For your banned book club: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson

By the way: This book has been challenged or banned by people who object to its offensive language, disrespect for religious, political and legal authority, and sexually explicit and emotionally disturbing scenes, including rampant drug and alcohol use and violence. Johnny Depp plays the drug-addled author in the 2005 film. Reading the front page made me feel a lot better. Against that heinous background, my crimes were pale and meaningless. I was a relatively respectable citizen — a multiple felon, perhaps, but certainly not dangerous. And when the Great Scorer came to write against my name, that would surely make a difference. Or would it? I turned to the sports page and saw a small item about Muhammad Ali; his case was before the Supreme Court, the final appeal. He’d been sentenced to five years in prison for refusing to kill “slopes.” “I ain’t got nothin’ against them Viet Congs,” he said. Five years. Suddenly I felt guilty again. — Hunter S. Thompson

Who is this Hunter S. Thompson?

• Hunter Stockton Thompson (1937-2005), literary and political cult figure and leading practitioner of “Gonzo journalism,” a term he created.

• His political/cultural criticism of United States in 1970s flowed from series of stories about his own outsider adventures.

• Son of Jack and Virginia (Ray) Thompson, Louisville, Kentucky.

• After attending public schools, joined Air Force, receiving dishonorable discharge in 1958 for disregard of military dress and authority.

• Spent 1965 riding and living with Hell’s Angels, leading to first published book, Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (1966).

• Late 1960s, wrote story on Kentucky Derby, transforming career. Drunken Thompson submitted only disorganized notes, rather than conventional article, focusing more on self than race, which was published intact and widely-acclaimed, creating what he called “Gonzo” journalism.

• Assigned by Rolling Stone to cover motorcycle race and national drug law enforcement convention in Las Vegas, wrote two-part story as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), immediately seen as masterpiece of New Journalism – a genre he shares with Truman Capote.

• Bizarre persona, featuring Hawaiian shirt, cigarette holder, and mirrored sunglasses, inspired Garry Trudeau’s Raoul Duke in comic strip “Doonesbury.”

• 1985 to 1989, Thompson wrote syndicated column for San Francisco Examiner.

• Lived on 100-acre farm in Woody Creek, Colorado, near Aspen, as compulsive hermit, drinking, riding motorcycles, playing loud music, and target shooting Chinese gongs with Magnum .44.

• By age 50, charged with five felony counts of possessing drugs and possessing and storing explosives illegally.

• 1997 Terry Gilliam (formerly of Monty Python) directed movie with Johnny Depp as Thompson.

• At age of 67, Thompson died of self-inflicted gunshot wound at his Colorado home Feb. 20, 2005.

What do you think about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?

1. Many current and historical artists and writers have claimed a heightening of their artistic perception through drugs. As a reader, how do you see Duke’s drug-induced perception? How do you balance this against his paranoia? What does this tell you about the perception and credibility of other writers, artists, musicians or opinion makers?

2. What do you think of Duke’s rebellion and preference for immediate gratification? Does he appeal to the American reader or offend us? Can you think of other characters in art or literature or film that attract/repel us in the same way?

3. Thompson’s attorney, Dr. Gonzo, remains drugged throughout the story, behaving far more impulsively and criminally than thoughtfully. What does this character tell us about Thompson’s view of law and order? How about other law related characters in the book?

4. After the hitchhiker, a typical middle-American kid, is picked up by Thompson and his attorney, he jumps out of their car in terror. How does Thompson want us to see the Hitchhiker? How does he want us to see himself through the Hitchhiker’s eyes?

5. Thompson calls Circus-Circus the “vortex of the American Dream”. Why? What does Thompson think the American Dream is and what do you think?

6. Thompson and his attorney drive cars they call the Great Red Shark and the White Whale. What does the author think they represent for his characters? What do you think? What does a car mean to you? What does a car mean in American culture?

7. Where is the “fear and loathing” in this novel? Who is fearful? Who loathes? Why? Should they? What is the root of this fear and loathing? What real world experiences seem connected to these feelings? Is this fear and loathing unreasonable?

8. In the beginning of his book, Thompson cites Samuel Johnson: “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” What does that mean to Thompson? To you? To current bloggers?

9. What is this novel’s take on morality? Is anything here either moral or immoral? Is everything amoral?

10. Does a book like this, so full of illegal behavior, make those behaviors more attractive to teen readers? Why or why not? Would you recommend this book to other teens? Why or why not?

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