Sunday, April 03, 2016

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971)

I think there's still plenty to love in Hunter S. Thompson's epic—what? Novel? Tall tale? It's so Nonfiction Novel Creative Nonfiction New Journalism that we don't even know what to call it. But every time through, I have to say, makes it seem just a little more dated, a little more self-indulgent, quaint, and time-bound, a little more inconsequential. Echoes of another time (sing now: "the way we were"). Certainly the gender politics are dated and all wrong, and the Samoan business is tricky on race. This also happened to be my first time through since Thompson's death, incredibly already more than a decade ago. I couldn't help but notice certain words and terms he favors like tics: "hunker down," "brutal," "lash together," and of course "fear and loathing" (though not exactly pro forma in that case). The drug use is still quite comical. Ralph Steadman's art remains perhaps the best part of all—even my July 1989 trade paperback has pages with those wonderful ink blots sprayed across them like blood from backsplash. There's a kind of innocence to the faith shown in hallucinogenic drugs, to an implicit belief that the behavior reported is desperate and outrageous in some noble way, and to the idea that "the American dream" (as featured in the subtitle, "A Savage Journey to the Heart of  ...") is an abstraction worth pursuing. Or, perhaps, worth pretending to pursue. But Thompson was never a phony if he was anything. He was problematic. My reflexive hero-worship of him in the '70s was nonetheless put off and disappointed by his fascinations with firearms and other ordnance as well as some of the behavior, which even with all the high-spirited reporting often seems merely loutish. All that notwithstanding and not to be minimized, it was still a pleasure to spend a little time again with the good doctor of journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, aka Raoul Duke, Doctor Gonzo, etc. The Johnny Depp phase embarrassed me for all concerned and Thompson's death saddened me. If I was uncritically adoring in the '70s perhaps I have reached a point of equilibrium now. He was good at what he did, though what he did was weird—sailed off on drug-fueled madcap adventures with some big media backdrop, while keeping his head enough about himself to look long and hard at our very depressing world, analyzing it to the fine points. This is the purest distillation of the cartoon character he made of himself and one of the most fun books to read I know. I keep meaning to look into Campaign Trail '72 again, because I wonder how it stands up across all this time. I know there's a good book of newspaper columns too, at least one, and scattered other good stuff. But this is the classic vintage and pretty much the good stuff straight, such as it is.

In case it's not at the library.

1 comment:

  1. I have to admit never making it through any of the Thompson stuff, always finding it witheringly meandering. Looking at the the 60s, the new journalism, entirely second hand, for me on one end of the spectrum was Thompson and at the other end was Wolfe, and I preferred the latter. An added twist being that in the long run I'm in far more sympathy w/ Thompson's politics but I liked Wolfe's writing better. But I'm probably due for giving Thompson another try.