I have a unfortunate habit of making generalisations, so here’s one for you: tortured aspiring writer boy types have a tendency to dig Hunter S. Thompson. Call it a target market. I’d even hazard a guess as to why. Thompson strikes that elusive space between being similar enough these boys to feel that he’s on their level and different enough to be envied and admired. On one hand he was disaffected, decidedly unprofessional and took drugs and on the other, he’s widely-read, a creative pioneer.
It’s a tendency that shows itself most starkly when you consider Thompson’s personal life. He left behind an immense vault of quirky anecdotes and stained memories with the people he worked with, partied with, married and wrote about. Some of these shards were hashed together in the film “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson” which screened late last year at ACMI. Well-researched and edited, it did a rather attractive job of relating the bottle-a-day, womanising, gun-toting lifestyle of this American Legend and it’s consequences. Of course, with some writers, you can get away from their deeply flawed personalties when you read them, but no, not Hunter — so consistent were his attitudes. so great the ego in his work,
So, it should have been no shock when I read this letter, on the rather excellent blog “Letters of Note” (click on the link for a transcription):
Still, it kinda was. Not only is he abusing this director, this Holly Sorensen character, by calling her a “lazy bitch” (on paper, I might note, instead of giving her a call or paying her a visit), he’s humiliating her in front of what appears to be a number of her colleagues. Abuse. Nothing less. It’s horrendous stuff, particularly to us, a generation of sexual harassment trained, occupational health and safety aware types.
But is it misogynistic? And does it make Hunter S. a woman-hater? There are a number of facts in the “yes” camp. It’s patronising, it’s rude and it’s been written by a man to a woman and CCed to a bunch of men who the author has named as worthy colleagues. Add to that the phrase “Michael Thomas, who is a very smart boy” — subtext “unlike you, you lazy bitch” — and of course the “lazy bitch” line itself, and we’re hardly getting a picture of a chap with respect for women, particularly women in the workplace.
Having said that, the letter was written in 2001 at which point Thompson’s biological age was 65 — pretty much old codger territory. His brain would have been irriversably drug whipped and he wasn’t the most pleasant of men to start off with. While Sorensen’s gender is unavoidably relevant here, I get the feeling Thompson would just as thoughtlessly written the same letter to a man. In fact, I reckon Thomson falls prey to yet another awful stereotype I’ve been bottling up: terribly clever men who spend so much time coping with their own existence, it doesn’t actually matter who you are, you’re less important than they are. I encounter men like this regularly, and at first I think they’re misogynist or racist or whatever, but quite quickly it becomes apparent that they’re not out to make me feel sidelined because of who I am, they’re just working so hard on holding their persona together they can’t afford me or anyone else any genuine attention.
It’s worth noting here that I’m aware how sexist it seems to be stereotyping men, but I firmly believe that women are much more likely to be socialised into considering how their actions affect others, and are thus much less susceptible to this frame of mind, though of course, neither are they totally immune.
Hunter S. Thompson made a name for himself by kicking political correctness up the arse and abandoning all social mores including the barest skerrick of respect for women. It’s like the classic case of the lovably irreverent village drunk who is sitting on everyones shoulders Friday night, but come Monday morning, the townsfolk have gone back to work, all the while tut-tutting the drunk: he’s lost his job, he abuses his wife and golly gosh, he doesn’t have a single functioning relationship left. Hello townspeople, how is meant to be both? I’m not apologising for Thompson’s hideously selfish behaviour, but rather trying to examine what we want modern masculinity to look like when we applaud Thompson in one realm and condemn him in another. A cowboy on paper and a SNAG in person? I’m confused.