scarecrow poetics/essays

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


Kailas Elmer - Hunter. S. Thompson.

Hunter. S. Thompson. 1937-2005

HST’s death hit me really hard! He was my hero in many ways as he was to so many – he was a guy that dumb ass frat boys could appreciate while keg swilling - but if you actually read his books and looked deeper there were some important things there as well - actually a huge amount. He once wrote that from the Colorado hills looking west on a clear day you could see where the Day-Glo wave of the counter culture broke and rolled back. I guess on these dry days of hyper-thirst Capitalism and pure rabid greed imagine the despair that winks a person like Hunter out! It's like the wave never even happened. That said I read as many of his books as I could as many times as possible and underlying the madness there is a melancholy...

I mean the passage above is a fairly sweet image, but along with the final sections of the electric Kool-Aid acid test there is a palpable feeling of 'we blew it'...

Perhaps in these dark days it’s hard not to think that the swine won...

Reading some of HST's stuff over the last 24 hours the anger and vitriol that he wrote about detailing Watergate now comes across as almost naive. We as people have become so cynical to what governments do that the idea of them tapping our conversations and monitoring with video surveillance is no shock and in fact many in society feel that it's absolutely right that they do. As a facetious rebel teen I used to snarl at prissy vain conservative types 'ever get the feeling you're NOT being watched?' Then as now, people want to be watched. Michel Foucault, despite his terminal selfishness towards the end, detailed power, the moral notions of scientific confession (i.e. someone please tell me what's wrong with me, analyse me, despise me, I give you the authority to place where I should be, let me bask in hegemony of powerlessness etc) and the way resistance in many cases serves the dominator (he too wrote in long sentences). These days the throaty French observations of modernity have become the raging headaches of static social division, we exist in the carceral and scramble and clamber over each other for a shift manning the spotlight of our panopticon.

In the end, I guess, we give the old guy a few pennies, sigh at the horrific truth that we're most likely powerless, and continue with our lives. This is, of course, something that HST seemed to be pathologically against, he never let up, and he lived his freedoms excessively perhaps because by making them highly visible he reinforced them in the general consciousness. His friend Jack Nicholson said famously that you can't show the general populace a free individual because it makes them afraid; the fear comes from the evaporation of this fantasy of choice that real freedom burns away.

'I can have 1000 island or French dressing on my McDonalds Salad but can I have a government that accurately manifests the welfare of its constituency and aims to create a sustainable and non-exploitative economy? I can choose between boot-cut or flared jeans. But in this shadow of democracy can I choose a leader with an identifiably different agenda'

What made Watergate so bad were not the relative details of the government's actions, but the betrayal of the social compact made at America's founding between the governed and the government. But who won? What were the aspects of society that won? (Chomsky and Wolfe have said it similarly, yet differently, at various times of their own careers) Basically, it was the ideology of selfish consumerism. Ford(ism) put a car in every driveway, but market individualism i.e. Toyota(ism) convinced people that simply having something that was well made and facilitated a person individual aspirations for longer than was necessary wasn't individualism but was in fact slavery. Freedom through market individualism meant that your aspirations weren't physical accomplishments but were expressive traits that could be recognised - dressing differently, having a car that represented aspects of your life as differentiated from your neighbour. Why were well made things aspects of slavery? Because they stuck around! If the aim is differentiation you gotta stay different baby - blow away all that stays the same! HST stayed different, but he shat repeatedly on the forces that sold difference. To some extent expressive individual was the dream of America; possessive individualism became its nightmare. That everyone has the freedom to make what they want, to create what they want, to work how they want, to actually live how they want is great. The reality of 2005 is that people don't believe in themselves enough to actually take advantage of those freedoms. Why? Because it's easier to buy difference than to spend some time and actually be different through action.

HST was different through action. Now, as some people have said, you can remember him by drinking his brand of whiskey. But who would really appreciate that? I think that it'll be interesting and sad to see how HST is canonised. A special reserve bottle for £30 extra? Fine gold Aviator shades and cigarette holder packages (buy now for free Hawaiian shirt)!? When you canonise something you mummify it, it ceases to be living art, HST lived art and his art lives on, and the American flag was largely his shroud. The paradox is that with wider consumption HST's messages may take hold with more people; you know, he sold a lot of books, HST's words are understood, I believe, I just want the message itself to remain unchanged. I want HST to remain a critical call for action against the evils of establishment. Any establishment! What resounds is that final scene in Kurosawa's Ikuru where when remembering a dead guy who broke the mould, all the rats that held him down, relive their association and heighten their influence, breaking off chunks of his achievement for their own.

Someone else has asked the question why all those editors praising him now hadn't given him more work, hadn't allowed more criticism to run through the 'critical' press? Simply because he was dangerous crazy fuck (was it all show? Who knows but he gave that appearance, and for some people that's probably enough to warrant a long stint on the bench regardless of the player) and, that finally, is the crux of it all. He was an intelligent dangerous crazy fuck with a serious hard on for people, who fuck it up for the rest of us, but he hated us too, because the general public lets it happen, to us his message was 'get out of the way dangerous crazy fuck coming through'. Well he's dead now; does it mean we've finally caught up? That would imply that we were, at least, heading in the same direction.

Kailas Elmer 2005.


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