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Death of Hunter S Thompson

From: Appendix
Category: Life
Date: 24 February 2005


The Death of Hunter S Thompson – One Clown’s View

Clowns everywhere loved Hunter S. Thompson. He was a genius. That much is a given. Why was he a genius? Because … well that’s what he was. This clown has no quarrel with Thompson, but my concern is that he is more to people in death than he was in life. Like John Peel, Che Guevara, Diana Princess of Wales, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain, his passing seems to have struck a chord with more people than his work ever did.

Like it or not, I get the impression that heroes of the ‘counter-culture’ and subversive/radical figures now swim alongside the mainstream and penetrate the public psyche in a way that was probably not possible before the advent of the internet and satellite TV. We are aware of these figures in profile but choose not to spend time studying minor details like what it is the icon does, says or stands for. Because such a figure might hold views or play music that we find disagreeable, distasteful or merely impenetrable, it is so much easier to address them when they no longer carry any threat – when they are dead. How many of us whose interest was piqued by the news of Thompson’s suicide had ever got further than watching Fear and Loathing on DVD or Filmfour, let alone reading or enjoying the book or any of the author’s columns, books or articles. How many of us even knew for sure that he was still alive?

We seem to be part of a culture whereby the exposure to a small dose of an idea is seen as inoculation against having to develop the concept further. You can mention Thompson or Fear and Loathing in a pub or a rugby club without fear of being though of as a weirdo or a druggie because the punters have all been exposed to that strain of thought. Our savant nods and tuts at the mention of John Peel’s untimely death are a badge of kinship with the avant-garde, even if we had to turn Radio One off every time we heard a slice of Belgian Industrial Techno blaring out of Peel’s show and think that ‘Teenage Kicks’ is about as perfect as a Green Day album filler. I am as guilty as the next clown when it comes to entertaining these thought processes and habits. I miss knowing that John Peel is there – but it’s pretty unlikely I’d ever have chosen him as my favourite Radio One DJ at any given time. I miss him in the same way that I would miss Absinthe if it were banned again – it’s reassuring to know that it’s there and that some people are mad enough to enjoy it, but I’m sure as hell not going to try it more than once or twice a year.

The post-mortem lionisation by the popular media of divisive figures is to be expected in this media-savvy age where image counts for more than content. Once a ‘legend’ has gone, the Sun (or, for that matter, the Guardian) can put him on its front page safe in the knowledge that the revered one can never again turn around and offend the sensibilities of the paper or its readers. In death an icon is an empty vessel for the mawkish tastes of the consumer, and a short step away from being a face on a tea towel in Carnaby Street. We should not be surprised by this phenomenon. A much more disturbing trend is the identification by the public of a living anti-hero who can be counted on to become a marketable dead legend. Look out Pete.

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