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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 Nine: What Sort of Journalist I Was

← 156 | 157 → • Chapter Nine •


This is getting pretty heavy…so I should cut back and explain, at this point, that Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas is a failed experiment in gonzo journalism. My idea was to buy a fat notebook and record the whole thing, as it happened, then send in the notebook for publication—without editing. That way, I felt, the eye & mind of the journalist would be functioning as a camera…But this is a hard thing to do, and in the end I found myself imposing an essentially fictional framework on what began as a piece of straight/crazy journalism. True gonzo reporting needs the talents of a master journalist, the eye of an artist/photographer and the heavy balls of an actor. Because the writer must be a participant in the scene, while he’s writing it—or at least taping it, or even sketching it. Or all three.

—Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt, 1980, pp. 114–115

Writing was what Hunter called the ‘rock in his sock’, the one thing that he had as a tool, but also as a weapon. It doesn’t cost much, you just put a huge rock in a large white sock and swing it around. People will leave you alone, and you will also have the confidence of having a serious weapon.

—Anita Thompson, The Gonzo Way, 2007, p .26

THE definition of Gonzo journalism is, of course, ultimately subjective. Gonzo is a journalistic methodology. It is...

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