Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A cartoon in a cartoon graveyard

Here's a nasty little piece from 1998 by David Plotz of what a sad, addled sellout Hunter S. Thompson became by the end of his life. But to prove his point, Plotz necessarily must recollect how raw and fresh Thompson was when he was at the apex of his powers, at the turn of the 1960s, and how much he was a perfect foil for his time:
Between 1967 and 1973, when Thompson was at his best, he wrote with crazed, out-of-control, phantasmagoric violence. But he was living in crazed, out-of-control, phantasmagoric, violent times. A nation that had been placid suddenly raged with race riots and assassinations, manipulated by a crooked, villainous president and trapped in a terrible war.
That last sentence drew me up short. It made me realize that what our own time lacks, quite precisely, is a Hunter S. Thompson figure. We desperately need someone who can shatter the pretenses of both the angry and passive, someone who can implode the perfervid fantasies that grip our country today just as surely as parallel fantasies gripped the country thirty-odd and fifty-odd years ago.


Zak Braverman said...

I in no way shape or form agree, but I think this is how a lot of people see Michael Moore (I think its definitely how he sees himself). Speaking truth to power and all that, damn all the consequences and at great personal expense....

purpleprose said...

I agree that people (including Moore himself) look to Moore to fill this role. But the problem with Moore is that he's a bad writer, and simply not very politically smart.

True, Moore is pretty funny, if you get amusement from watching the powerful get ambushed with "when did you stop beating your wife" kinds of questions. But humor is not really what's called for right now. Thompson was never really funny.

Moore's political theory is, to put it charitably, crude. How can you have a theory of America's Middle East politics and policy that barely references Israel? As far as I can tell, his political theory, such as it is, is beholden to whatever good visual soundbites he can find to throw together in his movies. And when he tries to escape that stranglehold (it's pretty hard to find good dramatic film about AIPAC's lobbying efforts) by writing, well, he's just a poor writer, period -- forget about the contrast with Thompson, who whatever else he was, was a compelling writer, a man who treated words like a hammer and the world as his anvil.

rmockler said...

A couple of comments. First, it's fair enough to say that Thompson's writing declined greatly or that he was a degenerate, but applying the label "selling out" to him seems completely to miss the point. After all, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" begins in the Beverly Hills Hotel. Second, Thompson was, in fact, hilariously funny. Go back and read the passages in "Campaign Trail '72" about Muskie's supposed drug addiction for a good example.