Hunter S. Thompson is hired to cover an off-road, motor race in the Las Vegas desert. The problem is that there isn’t much to write home about except for the dust. Seen in this light, the massive drug-taking starts out as a way for Thompson (who goes by the name Raoul Duke) and his attorney to pass the time.
But what starts as a wildly exciting instrument turns into a unreliable guide into what Thompson calls “a savage journey into the American dream.”
Reality vs. Gonzo Journalism
Gonzo journalism is the idea that the writer puts himself in the story. This is in contrast to the “objective” writer who stands outside the narrative. The Gonzo style can be more honest because no reporter is ever completely neutral. We all come with biases. The trick seems to be how good we are at hiding it.
Thompson is both writer and subject of the story. Gonzo seems like a great technique if the story itself is boring and you gotta make it interesting. The problem is that, if you’re the center of the story, YOU gotta be the one that makes stuff happen.
In drug-taking, the question is not whether you’ll go on a journey. It’s whether you’ll have a good trip or a bad one. With all the mixing of the drugs, I couldn’t tell if Thompson just happened to land in a bad place or whether he was encouraging it.
Nevertheless, the drug-induced vision of Las Vegas and its visitors are nothing short of hellish. The dark, primal nature of Vegas vacationers are transformed into carnivorous reptiles who eat other humans. The drug-taking also induces a constant paranoia that the authorities are out to get them.
Also despite this paranoia, Thompson and his attorney do a bunch really illegal, highly unethical, and extremely disgusting stuff. For instance, while on “something,” they end up going to a police conference where the subject at hand is drugs.
A Post-60’s Drug Lifestyle
In the middle of all the mescaline, acid, weed, and all the drugs I’ve never heard of, Thompson has insightful moments of reflection. One of them is his observation of the drug culture in the 60’s. For him, drugs and the 60’s were a sort of Lord’s Supper into mind expansion.
The Sixties seemed to have been a very positive time where good had generally conquered evil. LSD and drugs were seen as sort of a gateway from “here” to that better, more open world.
Timothy Leary had been telling all these people to take LSD, but he never had the compassion to make sure that they were doing it safely. Or rather, that they had made it safely. Thompson talks about how there was no one “tending the light on the other side.”