A few days before Sean Penn's interview with drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, better known as El Chapo, hit the Internet, I was talking with my younger son about gonzo journalism.
He had asked if "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" is worth reading, and I said yes, it is: very funny, assuming you can get past all the drinking and drug use. Hunter S. Thompson's personality and style was so strong people tended to overlook the fact that he was a drug addict and alcoholic.
Of course gonzo journalism is dated, a relic of the days when writers were the oracles, the gatekeepers. A little injecting yourself into a story can go a long way. While it can work when the subject matter is inconsequential, like the motorcycle race and district attorney's convention at the heart of "Fear and Loathing," when you have a truly important topic, gonzo journalism reveals its flaws. Nobody cares that your luggage got lost on the way to interview Vladimir Putin. I had just read "The Fight" by Norman Mailer, who goes to Zaire for the 1974 Muhammad Ali/George Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle." Mailer's ego blocks out the sun; he refers to himself in third person:
Before the drive, they stopped, however, at Kin's Casino, and there each man lost a little at Black Jack. That was about the way Norman wanted it. He was feeling empty — the hour in the Press Room of the Memling had been no good for n'golo. To lose therefore, was a confirmation of his views on the relation of vital force to gambling. Feeling low in luck, he would just as soon squander this bad luck at the Casino...To continue reading, click here.