Sunday, July 21, 2013

Gonzo Journalism

You have just woken up and you stagger to your front porch to collect your paper. You're thinking about coffee, and wondering why it is you don't read the news on the internet like all decent people until you remember that you are an indecent person. In fact, you have just staggered out your front door without pants.

Instead of finding your newspaper, you find me. I am sitting on your outdoor furniture, sipping an enormous mug of coffee, and clicking on my laptop. I am wearing a red flannel shirt and cut off jeans shorts because that's what I like to wear on Sunday mornings when I sit on stranger's porches. I toss you a pair of shorts and say, "Good morning! Would you like to hear the news?"

You nod, step into the pants, and sit on the chair across from me.

"Look, you should know that I'm really not into reading the news," I say.

"Then why don't you just give me my paper?"

"It's not that I don't like ANY news. I just don't like all of those big headlines. The ones about politics, war, murder, and natural disasters."

" don't keep up with ANYTHING?"

"Of course I do! Look at this 'People pay ridiculous prices for Kanye's clothes.' Or look, this one's on yahoo - 'It's a feud: Honey Boo Boo vs. Cake Boss.'"

"There are wars going on. Plane crashes. Unrest in Egypt. President Obama -"

"Do you think Obama is more of a Honey Boo Boo or Cake Boss kind of man?"

You smack your forehead and hold your hand out for the paper. I sigh and hand it over.

"Thank you," you say, remove your pants, and walk back inside.

"Wait! Look at this! 'Ten signs that your coworker is a spy!'"

You slam the door behind you.

Well since YOU don't want me to deliver back page news, I'll go ahead and write about it. 'Cause, see, I find that the headlines that are towards the back of the paper, or the ones you scroll further down for on a website, are just as important as the ones that scream out in your face and eventually cause people to write facebook posts that cause other people to unfriend them. How many people do you know had family members unfriend them after the Trayvon Martin verdict or during the latest election? Conversely, how many people do you know were unfriended after posting the yahoo article "China's Donut Shaped Hotel." No one! This is the kind of news that gets you more friends!

Am I saying I don't have opinions about the big stuff? Of course not, I'm loaded with opinions. But writing about them here is not my job. My job is to share articles that preferably have "omg" in the title. Like this: "Tina Turner marries Erwin Bach After 27 Years Together" She's 73! He's 57!  "73 Year Old Woman Scores Younger Man - He Teaches Her What OMG Means" could have been the name of that article.

Or there are ones like this, "Cheesecake + Peanut Butter cups = the most decadent dessert ever." It's not much of an article, just a recipe, but the word "wow-factor" is involved. And it's news-worthy because I think people deserve to know what is the most decadent dessert ever. We deserve to know that as much as we deserve to know who was murdered yesterday, especially if it was death by chocolate cheesecake with peanut butter cups on top.

Better yet, this is my kind of news "Would-be mermaid banned from Fla. pool."  Just try NOT clicking on that one. You know, Florida I just don't understand. Who WOULDN'T want magical creatures in their pool? I thought the days were gone of excluding minorities from clubs but, no, mermaids must continue to struggle and find other places to swim. And swimming is what they do! That would be like banning me from a coffee shop. Way to be progressive, Florida.

Florida just unfriended me from Facebook.

But my absolute most favorite kind of news that I get everyday and read consistently is (ready yourself for a shock. You might want to put your pants back on) The Writer's Almanac.  It's through these daily updates that I learn things like, for instance, July 18th is the birthday of Hunter S. Thompson who was not only a novelist but a gonzo journalist.

I read this and thought, "What IS a gonzo journalist? A muppet reporter? I must know!" And so I looked on Wikipedia like the self-respecting lazy researcher that I am and found the following definition, "Gonzo journalism involves an approach to accuracy through the reporting of personal experiences and emotions as compared to traditional journalism, which favors a detached style and relies on facts or quotations that can be verified by third parties...Use of sarcasm, humor, exaggeration and profanity is common." 

How could I have lived so long without having known this? And how long would I have gone on without knowing had it not been for The Writer's Almanac? Thompson followed The Hell's Angels around to write about them in his sarcastic, profane style, which, as it turns out IS A STYLE! What does this mean for me as a writer? What gangs do I have access to follow around and chronicle their doings? Girl Scout moms? Sixth graders? Five hamsters? I have five hamsters, I can follow them around and take note of their lives and times. 8:00 - eat, 8:01 - twitch whiskers, 8:02 - bite human, 8:03 - eat, 8:04 - attempt escape. I have not listed time for pooping because it happens continuously. Perhaps I won't write about hamsters, although the schedule for Girl Scout moms is exactly the same.

This style will take practice. I need a place to practice, so hey, can I keep hanging out on your porch? The chair is comfy and the coffee is delicious...I can? Yay!...What do you mean "on one condition," who said anything about conditions?...Well, I don't know...I can show you a picture of it but can't you just imagine what it looks? I've described it, it shouldn't take a stretch of the...alright, alright fine. 

Here it is, as promised. The donut-shaped hotel in China:


Tom Harold said...

Yep, Hunter Thompson, one of the highly acclaimed practitioners of gonzo journalism. I learned some years back from a friend that he is also an early example of what something called "creative nonfiction." Some people argue that there really is no such thing as creative nonfiction, that it's just "really well written fiction," or "fiction with subjective or slightly fictionalized elements," but that's no concern of mine. I did read his book Hell's Angels, which was a collection of all the articles he wrote on them. It is a classic example of his writing style. I still think it's funny that the accepted name for it is "gonzo journalism." I guess that's shorter than "journalism that has been written while under the influence."

Genevieve said...

Creative non-fiction. Gonzo journalism, I feel, is appropriately wacky enough. Creatie non-fiction feels too stilted.
The Writer's Almanac gave this quote from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. "Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only cure is to load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas ... with the music at top volume and at least a pint of ether."