I really don’t have anything to report from this week of sports coverage, except that I’m probably the first sports journalist in McAlester News-Capital history to a) devote significant coverage to the local recreational softball leagues, and b) actually drive to Tulsa for a Little League game. Whether that’s a sign of professionalism, desperation or something in between, who can say.
Beyond the News-Cap, however, I finally finished The Great Shark Hunt, the first anthology of essays by Hunter S. Thompson. I wrote about Thompson almost two years ago, breaking down his appeal to a combination of brilliant word-selection, a deeply nuanced understanding of the 60s and 70s, and a gleeful dishonesty.
More than 400 pages later, I still think no one picks words the way Thompson does, and I still think he really understood the cultural undercurrents of his time. But unlike two years ago, I no longer see his approach to the 60s as some kind of rah-rah, “We changed things forever” attitude. Thompson respected the intentions of the 60s’ counter-culture movements, but he’s also very aware that while the hippies didn’t exactly fail, they also didn’t really succeed, and within a decade, many aspects of American society had gotten much, much worse.
As to whether or not Thompson was a dishonest writer, and whether he took joy in that intentional dishonesty, I’m not so sure. Thompson’s Watergate writing is an especially tough nut to crack.
Nothing Thompson writes about Nixon and his cronies screams outright lie. But in this modern age of public relations, where so many layers of protection exist between the media and the people they write about that only the most white-washed versions ever reach print, it’s hard to believe a reporter — and especially one so openly hostile to his subject matter — could ever have been given such an intimate glimpse of the real people in power.
Thompson’s political writing — and the majority of his writing, one way or another, is political — seems like an honest look at the political realities of his age. But it’s so honest, and so “raw” in its honesty, that as a survival mechanism the reader’s brain refuses to take it seriously.
At the end of one his final essays in the collection, Thompson quotes Muhammad Ali: “My way of joking is to tell the truth. That’s the funniest joke in the world.” Thompson goes on to claim those two sentences as the best explanation of “Gonzo journalism,” that reporting style that Thompson invented and no one has ever successfully replicated.
But a joke is not meant to be taken seriously. Jokes — and it’s pretty clear Thompson loved jokes — are fictions, and writing the truth in a way that makes it appear fictitious might count as dishonesty.
Or maybe not. I don’t really know. I just know I enjoyed the hell out of The Great Shark Hunt.
On an unrelated (except to the headline) note, here’s what I wrote this week.