In reference to whether or not the gonzo journalism of Hunter S. Thompson as portrayed in the 1997 film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas offers any kind of objectivity, my classmate Catherine Dumas says:
Hell yeah, a lot more that the journalism that we get on a daily basis through our media. A lot of our media is controlled by some Australian dude, Rupert Murdoch.
While I tend to agree with Catherine on some level, I think we need to start with whether or not objective truth exists before answering this question.
Truth is constructed via the gathering of facts and means nothing without the connectivity of those facts through narrative. Since narrative is always written from a particular point of view, there can be no objectivity without the influence of culture whether it be race, gender, political affiliation, sexual preference, etc. That said, I say no form of writing offers objectivity. Regardless of any stated effort to achieve it (the phrase “fair and balanced” comes to mind), journalism is used to persuade the public toward a particular viewpoint.
Has anybody seen “The Myth of the Liberal Media: The Propaganda Model of the News?”
This 1997 documentary features Noam Chomsky and?Edward Herman?addressing the filters that news must flow though prior to publication. Journalists are never free to write anything they want. They must satisfy an editor who must satisfy the corporate head who must satisfy the advertisers who have political affiliations. And these journalists are selected from schools who teach them to conform to certain parameters in the first place. There is nothing liberal about the process and persuasion, rather than truth, is always the end game.
One example of how this works is a favorite of mine. (I’m working strictly from failed memory so please pardon any inaccuracies. It’s the idea I’m going for here.) The film presents a journalist who published a story about the dishonesty of local used car salesmen. Once the article went live, the salesmen pulled their ads refusing to return until a retraction was printed. Since the majority of the paper’s revenue came from used car lot advertisements, the editor?posted a retraction and the salesmen came back.
Where is the truth in this story?
Capitalism controls truth because the vehicle for certain “truths” can not exist without it. Granted, we have ways around corporately controlled truths these days, but if you aren’t looking for the alternative, you have only one point of view from which to form your opinion. Even when alternatives are found, one must question the alternate motivation behind what is written.
Thompson does have an agenda although we find it?far more admirable than the flat out hype that?corporate media?offers.?Thompson wants to present?another (not “the” other) side of?an era?that had never been justly represented by, say, L. Ron Bumquist?in the film. (As an aside, this?name is?a play on L. Ron Hubbard, and the Dianetics movement?toward personal?”clarity.”) The problem is that Thompson is not a reliable source, particularly when he cannot remember, nor can he make sense of his evidenced experiences captured on his tape recorder. All he can report on is?a loss of time, clarity,?and a false hope in the shortcut drugs were supposed to offer to a better state of being.
Perhaps this?conclusion did reflect?the larger portion of the counter culture experience. Still, the story is particularly one sided. While we get?the smallest?sense of Thompson’s understanding and acceptance of the pigs’?fight for?the clarity of humanity,?their general story is wholly satirized. They are the antagonists, the symbolic boundaries?that rail against ultimate freedom, a necessary “evil” in a Stuart Hall?type system, and yet (if you ask the waitress at the diner or the hotel owners) these “pigs”?are absolutely?impotent in creating social order for the greater good. So, in this representation of the long arm of the law, where is?Thompson’s truth? I’m pretty sure that we all know (and that?Thompson did too), without the watchdogs in uniform we’d really be in a world of riotous?shit at home, not just beyond?our borders. This is why we see him in uniform at the beginning of the film.
I think what makes the difference in Thompson’s reporting, however, is the bigger picture. On it’s own, the film does read as awfully single sided. It isn’t until we think about where, in the mass collection of reporting of the time, Thompson was inserted that we truly see his value. Thompson’s story was presented in Rolling Stone, a pop culture news source that had a different agenda than that of the newspapers. Thompson’s point of view was entering into the public dialogue creating a more accurate representation, but only when?in conjunction with all other politicized sources, and that’s where?his “wave speech” becomes most relevant.
History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of ?history? it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time?and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.
Hunter S. Thompson offers his own truth about his time in Vegas, but Dr. Gonzo’s would have been a different story. Lucy, the waitress, the maid, the desk clerk, the room service guy and others would all have had very different narratives weaving the same “facts” together. Each story would be a personal truth and yet none of them indicative of any one generalization of either time or place.