Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Or is that a pill too bitter to digest?

The Ottawa Citizen has a shamefully, mind-bogglingly obtuse editorial elegy for Hunter S. Thompson: A Gonzo obituary: Hunter, you coward, you killed yourself when the world needed you most. Maybe the light started to die on you at last: at 67, you don't recover as fast from a broken leg and spinal surgery. Maybe the ether and acid and mescaline and liquor caught up to you. Or maybe you just couldn't take the torrent of B.S. anymore. As the 70s have been over for the past twenty-five years, he hasn't really been needed in a long while. Besides, I'd argue irrelevancy is far more cruel to the out-of-touch writer than any temporal pain. You spent your life shredding American hypocrisy, from the moral depravity of the horse-worshippers at the Kentucky Derby to the false puritanism of the district attorneys at their Las Vegas convention. You had Nixon pegged for a crook back in the '60s, long before he met Liddy and Colson and the rest of the creeps who, you would write, help him break the back of the American dream. You were right about Lyndon Johnson's doomed escalation in Vietnam. You were right - in 1965! - that Reagan would one day be in the White House. Because of all that, people forgot all the times you were wrong. You kept predicting the end of America and it never came. Just last November, on election day, you wrote without irony: "Kerry will win big today. I guarantee it. The evil Bush family of central Texas is about to suffer another humiliating failure on another disastrous election day." You know, what comes to mind is the case of always eminently-readable columnist Mark Steyn, who - having predicted a solid Bush victory in last year's election, swore to resign from each of his half-dozen permanent gigs if he was wrong, on principle alone; if a professional political commentator can't manage to pick right on that kind of binary forecast, he's obviously not terribly competent. Steyn is enough of a gentleman that he bet not only his credibility, but his career, on being correct. Thompson, on the other hand, seems to have made a few lucky, drug-addled guesses about the future national marketability of a rising Republican star, and the possibly criminal instability of Richard Nixon after having the 1960 election stolen from him by an improbably small margin. So what? Predicting the believable (and a buck-twenty-seven) gets you a medium coffee nowadays. For that he's the Cassandra of modern journalism? He didn't, and they didn't, and it must have driven you crazy, watching George W. Bush's administration pay journalists to push its agenda, plant a shill in the White House press corps, actually deride its critics for living in the "reality-based community," and march back to power on a road of bones. In order: not unique to Republicans or this administration; if referring to Gannon/Guckert, downright libelous; completely justified, given the ire of that self-selected community towards genuine reality; and so hyperbolically juvenile as to be beneath comment. ("Road of bones?" What is this, a Goth poetry slam?) This reads like something out of a sloppy college newspaper, long on incendiary rhetoric and short on coherent argument. While I know that to some extent that's the point - aping Thompson's style in an angry, joyless tribute - it doesn't belong in a broadsheet daily that aspires to be taken seriously. Dynamiting that road is what we needed you for, Doc. You've left us to face it alone. Somehow, I think we'll manage to cope. I never read Hunter S. Thompson's work "live," as it were, only getting his best work decades after the fact. I knew of him better through the latter-day shades and apparitions of his personality; Doonesbury's Uncle Duke, Johnny Depp's studious insanity of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and the many pretentious, bile-filled rage against the MAN, man imitators he inspired. Neither his real nor reflected incarnations seem worthy of this much adulation.


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