18 July, 2008

"Buy the Ticket. Take the Ride."

That's Hunter Thompson in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, and this summer I find myself associating with that book (along with the essay The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved) more than anything else I've read. Sometimes it's just a bubbling pool of incoherent stream of consciousness writing, with associations and realizations that often have very little to do with the events Thompson is supposed to be covering; and yet always his writing gets to the deepest, darkest soul of the issue. It's some of the most refreshing writing I have ever read.

When I was nine or ten I wanted to be a journalist. This was in between wanting to be a carpenter and realizing that I would probably need to know math (I hated math then, but now I'm kind of a big fan. Funny how you change over time.) and wanting to write fantasy novels. Journalism seemed to be such a freeing career, at least in my mind. Freelance journalism took the cake, while regular current events columns in "big" newspapers came in a not-so-close second. I craved the ability to exercise my superhero muscles by showing people (through my writing) who the bad guys really were. I wanted to "muckrake", in the best sense of the word. Uphold the principles of truth and justice, and...well, then I lost some of my innocence and realized how unhelpful the media can really be. Far from being free of subjectivity, the subjectivity is rampant and often out of control, but is also hidden by the dressing that slimes up most "news" writing. Very rarely is an article clear or coherent, and very often it's a jumbled mess. In this kind of writing, everything is about "the scandal" or the next thing that hearkens the "end of the world as we know it". First, I'm not so sure I'm that attached to the world as it is now. There are certainly aspects of it that I love with all of my heart, but there are many things I would change; many inequities I would eliminate. Secondly, scandals and fear often cover up the roots of the issue, and they also lead unsurprisingly to hysteria (which is never helpful when it comes to getting anything real accomplished.) There's a fine line between clearly reporting helpful information and important events and fear-mongering, and the line is too often crossed in contemporary journalism.

Now, Hunter Thompson was no stranger to fear. In fact, he published two books with fear in the title. What he seemed to understand though, is that people are not helping others by spreading fear and people are not helping themselves by being afraid. The world is scary enough (if you keep your eyes open) that you don't have to invent new things to fear, in fact it's more helpful to slowly but surely educate yourself about the old things. With this approach, even if you're still afraid, at the very least you will be prepared to face your fears with all of the tools at your disposal. Education and knowledge are the things that should free you from fear, not imprison you further. The other thing that helps is humor (and let me tell you, it's a big help). Thompson produced Gonzo journalism which is inherently subjective. In Gonzon journalism the journalist is generally the center of the entire story. He made precise and cutting observations about human character and post-WWII American culture, and he talked about big issues: poverty; inequity; the oppressive nature of the government; the awful things that humans can do to each other; and of course sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Nothing was too risque, nothing too disgusting or too visceral. He acknowledged that it is the visceral nature of our time on Earth that makes us human, and at the same time makes us animals.

After reading Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, I couldn't look at people without thinking: how would you behave in this situation? How would you react when confronted with A, B, and C? My worldview was turned on its side just enough to make my world a little weirder. Those of you who read this blog regularly know that my world is already pretty weird. I suppose you could call this a revelation, although I've done very few things religiously in my life. In my mind, it's more of an inspiration to spend a good portion of my time tuning in to the events that occur around me, and noticing all of the horrifying, beautiful, and strange facets of life. I'd really like to write about these things I witness, and you might see some of that in this blog in the future. If I get to the point where I'm writing more about the man on the subway than the music in my headphones, I may have to create a sister blog where I can run into my phone booth and put on the costume of my alter ego. I guess only time will tell how well this experiment will succeed or fail, but as anyone who's read Thompson can attest, the journey is always more important than the conclusion.

Stay classy San Diego.

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