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Gonzo Text

Disentangling Meaning in Hunter S. Thompson’s Journalism


Matthew Winston

Hunter Thompson’s writing is widely read and studied, yet as a methodology and body of work his Gonzo journalism has not been the subject of much critical or theoretical examination. This book fills the gap by constructing a coherent theoretical framework around Gonzo journalism.
Drawing on theories of subjectivity and authorship from Derrida, Foucault and Barthes, key themes of Gonzo journalism are considered, including edgework, representations of drug use, ideas of professional objectivity in political journalism, sports in American culture and ‘the death of the American Dream’. It is considered in wider social, political and historical contexts and in terms of boundaries of reportable experience and of objectivity and/or journalism.
Matthew Winston’s study provides a critical commentary and a theoretical exploration of how Gonzo can be read as destabilising conventional ideas of journalism itself, in its peculiarly unclassifiable nature.
This book is designed to be read by postgraduates and scholars in journalism, cultural studies and media and communication. It is also suitable as an undergraduate text dealing with journalism theory, literary journalism, sports journalism, the New Journalism and the wider historical contexts of American journalism.
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Chapter Five: Cheap Thrills

← 80 | 81 → • Chapter Five •


GONZO negotiates and renegotiates the boundaries of journalistic practice, whose roots lie in the complex history of journalism’s institutional ideology, which I have examined elsewhere. As discussed previously (see especially Chapter Two), more than simply blending fact and fiction, the nature of Gonzo performs the inherent instability of the distinction between the two, toying with the question of what it can get away with and still be journalism, and implicitly problematising the possibilities of defining journalism in the first place. In examining the political aspects of Gonzo journalism with reference to journalism’s traditional ideologies and its political, institutional structures, the figure of Hunter Thompson as Gonzo journalist is, once again, both critically indispensable, and a textual feature which complicates the application of traditional theoretical approaches. The Text is both text, ostensibly political in content, and performance. There is the traditional ‘journalistic’ content, and there is the performance of Gonzo as action, method, experience of the inscribed figure of Hunter Thompson within the Text. That performance has a political character which is entangled with, but by no means identical to, the political rhetoric of the overt ‘message’ of the work. All of which is a complicated way of saying, in essence, that there is political content in both what the figure of Thompson-the-author says, and in what Thompson-the-character does.

In terms of this latter aspect, where the Gonzo text is considered as a record of action (the ‘truth’ of which remains, it must again be stressed, not relevant), there...

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