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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 Seven: Pictures of the Riot

← 124 | 125 → • Chapter Seven •


IN The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved, the piece which history records as the birth of Gonzo journalism, Thompson’s approach to his nominal topic within the work can be seen as building on some of the same structural elements that were in play in the Killy piece. There is, however, also a need to take into account issues relating to the ‘new’ features which prompted this piece’s designation as the site of a methodological breakthrough. The fact that this is considered as the first piece of Gonzo journalism obviously does not make it some kind of privileged specimen against which to judge other examples of Gonzo, or through which to formulate an understanding of the concept, at the expense of other textual elements. The special status that is accorded to The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved as being the site of the birth of Gonzo may, however, be considered as a feature of the Text, as read within the cultural space of Gonzo. This is another thread of meaning in the fabric of the Text, that this work is where Gonzo is born, in a feature article about the Kentucky Derby.

This piece is sports journalism in the sense that Thompson is a sportswriter and the Kentucky Derby, a horse race, is a sporting event. The inevitably loosely defined and unevenly applied status of sports journalism is complicated in this case, perhaps, by the fact that the horses, and the races themselves, are all but ignored...

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