I’ve had some responses to my post about Hunter S Thompson that deserve reply.
Mark Sloboda notes that Thompson spoke to his generation in a way that Miller “never did and never will”. I’ll hazard a guess that I’m about the same generation as Mark, given that my formative years coincided with Thompson’s golden age. Lisa Williams writes:
|I think the difference between Miller and Thompson is that Thompson started a movement, and Miller didn’t.|
|Sensible people could argue that Miller was a greater writer and artist. But I don’t think that many people went to see a Miller play and then went home and said, “I’m going to write my own play.”|
|But a lot of people read HST and went out and committed journalism. It reminds me of the quip (which I can’t remember the source of) about The Velvet Underground: Only 1,000 people bought their first record, but every one of them started a band.”|
Miller may have produced relatively few playwrights, but I think a lot of people saw Death of a Salesman or The Crucible and felt their view of the world had changed profoundly.
I think it would have been wrong to skip over Thompson’s death. But it’s curious to me that the US mainstream media seems to have judged its news and cultural value at about my estimation, while the British media elevated Thompson to the kind of titanic figure that I don’t think his work merits.
I devoured Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail and his other early works when I was a budding journalist in the ’70s. There was unquestionably a liberating frisson in his approach. Ditto for the young Tom Wolfe, who did gonzo before Thompson, although without the same degree of wildness.
For me and one of the reasons I write this weblog is that I can offer my own, unadulterated opinions Thompson should be marked as a good, minor cultural figure and one who let his talent go to waste in the last third of his life.
This may seem uncharitable, but I think the coverage of Hunter S Thompson’s death is completely over the top.
It made the BBC’s main Ten O’Clock newscast last night and Newsnight followed with a lengthy feature. This morning, it’s the front page of most of the broadsheets. The Independent devotes its entire front page to a tribute from Ralph Steadman to Thompson. The Guardian follows the front page story with the cover of G2 and more tributes.
Arthur Miller, who died on 10 February, received slightly less coverage. Miller is a playwright who will be read and performed as long as there are theatres. Thompson was an immensely entertaining writer, a pioneer of what he called gonzo journalism and a colourful character. But I don’t think anyone other than the odd journalism student will be reading him in 20 years.
What I am certain of is that no one will be reading anything Thompson wrote after the mid-70s. Since then, he’s been more famous for the character Duke in Doonesbury than for any of his own efforts.