Monday, 9 May 2011

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Hunter S. Thompson

I know they made a film out of this in the 90s, but I can't get my head around that. Not because it's an unfilmable mess; I have no trouble imagining this as a film. Almost the opposite. I can picture the film exceptionally well, because I've already seen Withnail & I half a dozen times.

Two drugged and drunk friends go on a crazy roadtrip and mourn the passing of the 1960s, and all those years entailed. Yep, that's the same story. As Withnail and Fear and Loathing are both at least 'based on' true events, though, I'm not calling plagiarism (except in the way that all non-fiction is plagiarism, by stealing bits from real life.)

The fictional truth/factual nonsense angle is undiluted in Fear and Loathing. This is, after all, the textbook example of Gonzo journalism (it was only in the Post Script material in this Harper Perennial edition that I learned that Gonzo journalism wasn't Thompson's own coinage.)

Maybe the lure of Gonzo journalism was contextual to its time. From my perspective, though, there is little that is surprising or original in it. I'd be massively surprised if it really did only take hold in the late 60s -- it's a fundamental tool of storytelling (or truth-telling, whatever) -- just having an identity crisis.

That's not to say Hunter Thompson's own take on the mongrel approach is not frantically exciting and readable. Fear and Loathing paints a very different picture of the end-of-the-decade malaise than that found in the rain-filled English Withnail. Thompson is looking back, mourning the loss of the bigger thing; the movement, the intangible moment when everyone who was there was part of the same cresting wave. Withnail's journey is a much more personal one; looking forward, but not with positivity. He is staring down the barrel of a hopeless life, the decade after Hope reached an all time international high.

How much of that difference in perspective is genuine, and how much is some Gonzo insinuation from the weather the two stories both fight and embody, I wouldn't care to say.


  1. why is it called Gonzo?

  2. Allegedly because of the muppet -- Fozzie was a bear, Kermit was quite clearly a frog, Animal was pure animal, but Gonzo was... Gonzo. A bit of everything, a bit of nothing, not definable with reference to other things.

  3. I love this book. I really do. It's one of the best stories ever told on "absence". Two feral animals of the sixties, lost in a desert of meaninglessness, trying to live up to a promise that nobody believes in anymore. Very touching I thought. Despite the debauchery, I thought it pictured a loss of innocence not so far from mine.

  4. That's interesting. I can't say I read it as them trying to live up to anything... all the talk of the American Dream seemed to sway between the bitter and the mocking.

  5. I've not read either of these, though I've heard of both. I can't say I was ever attracted to Gonzo journalism. The closest I've ever got was Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff which I think is loosely associated with Gonzo journalism.