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The famous "Gonzo fist", originally used by Hunter S. Thompson in his 1970 campaign for sheriff of Aspen, Colorado. The fist has become a symbol of Thompson and Gonzo journalism as a whole.

Gonzo journalism is a style of journalism which is written subjectively, often including the reporter as part of the story via a first person narrative. The word Gonzo was first used in 1970 to describe an article by Hunter S. Thompson, who later popularized the style. The term has since been applied to other subjective artistic endeavors.

Gonzo journalism tends to favor style over accuracy and often uses personal experiences and emotions to provide context for the topic or event being covered. It disregards the 'polished' edited product favored by newspaper media and strives for the gritty factor. Use of quotations, sarcasm, humor, exaggeration, and even profanity is common. The use of Gonzo journalism suggests that journalism can be truthful without striving for objectivity and is loosely equivalent to an editorial.[citation needed]


Origin of the term

The term "Gonzo" in connection with Hunter S. Thompson was first used by Boston Globe magazine editor Bill Cardoso in 1970. He described Hunter S. Thompson's "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved", which was written for the June 1970 Scanlan's Monthly, as "pure Gonzo journalism".[1] Cardoso claimed that "gonzo" was South Boston Irish slang describing the last man standing after an all night drinking marathon.[2] Cardoso also claimed that it was a corruption of the French Canadian word "gonzeaux", which means "shining path", although this is disputed.[3] In Italian, Gonzo is a common word for a gullible person, a "sucker".[4] Another speculation is that the word may have been inspired by the 1960 hit song Gonzo by New Orleans R&B keyboardist James Booker. This last possibility seems to be supported by the 2007 oral biography of Hunter S. Thompson where it is stated that the term "Gonzo" is taken from a hit song by James Booker[citation needed] though it does not explain why Hunter Thompson or Bill Cardoso would have chosen the term to describe Thompson's journalism. According to a Greg Johnson biographical note on James Booker,[5] the song title "Gonzo" comes from a 1960's character in a movie called The Pusher,[6] which in turn may have been inspired by a 1956 Evan Hunter novel by the same title. It remains a mystery who first used this word in American slang, and why.

Hunter S. Thompson

Thompson based his style on William Faulkner's idea that "fiction is often the best fact."[citation needed] While the things that Thompson wrote about are basically true, he used satirical devices to drive his points home. Thompson often wrote about recreational drugs and alcohol use which added additional subjective flair to his reporting. The term "gonzo" has also come into (sometimes pejorative) use to describe journalism (or generally any writing) that is broadly in the vein of Thompson's style, characterized by a drug-fueled stream-of-consciousness technique.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream followed the Mint 400 piece in 1971 and included a main character by the name of Raoul Duke, accompanied by his attorney, Dr. Gonzo. Although this book is considered to be a prime example of gonzo journalism, Thompson said that it was a failed experiment.[7] He had intended it to be an unedited record of everything he did as it happened, but he edited the book five times before it was eventually published,it was eventually made into a movie, Hunter was played by Johnny Depp.

Thompson would instigate events himself, often in a prankish or belligerent manner, and then document both his actions and those of others. Notoriously neglectful of deadlines, Thompson often greatly annoyed his editors because he often faxed articles late, too late to be edited but just in time to make the printers. It is speculated that Thompson's work going to print unedited due to a late delivery was completely intentional. Thompson wanted his work to be read as he wrote it, in its "true gonzo" form.

"I don't get any satisfaction out of the old traditional journalist's view: 'I just covered the story. I just gave it a balanced view,'" Thompson said in an interview for the online edition of The Atlantic. "Objective journalism is one of the main reasons American politics has been allowed to be so corrupt for so long. You can't be objective about Nixon."

Historian Douglas Brinkley said gonzo journalism requires virtually no rewriting and frequently uses transcribed interviews and verbatim telephone conversations.[citation needed]

Gonzo journalism by other authors

Gonzo journalism can be seen as an offshoot of the New Journalism movement in the sixties, led primarily by Tom Wolfe, and also championed by Lester Bangs and George Plimpton. It has largely been subsumed into Creative nonfiction.[citation needed]

Gonzos also occurs when an author cannot remove himself from the subject he investigates. In some cases—such as tornado chasing, wherein most documenting is done by the person driving the car and holding the camera—the gonzo element is inherent. In most other cases, however, it is a deliberate and voluntary choice of the journalist, or the media firm for which he or she works. Thompson felt that objectivity in journalism was a myth. The term has now become a bona-fide style of writing that concerns itself with 'telling it like it is', not far from the New Journalism practiced by Tom Wolfe, Terry Southern and John Birmingham.

Contemporary styles of gonzo journalism have sprung up in the blogosphere, for example in sports and travel journalism. Gonzo has also worked its way into cartoons targeting the 18-36 year old male demographic manifested in a character based on the late Hunter S Thompson. In fact, Hunter Thompson's famous quote "too weird to live and too rare to die" could have been directed toward Gonzo Journalism as a writing style.

Nick Tedeschi, a sports writer who primarily writes for Punting Ace,[8] is another firmly entrenched in the Gonzo tradition. Tedeschi traditionally employs mixed creative fiction and fact to convey a greater truth.

Matthew Thompson, the American-Australian writer, uses many elements of gonzo in his nonfiction thriller My Colombian Death (Sydney: Picador, 2008), in which he forces a meeting with national paramilitary commander Salvatore Mancuso, runs with bulls in a corralejas, snorts coke, smokes basuco, immerses himself in Colombia's hazardous street scenes, boxes with armed gangs, and ultimately ingests the hallucinogenic brew yage, AKA Ayahuasca, in a harrowing series of shamanic ceremonies.


The Gonzo Fist, a two-thumbed symbol attributed to Thompson originally used as the slogan for his 1970 campaign for sheriff of Aspen, contains within the image a peyote button, the bud of a cactus plant that has hallucinogenic properties when ingested. The fist is combined with the word "Gonzo" styled to form the hilt of a sword.

Other uses

In other contexts, gonzo has come to mean "with reckless abandon," or, more broadly, "extreme". Gonzo porn refers to pornographic films which are filmed by a participant, and as such have eliminated fictional plot and scripted dialogue and focus on the sex act. For parallel uses of gonzo, see What Is Gonzo?[3] One of Jim Henson's muppets, created by Dave Goelz, was named Gonzo the Great.

Gonzo marketing also sprung from his work. Christopher Locke[9] wrote a book on the subject, and a London-based youth insight agency, The Youth Conspiracy pioneered the use of this in their research methodology.[10]

See also


  1. ^ Hirst 2004, p. 5.
  2. ^ Thompson 1997.
  3. ^ a b Hirst 2004.
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ (IMDB page)
  7. ^ Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Other American Stories. Jacket Copy for Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. p. 210. New York: Random House, 1996 Copyright 1971 by Hunter S. Thompson. ISBN 0-679-60298-4
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^


External links

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