Fear and Loathing in Dallas: 11/22/63

Hunter S. Thompson 3

The famed “Gonzo Journalist” Hunter S. Thompson first used his famous phrase “Fear and Loathing” in the essay he wrote immediately after he heard of JFK’s assassination

Among other things, Thompson accurately predicted that:

  • “We now enter the era of the shitrain, President Johnson and the hardening of the arteries”,
  • “This is the end of reason, the dirtiest hour of our time”,
  • “No matter what, today is the end of an era. No more fair play . . .”
  • “Politics will become a cockfight and reason will go by the boards,”
  • And this, perhaps his most prescient vision, presumably about the future of writing non-fiction, that the genre would become severely compromised by the need for myth-making by the major publishers and broadcast media:

“My concept of the new novel would have fit this situation, but now I see no hope for getting it done, if indeed, any publishing houses survive the Nazi’s scramble that is sure to come.” (Emphasis added)

Hunter S. Thompson had always struggled with the dichotomy between fiction and non-fiction, so his gonzo style blurred the distinction between those literary genres.  His writing resembled an extemporaneous, trenchant, stream-of-consciousness outpouring, yet it was formed upon a base of verbatim quotations, transcribed notes and excerpted article citations.   

His “Gonzo Journalism” (a term derived from a South Boston Irish aphorism describing the last man standing after an all-night drinking marathon) according to his own definition the term, “is a style of reporting based on William Faulkner’s idea that the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism.”  That term has even made its way into the Random House dictionary, which uses such words as “bizarre, crazy and eccentric” to define it.  HST did not appreciate that description, as he explained in an interview with Matthew Hahn (See “Writing on the Wall — An interview with Hunter S. Thompson”  The Atlantic, August 26, 1997 [https://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/unbound/graffiti/hunter.htm]):

“Gonzo Journalism is a term that I’ve come to dislike because of the way it’s been cast: inaccurate, crazy. And in a way it might sound like, What am I complaining about? But there’s a big difference. What I called Nixon is true — just a little harsh.” 

(He was probably referring to his 1994 obituary for Richard Nixon, “He Was a Crook”   See: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1994/07/he-was-a-crook/308699/ )

There can be no doubt that he was surely the first to understand the full implications of JFK’s murder, including the dismal future of any hope of publishing real truths of historical facts.   Unlike most of us – too afraid to ponder the unknowns for very long – HST immediately began poking the hornet’s nest.

Three months after the assassination, Thompson wrote to a friend:  “The press can’t sell me Johnson.  He don’t smell right.”

Unfortunately, his 1968 plan to write a book on Johnson’s mendacity was cancelled by the publisher (Ballantine Books) when Johnson abruptly dropped out of the reelection campaign.

When one compares Hunter S. Thompson’s prose with any others it is essential to go beyond his writing style and the analogies, similes, metaphors — even the descriptive words he used to make whatever the point he tried to convey. For example in the above essay where he explained the depth of his shock at JFK’s murder, how he felt “rage” went well beyond the normal meaning of the word — he felt it necessary to stipulate that it was “trebled” — and how he was not prepared for “the death of hope” that it wrought for him.

In the closing paragraphs his descriptions of what the future held, for not only our culture but civilization itself have, sadly, proven his prescience: The Nazification of “publishing houses” generally — with notable and noble exceptions — bear that out.

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