And there were some things I learned from Hunter S. Thompson. Most of them wouldn't make my mother very happy, or my wife. Some elicited that, "yeah...but..." response from friends.
"Yeah, but -- it really didn't happen like that." HST admitted in print that he'd never have survived had he actually done all those drugs, which was good for me because most drugs stronger than cough medicine scared the shit out of me. To be a great writer I wasn't going to have to attempt to survive a bout of full-body cramping on pure adrenochrome extracted from cadavers, or enduring a three headed turtle hangover for weeks after swallowing a sea sponge sopping in DMT.
Yeah but -- it was gonzo journalism. It wasn't what happened, it's what he saw happen.
On the other hand, I'd reached the point in my life where most of my friends were scheming women my age or slightly younger. Natural selection dictated they were all writers. Most of them were journalists with a slant toward science.
"Anyway, gonzo journalism is bullshit," said one of my journalist girlfriends to me, recently. We were walking down the shore path at Redondo Beach. I was asking her if she could give me a reference for a job in Antarctica. Actually, I was angling for a slot on her newspaper and I wanted her to know payola wasn't beneath me. She ignored my blatant offer of financial or sexual favors and deftly handled the subject by pointing out my qualifications were substandard, starting with my amateur's choice of favorite writers.
"There is no such thing as Gonzo journalism," she said.
"Really. Why would you say that?"
"You're supposed to report. Unbiased reporting. Some of us go to school for it. For years."
"But that's boring," I said. "You needed four years of training to learn to be boring?"
"Journalists don't make up stuff."
"Like hell. Ever watch Fox News? Ever hear of NPR?"
"You know what I mean."
"Yeah. Like right now. I just want to know how you can sit back and condemn the man's work when you've never read it, Miss Objectivity."
"I mean, you've never read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It's an American classic. As soon as we can vote the book burners out of office, it will be required reading for all seventh graders."
"Now there's a rational statement."
"You can quote me. It's journalism."
In a sense, modern hyper-biased newscasting on both the left and right owe their existence to Hunter Thompson. Before him, networks presented newscasts as a public service. While they took in big advertising money for Movie of the Week and Jack Parr they lost money on Huntley Brinkley and Walter Cronkite. And those guys were journalists. They simply reported. Textbook.
Now the news is a packaged product. There is an advertising sales quota to be met. And I have heard commentary on all-news stations to the effect that it's the "duty" of a news organization to provide the "slant" the audience is looking for. I've heard it said on our left-leaning National Public Radio, and on the stations leaning to the right, like Fox and the independents.
Thanks to HST, the reporter has become the story.
When the Thompson lost interest in covering the Mint 400 motorcycle race, he wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas instead. He found out who won the race by reading the local paper. Meanwhile, he wrote one of the quintessential pieces on the death of the hippie era. It also happens to be side splittingly hilarous, which is a quality most journalism lacks, by definition.
"When you don't see it, you make it up," my blonde friend said to me about my own writing. "That's not journalism."
Oddly, I think she's right. I can't tell what the hell's happening in the world anymore by consuming the offal shit out by the American media. On the right, we're dominated by assholes like Bill O'Reilly or former UPS truck driver Sean Hannity whose only qualification as a broadcaster is the ability to whip his listeners into a froth about random issues of varying degrees of importance from abortion to the logic of applying the death penalty to people under the age of 4. The issues they discuss matter less to the success of these shows than their ability to excite their listeners. And that's what people are looking for. There are no slow news days for Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity. People can be made angry about anything.
What I wonder is how people who consume their dreck regularly can move through life with any degree of peace. I have a good friend who watches and listens to both those guys daily, and will frequently point out to me the absurdly infuriating stories they highlight, along with some of the more serious work. And then he tells me about his drive into work, how awful the traffic was and how many jerks he had to endure to make it in.
I ask him if he sees a connection -- between watching all these right-wing talk shows and feeling like he's surrounded with unfeeling, malicious dunderheads. And he doesn't. Because he knows he is surrounded by unfeeling, left-wing, immoral, malicious, dunderheads.
On the other side of the spectrum is NPR and the historically left-leaning major network news, who enervate their listeners by presenting controversial topics in a wrapper of milquetoast logic. If "a" then "b", if "b" then "c", if "c" then we're all as bad as the National Socialists in 1938. And all it takes is one trip down the California byways to see all the angry white males in their BMWs flipping off each other and jockeying for position to prove to them we absolutely are developing a new cadre of brownshirts.
Because everyone is seeing exactly what they expect.
I hate them all. Maybe I hate them because they won't let me be a part of it.
McNeil/Lehrer is probably the only truly unbiased news source left in America, and they have a viewing audience of about a hundred, and most of them are McNeil's relatives who like watching him on television, or the politicians in the federal government of either major party who admit it's the only broadcast they trust for accuracy.
We have my hero, Hunter Thompson to thank for this mess, in part. And the bastard blew his brains out with a .45 ACP Gold Cup.
There's a law of nature that I was unaware of. It goes something like this:
If you are alone with a woman downing shots of Herradura Anejo at a bar at 2:00 in the afternoon, she will sleep with you.
There are no exceptions or corrillaries. It's a law. Like Newton or Galileo. It simply is.
All women know this, apparently, and so if you happen to mention to one that you've done the drinking part, in their minds the fucking part is simply a matter of you having located a place of sufficient comfort and privacy to have carried out the inevitable.
It's inevitable, you see, because when a woman makes it clear to a guy who has been drinking that she's going to encourage that activity males are generally incapable of refusing.
This may seem obvious to all of you who are a bit more savvy than me in the cultural arts. Those of you who have been in this situation may just roll your eyes and make a loud "tsk" sound.
And I was on the phone with a woman with whom some time ago I was in a bar, alone after friends left at the seemingly innocent family oriented hour of 2:00PM on a Saturday when she said to me, as mad as if she'd just finished watching an installment of the Sean Hannity show:
"You have no idea how women think."
"Ok, how do women think?"
"Well, what do YOU think?"
"I think -- are you meaning to tell me that if I had asked you'd have come back to my hotel room with me right then and there?"
"Does this screw up my chance to get a job on your newspaper?"
"Is it because I make up too much shit?"
"You never had a chance."