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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 Six: A Very Hard Dollar

← 104 | 105 → • Chapter Six •


‘I got nothing personal against Thompson’, he told another NFL player who happened to be skiing in Aspen at the time: ‘But let’s face it, we’ve got nothing to gain by talking to him. I’ve read all his stuff and I know how he is; he’s a goddamn lunatic—and you’ve got to be careful with a bastard like that, because no matter how hard he tries, he just can’t help but tell the truth’. When I heard that I just sort of slumped down on my bar-stool and stared at myself in the mirror…wishing, on one level, that Keating’s harsh judgement was right…but knowing, on another, that the treacherous realities of the worlds I especially work in forced me to abandon the purist stance a long time ago.

—Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt, 1980, pp. 77–78

FOCUSSING on counter-culture, drugs, subjectivity, politics, and other ‘heavy’ issues of cultural politics and literary journalism, it is almost possible to forget that Hunter Thompson was, perhaps primarily (if that means anything), a sportswriter. Gonzo journalism itself began in a story on the Kentucky Derby, although that is not a piece of writing that unproblematically fulfills contemporary conventions of sports journalism (see Chapter Seven). Both the focal points and the boundaries of the world of sports journalism may perhaps be considered as in some sense both less explicitly and more arbitrarily defined than the parameters of some other journalistic beats. In this context, it is possible...

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