Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fear and Loathing

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, a novel by Hunter S. Thompson, is a semi-autobiographical description of Thompson's descent into Las Vegas to search for the American Dream. The search becomes a drug induced escape from reality and a scathing litany of complaints about the American Dream. Under the influence of a variety of recreational drugs, such as LSD, ether, cocaine, alcohol, mescaline, and cannabis, nothing is as it seems. Thompson, as Raoul Duke, and his side kick, Gonzo, wreck cars, destroy hotel rooms, shoot guns, and imagine anthropomorphic desert animals, all the while postulating on the decline of American culture in America's most iconic city of excess.

Nothing is as it seems. Reality is an illusion and this includes the American Dream. A home with a two car garage and a family with a wife and two children is the aspiration of American males in the Sixties. Thompson, writes his novel from this perspective, all the while realizing that the ideal excludes the hopes and dreams of women and minorities, not to mention men who may have a different outlook on the standard heterosexual relationship.

America of the Sixties is conspicuous for its wealth and consumption, yet it is unable to come to terms with the ideals of Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." America in the sixties was a time where nuclear destruction was just the press of a button away, It was a time when the American Dream seem to die with the best and the brightest - John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. It was a lifetime away.

Thompson's novel got me to think. Was America of the sixties so different from 21st Century America?  The danger of  a nuclear holocaust does not seem so imminent, racial disparity, not so great, and personal political differences wordy and not so mortally fatal, at least here in America. Have we changed? Has the world? Perhaps only in degrees, but our methods of dealing with reality and disillusion have altered. For the most part, the excess of drugs and alcohol which characterized the Sixties has been replaced by an excess of food and gadgets. We, as Americans, spend more time indulging ourselves in food and electronics that we don't have time to think about the more serious matters of life.

If the Sixties represented in America a time of social revolution and counter-culture, then today represents a return to the hope that the American Dream can be found in values and traditions. Only the values and traditions of that time have evolved. American's are for the most part more accepting, and not so rigid. The American Dream of a home with a two car garage  and a wife and two children may be fine for some, but it is not necessary that all Americans share this same dream.

This, I think, was Hunter S. Thompson's paradox. He could not resolve his own conceptions of the good life with what was idealized. And so, Thompson sought to destroy everyone's dream and himself. He did this by condemning the excess of the American lifestyle with his own excess of drugs and alcohol, hoping, as he said to "make a mess of myself".

Is there a way out for the contemplative human? Or is the answer merely to get lost in the distractions of living life at a furious pace? Do we really need to make a "mess" of ourselves?

This thought does not need to have an answer. Thompson's predicament was that his answers did not jive with his conception of reality. But, each of us has our own perception of reality. Each of us must come to decide what we need to get ourselves through the day.


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