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Gonzo Journalism

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What is gonzo journalism? Well, take everything you know about traditional news coverage and twist it. Don't observe events; become a part of them. Are there multiple viewpoints? Forget all semblance of sober objectivity. Take a side, and argue fervently for it. If you want to, portray the other side(s) as the Worst Thing Ever and dismiss their arguments as emanating from a Propaganda Machine. Also, drugs. Lots of drugs, or at least booze.

What's the point of this? It isn't to give readers the dry facts of the matter; they can probably get that from a more traditional news source. It's more about getting the feel of the events or places you're covering. Which, by the way, leads us to another important element: you must be writing more or less as you experience your story. Editing is held to an absolute minimum. This not only ensures that the feel of the event is included, it also lets your voice shine through. The resulting mash is often disjointed and surreal, and is almost always quirky and generally odd. If you've succeeded, you've created an article or non-fiction novel worth reading as literature rather than as journalism, one that someone might read fifty years later and actually appreciate. If you've failed...well, let's hope you don't fail.

The other wiki describes gonzo journalism as "a style of journalism that is written without claims of objectivity, often including the reporter as part of the story via a first-person narrative."

Gonzo journalism developed during the 1960s, spearheaded by outlaw journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson wrote very stylized news stories told from the first person perspective (most news stories are written in third person) that were often sarcastic, vulgar and extremely negative of his opposition, including his personal arch-nemesis, U.S. President Richard Nixon. The Ur-Example and Trope Codifier is Thompson's "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved", published in the short-lived literary magazine Scanlan's Monthly in June 1970, documenting his trip to Louisville—his hometown—and the bizarre festival that is the Derby. The style was created entirely because Thompson was a Ridiculous Procrastinator who was up against his deadline and, lacking anything to show for his work other than his basic notes on the event, simply started ripping pages out of his notebook and sending them in. The magazine published his first-person notes from the Derby as-is, and thus Gonzo Journalism was born. Another Sixties pioneer of the genre was Tom Wolfe, who before becoming a satiric novelist penned acid-colored articles like "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby" and "Las Vegas (What?) Las Vegas (Can't hear you! Too noisy) Las Vegas!!!!"

Gonzo news articles are normally told similar to a fictional story format, with the writer acting as narrator of the story with a focus not only on people and events but also personal commentary on the history and morality of said subjects. The purpose of the story is to sway the reader to the writer's side by championing a person, group or outlook on life and ridiculing those opposed to such things. Usually the side being championed is portrayed as the underdog fighting against the status quo. Even stories that aren't attack pieces per se still treat mundane news events with irreverence and contempt.

Very obviously Writer on Board. Expect the writer to see themselves as an Intrepid Reporter whose duty is to pull back the curtain and expose The Masquerade. In fiction, the gonzo journalist can be a mouthpiece for La RĂ©sistance or a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, often both.


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    Comic Books 
  • Transmetropolitan: Main character Spider Jerusalem is a very obvious Hunter S. Thompson expy, based in some ill-defined future setting. Jerusalem violently accosts his enemies, uses his position to topple government officials and rally the masses out of their mindless funk. He clearly believes journalism is a weapon against evil and corrupt power. One point early on, he even has one of Thompson's books on his coffee table.
    "Hi. I'm Spider Jerusalem. I smoke. I take drugs. I drink. I wash every six weeks. I masturbate constantly and fling my steaming poison semen down from my window into your hair and food. I'm a rich and respected columnist for a major metropolitan newspaper. I live with two beautiful women in the city's most expensive and select community. Being a bastard works."

