. This is extremely significant when reporting about changes in socio economic structure.
The novel is essentially a critique of the American dream where that character of Thompson discovers the fallacy if the 60’s drug culture. Through the illusion of the gonzo eyes, the novel shows how the pursuit of pleasure and expansion of consciousness can perhaps never be found in casinos, drugs, hotel rooms and alcohol. The element of social critique is present through out the novel and because Thompson chooses to “tell it like it is “the book is able to create such an indelible impact across generations.
In every hotel room there is permanently on war commentary being presented on the television screen. Thompson, the protagonist, despite being heavily intoxicated is aware of the dialogue occurring in his head about how the illusion of America being a “Peace keeper” is losing its effect considering how the war was nowhere near ending in the early 1970’s. the free world of drugs , free love and giddy abandon he had known was slowly making way for corrupt politicians like Nixon who as per Thompson “ deserved no objectivity “.
The creation of this blurry world episode to expose and discover the greater, deeper truth came to signify Gonzo journalism. This completely immersive approach may not have been his actual intention, but the deeper truth that he presented through his novel gave a much accurate depiction of the cumulative disillusionment as a generation in the late 60’s (Ottesen, Karl Erik Ravn 2008).
The reason why hunter Thompson was able to succeed was because through his writing he was able to capture a certain subtle essence of the youth of America. Through his personal experiences, citizens now had a tangible name for the frustration they felt and though it was not conventional journalism, it created a new wave that encouraged millions to take a hard introspective look at crucial point in world history.
“But our trip was different. It was a classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in the national character. It was a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country-but only for those with true grit. And we were chock full of that.”
― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Thompson, Hunter S. "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. 1971." New York: Warner-Random House (1982).
Caron, James E. "Hunter S. Thompson's" Gonzo" Journalism and the Tall Tale Tradition in America." Studies in Popular Culture 8.1 (1985): 1-16.
Alexander, Robert. "‘The Right Kind of Eyes’: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as a Novel of Journalistic Development." Literary Journalism Studies 4.1 (2012): 19-36.
Matheson, Sue. "Caricature, Secular Shamanism, and Cultural Compensation in Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail'72 and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." (2005).
Ottesen, Karl Erik Ravn. The Savage Journey Continues: Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as a Modern American Picaresque. MS thesis. The University of Bergen, 2008.
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