Date of Award
Culminating Project Type
English: English Studies: M.A.
College of Liberal Arts
James C. Lundquist
L. Wayne Tosh
James E. White
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.
Many critics saw Hunter Thompson's work as little more than the ravings of a vicious misanthrope, and he was often written off as a drug-crazed lunatic. But, as an examination of his work shows, Thompson was really concerned with what he saw as a growing amorality in America. He should be read as a moralist, not as a maniac.
And, his effectiveness as ·a moralist ls largely determined by a unique style he developed--Gonzo. Thompson, himself, referred to this style as "bursts of madness and filigree," and it is, perhaps, this Gonzo style that brought critical attention to Thompson in the first place. In Its purest form, a Gonzo piece is the story of a journalist covering a fictional (as in Las Vegas) or non-fictional (as on the campaign trail) event.
From the early days of the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, he had chronicled the growth of the counter-culture. Thompson believed that these people, the Freaks as he called them, represented a massive search- ing for a more moral, wore humane course for this country. In 1965, he quit his job as a reporter and dropped out at the same time the hippies began their chant of "tune in, turn on, and drop out". His first articles on the hippies, the non-student left, and the Hell's Angels reflected his sympathy for the plight of the counter-culture.
Through Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, he showed the relevance of his outlaw stance. He wrote a book about a subject that could only be honestly covered from the inside. And, in that instance, to be an insider required that the author be an outlaw.
When the counter-culture became political, when the Hippies be- came the Yippies (Youth International Party), Thompson also political. The Yippies' delight in the democratic process and its possibilities was reflected in Thompson's unsuccessful bid for the office of Sheriff in Aspen, Colorado.
The loss of the flower child philosophy and the radicalization of the counter-culture were explained by Thompson's Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. He showed that, to the counter-culture, the American Dream itself had atrophied. The amorality of Americans In general was the cause of the alienation of the youth in the Sixties. Because of the novel and his exposure In Rolling Stone magazine, Thompson emerged as one of the spokesmen of the counter-culture.
He had been a cult hero to the readers of Rolling Stone from the early Seventies, and Fear and Loathing: Campaign Trail '72 established him nationally as the counter-culture's spy in the straight world. But, by 1972, the counter-culture had begun to crumble and dis- appear. The "doomfreaks" he had feared had begun to take over. Thompson's constituency was dwindling. Eventually, Thompson himself began to sense the futility of hoping for a political revolution to straighten America out.
Though the Watergate debacle buoyed his spirits briefly, it turned out to be the counter-culture's last battle with the forces of evil and fascism in America. When the last demon of the Sixties had been exorcised, the counter-culture quietly died. Thompson's career died with them. He no longer believed that America could be wrenched from its disastrous course. He saw Nixon's demise as a defeat for the forces of fascism in America, but he also believed that fascism had become so deeply ingrained in the United States that even Nixon's exorcism couldn't relieve it.
In light of this, Thompson's endorsement of Jimmy Carter for President was no surprise. He believed that Carter was a decent man and that America could do much worse than elect him president. Essentially, that endorsement was the logical outcome of his entire career.
Seefeldt, Charles W., "Hunter S. Thompson: Moralist or Second-Rate Accountant" (1977). Culminating Projects in English. 5.