Friday, February 5, 2010

Notes of a High School English Teacher: Hunter S. Thompson

There’s a certain breed of high school student that inevitably finds Hunter S. Thompson at the top of their reading list. At its worst, this means maybe an older sibling showed them the movie of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and they’ve sought out the novel to carry around as a badge of weirdness. At its best, and maybe with some guidance, they read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (all of it, dammit, not just the trippy stuff), but didn’t stop there. Maybe they continue on to The Rum Diary, a nice piece of memoir-style journalism from his early days, or The Great Shark Hunt, a collection of New Journalism essays that give definition to the much-applied “Gonzo.” One of his short stories really stuck with me about a coyote trying to survive in an American suburb. By the end of the story, the coyote is matted, covered in eggs and ketchup and probably syrup, shot with an arrow maybe, limping brokenly, an ashtray in its jaws...something... I don’t remember exactly... unsure what the story was called... I think I read it in an anthology. Regardless, that essay always stuck with me. I think there is surely merit in Thompson’s writing. Just as there is merit in the writing of those with a 75 IQ. JESUS CHRIST! EVERYTHING HAS MERIT, IT'S JUST WHETHER OR NOT WE’RE BRAVE ENOUGH TO TALK ABOUT IT!

What I’m struggling with is how to approach the student carrying around Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It's like trying to approach a caged opossum. The crazy eyes. What do I say to them? If they truly read the book, what do I recommend they read next? Or even if they didn’t... THEN WHAT?

There are many possible scenarios. I could seek help by reporting my suspicions to the crisis councilor. I could talk to the student myself, “So tell me why you like Hunter S. Thompson?” Could I recommend Denis Johnson? He seems to be a darling of the literary community, and, I suppose, for good reason. Would recommending Jesus’ Son be a good decision?

I used to have a book called Drugs Explained on my shelf. There was a big pot leaf on the cover, and there was always one student who pulled it down... perhaps for that reason alone. The book is more of a manual on the effects of drugs. I recently stuck the book in my teacher locker next to a copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.



Marijuana is the opium of the poor, or so says Hemingway. It's one toy the ruling class doesn't want the working class to play with. I'm personally concerned with the research linking exposure to THC with schizophrenia. A dear friend of mine developed schizophrenia in his early 20's and I believe exposure to THC played a part. I, personally, think drugs are harmful. What kind of pisses me is that, in some people's minds, being a creative writer automatically links you with drug abuse. The idea that drug abuse and creativity are somehow linked is such a pain-in-the-ass. For instance a creative thinker might say something remotely outside the circle of the norm while interacting with "normal people," and all the sudden they're the ones saying, "Wow, that's so just, like, out there. Did you smoke something before dinner?"

Maybe morons are so afraid of original thought that they have to somehow link it to a criminal practice. Maybe, somehow, morons can see how books like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas criticize what they stand for: an American Dream that encourages gratuitous levels of avarice and consumption, and they seek to discount the storytellers. Maybe morons just think you have to be high on drugs to criticize one of the founding principals of the greatest nation in all the world.

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