Hunter S. Thompson | Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Hunter S. Thompson.
This section contains 777 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang

Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang

SOURCE: "The Art of the Insult, or Gonzo Writer Strikes Again," in The New York Times, August 11, 1988, p. C23.

In the following review, Mitgang asserts that Thompson "takes no prisoners" in his Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the 80s.

Hunter S. Thompson, who gained a fan club with such hand-stitched books as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72, is back with a collection of his pieces that appeared in The San Francisco Examiner in the last few years. They combine name-calling, bomb-throwing and sardonic humor. He's a little more strident this time out, but if you happen to share his public enemies, Mr. Thompson's your man.

Nearly everything he writes makes yellow journalism pale. With his targets the high rollers, from Sunset Strip to the White House, the former political writer for Rolling Stone elevates insult to an art form. He's dead serious and we blink, wondering how he can get away with it.

Gonzo, his own brand of journalism, has even found its way into the new Random House dictionary, which uses such words as bizarre, crazy and eccentric to define it. No one else gets credit for gonzo journalism in the dictionary; but then not many journalists would want it. Timothy Crouse—in his own perceptive book, The Boys on the Bus, about the behavior of reporters during the 1972 Presidential campaign—recalled when Mr. Thompson first earned his stripes as a political storm trooper by reporting that he had told Richard M. Nixon, "Go get 'em, Dick, throw the bomb! Fifty years more of the Thousand-Year Reich!"

Mr. Crouse observed, "After the revolution, we'll all write like Thompson." Not quite yet. His train of though often seems stuck at the Finland Station.

Nevertheless, he can be challenging. Mr. Thompson finds Watergate more in the American grain of political corruption than the Iran-contra affair. He writes: "The criminals in Watergate knew they were guilty and so did everybody else; and when the dust cleared the crooked President was gone and so were the others." By contrast, he calls those involved in Iran-contra affair "cheap punks" who have been "strutting every day for the past two months of truly disgraceful testimony." (That column was written July 20, 1987; all the columns have dates at the end but have not been updated by the author.) He finds that the Iran-contra investigation was "a farce and a scam that benefited nobody except Washington lawyers who charge $1,000 an hour for courtroom time."

Swinging for the fences, Mr. Thompson sometimes strikes out in his judgments. Disagreement depends on a reader's own set of assumptions and prejudices. Many of the names in these columns are obscure and require a knowledge of Mr. Thompson's friends and previous books. But he continues to speak up about political candidates for whom he holds more loathing than fear.

Writing about Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts a little over a year ago, Mr. Thompson was half prescient and half wrong. He described Governor Dukakis as "feisty" and possessing impressive credentials and "the style of a mean counterpuncher." Mr. Thompson says of Mr. Dukakis: "He was not in the mood, that night, to be poked and goaded by host/moderator William Buckley, who tried to make Dukakis the butt of his neo-Nazi jokes and left Houston with a rash of fresh teeth marks … Buckley has lost speed, in his dotage, but Dukakis is faster and meaner than a bull mongoose … But his chances of getting anything except a purple heart out of the 11 Southern States that will vote on 'Super Tuesday' next March are not ripe. The good ole boys will beat him like a gong, and after that he will be little more than a stalking horse for New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, who still insists he's not running."

And assessing Vice President Bush last March, Thompson first quotes a political friend of his about the Republican candidate's intellectual brilliance—"He is smarter than Thomas Jefferson"—and then gonzofies him: "He had no friends and nobody in Washington wanted to be seen with him on the streets at night." Mr. Thompson doesn't think the Vice President has a touch of the poet. He writes: "It was impossible that he could be roaming around Washington or New Orleans at night, jabbering about Dylan Thomas and picking up dead cats."

Mr. Thompson calls the present generation a "Generation of Swine." With that phrase as his title and premise, he takes no prisoners. A reader can go through the 300-plus pages of the book and look in vain for qualifying journalistic words. Mr. Thompson doesn't write measured prose. It's—well, gonzo.

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This section contains 777 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang
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