  • Dispatches by Michael Herr. Not a history of the Vietnam War, not even a story about one reporter's experience of the war, but a series of anecdotes about people he met and things he saw.
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Pretty much the Trope Codifier. A stream-of-conscious novel written by Hunter S. Thompson in the early 1970s chronicling his experiences covering news stories in Las Vegas. Although ostensibly about his coverage of a motorcycle race and a police convention, Thompson used the setting to criticize what he saw as vile in American culture as well as lament the death of the ideals he and the hippies aspired to, but failed to see realized, in the previous decade. Interestingly, the book is also an aversion, because, by Thompson's own admission, the original draft was too incomprehensible to be published without editing.
  • Holidays In Hell: A collection of essays and news articles by P.J. O'Rourke criticizing international corruption and populist guerrilla movements, which he saw as misguided and ultimately futile. O'Rourke came by his Gonzo cred honestly: he was (and is) the best-known of Thompson's successors at the Rolling Stone National Affairs Desk. (And frankly, anyone who can come up with an article title like "How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink" has at least a touch of HST in him.)
  • The protagonist of Bryan Young's Lost at the Con is a self-declared gonzo journalist, usually on the political beats, who gets sent to cover Griffin*Con.note . At first he's very disparaging of the con and the kind of people who go there (both fans and guests) but eventually winds up defending them against the kind of Jerk Jocks who pick on people that just want to have fun and be themselves.
  • Michael Liberty, the Intrepid Reporter protagonist of the Starcraft novel Liberty's Crusade, dips into this as his ad hoc relationship with the Sons of Korhal grows tighter and his anti-Confederacy beliefs become more and more apparent. The crowning achievement is a long-form holo-transmission (harder to fake than a normal 2D video) called "the Liberty Manifesto" that lays out the entire true story of the fall of the Confederacy and the rise of the Dominion, as told by Liberty, who was there for the whole thing. He takes a particular interest in both savaging Arcturus Mengsk, leader of the Sons and Emperor of the Dominion, for being pure evil and also blaming himself and everyone else for going along with the "madman" for so long.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Penn & Teller: Bullshit! focused on a variety of topics, usually having to do with some superstitious or controversial subject matter, and tearing it to pieces from an extremely one-sided perspective. Anyone they had on the show who argued for the point they themselves were against was pretty much only brought on to be satirized and called various vulgarities.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Duke in the early years of Doonesbury, so much that he's named after Hunter S. Thompson's alter ego Raoul Duke. Later in the strip's run he becomes a free-range influence peddler.
  • Bloom County:
    • In the early years of the strip, the character Limekiller was added to the cast. Gary Trudeau complained the character was too similar to Duke in Doonesbury, which Berkeley Breathed admitted in his "Complete Bloom County" collection. Written out of the strip not long after Opus the Penguin became the comic's Breakout Character.
    • Milo Bloom often wrote heavily-biased news articles filled with screaming headlines and personal attacks on corrupt government officials. Thompson would have been proud.

    Web Comics 
  • Ixod Instanbul in At Arm's Length, an expy of both Hunter S. Thompson AND Spider Jerusalem. Views the world in black and white and sees himself as a messenger appointed to bring the truth to the masses.
  • Claud Southend of Quantum Vibe especially in his relentless pursuit of the story behind Nicole's falsified drug charges.
  • Narbonic: Zeta Vincent is a self-described gonzo journalist who specialises in stories involving Science-Related Memetic Disorder, a subject that is ill-suited to being reported on in a non-gonzo fashion, and ends up being caught up in the comic's Myth Arc after befriending a super-intelligent gerbil. Turns out this topic also has great relevance to her personal life as well...

    Real Life 
  • P. J. O'Rourke is often viewed as the libertarian conservative counterpart to Thompson, a staunchly left-wing libertarian who sympathized with the '60s counterculture. O'Rourke does, however, cite Thompson as an influence (along with H. L. Mencken), and looks favorably on him.
  • Tom Wolfe is also seen as a major influence on gonzo journalism, and is considered one of the founders of the broader "New Journalism" movement of the 1960s and 70s, along with Thompson.
  • Matt Taibbi has taken up Thompson's mantle of manic and iconoclastic political reporting for Rolling Stone magazine, noted for such gonzo polemics as calling Goldman Sachs "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money".
  • The New Yorker's coverage of current events, interviews, and features on celebrities and other public figures takes on a more novelistic style in the vein of character studies, often eschewing the obvious facts or neutrality.
  • Sports broadcasts in North America can have their own version in their announcers. Most announcers will at least try to present themselves as neutral, but some will embrace their biased coverage and make it part of their image. A prime example is Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, the now-retired play-by-play announcer for the Chicago White Sox.
  • Michael Moore's documentaries have elements of this, with their extremely obvious left-wing perspective, and Moore's willingness to involve himself in the story being covered to make a point and/or a joke. A memorable example from Sicko happened when, apparently to confuse his opponents through cognitive dissonance, he anonymously paid the medical bills of one of his most vocal real-life critics so he could afford to keep his anti-Moore site running.