Hunter S. Thompson 1939–2005
(Has also written under pseudonyms Raoul Duke and Sebastian Owl) American nonfiction writer, journalist, editor, and scriptwriter.
The following entry presents criticism of-Thompson's work. For further information on his life and career, see CLC, Volumes 9, 17, and 40.
Thompson is best known as the inventor of "gonzo journalism," a form of outspoken, irreverent commentary. Gonzo journalism grew out of the New Journalism movement of Thomas Wolfe and others who wanted to bring journalism beyond merely reporting facts to a level of literature in which writers bring their creativity to beat on the subject. Thompson's gonzo style parodies current events and satirizes American culture.
Thompson was born on July 18, 1939, in Louisville, Kentucky. Planning to someday make an impact in the world, Thompson retained carbon copies of all of his correspondence for future publication. These letters were eventually published as The Proud Highway (1997). Thompson began his career with a series of jobs at small newspapers, including stints as the sports editor of The Jersey Shore Herald and as a reporter for The Middletown Daily News. He then moved on to freelance writing, first based in Puerto Rico and then as the South American correspondent for The National Observer. During this time he also tried his hand at novel writing, but only fragments of his two novels were ever published. Thompson's unique brand of political writing gained widespread attention through his affiliation with Rolling Stone magazine, where the articles that later became Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972) and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 (1973) were originally published. Thompson also worked as a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner. He currently lives on a farm in Woody Creek, Colorado, where he continues to write.
Thompson is known for his unique perspective and brutal honesty as a writer as well as for his flamboyant lifestyle. As a practitioner of gonzo journalism, Thompson enters a scene—the world of the Hell's Angels, Las Vegas gambling, and Washington politics are examples—and becomes a char-acter in the story. Far from maintaining the traditional journalistic ideal of impartiality, Thompson interacts with the players and records his impressions, often with scathing irreverence. His first book, Hell's Angels (1966), portrays his time on the road with the infamous motorcycle gang. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas collects his articles about five days spent in a drug-induced haze, immersed in the world of casino gambling. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 includes Thompson's behind-the-scenes impressions of the 1972 presidential campaign and its candidates. Two decades later, Better Than Sex (1993) offers the same perspective on the 1992 presidential campaign.
Thompson's gonzo journalism drew controversy from its inception, and many of the arguments it sparked remain unresolved. One of the points of contention among reviewers is the validity of labeling Thompson's writing "journalism": many believe that since he eschews neutrality, Thompson's writing by definition cannot be categorized as journalism. Beyond the semantics issues, however, critics are divided in their opinions of the quality of Thompson's prose. Some agree with Michael E. Ross, who considers him "one of our most incisive, insightful and hilarious social critics," while others reject his topics as insignificant and unnecessarily offensive. While some critics complain that Thompson's prejudices influence his writing excessively, others praise him for displaying his biases as other journalists attempt to hide theirs. Even some critics who disagree with Thompson's ideas and approach nonetheless comment favorably on the quality of his writing. Some critics in later years, however, have complained that Thompson's recent works do little more than rehash his earlier writings and that the author himself has become his own main subject.