Hunter S. Thompson | Critical Review by Richard Vigilante

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of Hunter S. Thompson.
This section contains 1,076 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Richard Vigilante

Critical Review by Richard Vigilante

SOURCE: "Lost Generation," in National Review, Vol. XL, No. 18, September 16, 1988, pp. 52-3.

In the following review, Vigilante complains that Thompson's "Generation of Swine is no more than the wish-fulfillment of a slightly deranged registered Democrat."

It is hard to admit how bad Hunter Thompson's new book is. To me—as to most of the younger writers I have worked with over the past few years—Thompson, along with Tom Wolfe and a bunch of other now-aging New Journalists and their long-defunct movement, still represents the wild hope that journalism could aspire to the condition of literature, while beating the "just the facts, ma'am" boys at their own game.

It was—heck, it still is—an exciting prospect, even if (especially if?) you were, like us, primarily political journalists at constant risk of being consumed and destroyed by the hack imperative, the insistent demand of the audience to be lied to.

If the audience is made up of political ideologues, the lie they demand is that they are the only ones who see the truth in a sick world and can set things to rights. If they are typical New York Times readers, the lie is that everything is under control, or at least would be if the ideologues could be persuaded to sink into that ecstasy of equanimity, that libido of the tedious, that Tiresian torpor of a Times-man who has seen it all before and is all too willing to tell it all again, which alone qualifies a man to be an editor of the World's Only (thank heaven) Newspaper of Record—and also if some action could be taken to stabilize worrisome fluctuations in Third World bauxite prices.

The New Journalism offered escape from both lies. It put the pseudo-objective soporifics of the broadsheets to shame by applying to journalism the techniques of the realistic novel. But, at the same time, it required a romance with reality that undermined the ideologues' lust for self-deceit. For all the literary liberties of the most famous New Journalists, their stories, when done right, were more true than traditional journalism.

Thompson was one of the best, though always a high-risk case. The rules of Gonzo, his particular sect, made him a character in every story, and the risk of self-deceit there was high. He succumbed often. The drug stories were about self-deceit, and so was the Hell's Angels book in the end, and even Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, which could have been subtitled, "How a Guy as Hip as Me Fell for a Phony like McGovern." But the story was always there: Thompson's illusions were part of it, which come to think of it is pretty classic first-person-narratornovelistic technique and a darned effective story-telling device, which Thompson the devotee of Conrad had obviously thought a lot about.

Unfortunately the only story in Generation of Swine, mostly a collection of short pieces from the San Francisco Examiner, is how Thompson used to be a real man, and find great stories, but now he's just a worthless political hack who sits up in Aspen all day watching television (huge satellite dish, two hundred stations) and telling himself he is still a pro.

Thompson has become lazy and dishonest. Probably the most revealing story in the book is his great Haitian escapade. When Baby Doc fell, Thompson knew that Haiti was the place the old Hunter Thompson would have been, deep in the heart of a darkness made blacker than anything Conrad ever saw by the admixture of just a drop of civilization, or at least electric lights. And Thompson turned out several Haiti stories sprinkled with life-like details of demonic corruption. But he never went there (as he admits). All of his reporting was done from Miami.

The book is obsessively political. Thompson has always had strong prejudices, but these days that's all he has. Out of three hundred pages, perhaps 250 are consumed by ideological onanism, which he has somehow convinced himself will be as much fun for us as it was for him.

He is unable to demonstrate the slightest sympathy for any of his victims, except occasionally Ronald Reagan, or even to distinguish clearly among them. Reagan is "dumber than three mules" and can "have anybody who bothers him arrested." Robert Bork is a "certified hair-shirt punishment freak." Ed Meese is a "one-eyed hog." George Bush is "a truly evil man, a truthless monster with the brains of a king rat and the soul of a cockroach … who will loot the national treasury, warp the laws, mock the rules, and stay awake 22 hours a day looking for at least one reason to declare war, officially, on some hapless tribe in the Sahara or heathen fanatic like the Ayatollah Khomeini." George Bush?

Reagan's denunciations of Qaddafi are a "gaggle of wild charges," the bombing raid was insane, and hardline anti-Communists and born-again Christians are fascist perverts. But just mention selling arms to Iran and our boy goes ballistic with outraged patriotism and righteous anger for the 241 Marines killed by Iranian terrorists.

The problem here is not that Thompson has strong opinions, or that his opinions differ from mine. It's that it is now possible to predict everything Thompson will say by checking out the party registration of his subject. After all, by the lights of someone who generally regards a hard-line foreign policy as unrealistic (I'm translating), an attempt to uncover a faction of Iranian moderates ought to seem like a sensible idea. But for Thompson, Ollie North and his comrades, including Reagan, Meese, and Bush, are worse than Nixon or Gordon Liddy.

No living Democrat comes in for even mild criticism. But he does have his favorites: Gary Hart and … Ted Kennedy. Thompson spends hundreds of pages in outraged moralizing and then breathlessly announces the real moral: "Chappaquiddick was a long time ago. Enough is enough. The time has come."

These are not the judgments of a man who has gotten close enough to the story to "bring the techniques of the realistic novel to journalism," as Wolfe used to say, techniques that require that the author understand his victims' motives if not forgive their crimes. Generation of Swine is no more than the wish-fulfillment of a slightly deranged registered Democrat. Hunter Thompson, king of Gonzo Journalism, Hell's Angels outrider, terror of establishment power-worshippers everywhere, is, it turns out, just another party hack, an organization man. He should be sentenced to spend the rest of his life ringing doorbells and collecting kickbacks.

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This section contains 1,076 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Richard Vigilante
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