Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Fear and Loathing and Sean Penn

     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...
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  1. Penn has always been an ass in more ways than one and RS mag isn't what it used to be.

  2. The general theme of the complaints I've seen on the Internet seems to be that the interview was somehow inappropriate, but you make it clear that the more serious criticism is that Penn and Rolling Stone blew it. They were so full of themselves and their skullduggery that they failed to see, much less describe adequately, the supposed subject of the article. Though I think they did get one thing right: even Guzman felt the need to rationalize his drug dealing in that if he didn't supply the drugs, somebody else would.

  3. I never was a fan of so-called gonzo journalism, and certainly not of Hunter S. Thompson. He always seemed like one of those writers who got by on personality and attitude, and was totally uninterested in doing the work that good journalism requires.

    As for Sean Penn, he's a disappointment. I respected him for going the extra mile to help the victims of the Haitian earthquake. Too bad he was so self-absorbed and naive in this case.

    Bitter Scribe

  4. Good Lord. Thanks for saving me from wasting my time on that trash article.

  5. From what I've read, most think Penn won't be killed because the Mexican authorities were following him & that helped lead them to Guzman.
    But many think his partner in stupidity, Kate del Castillo is a dead woman.

  6. What is sillier, the 10,000 words Penn wrote for RS, or the millions of words written by "real" journalists in the last week denouncing those 10,000?


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