A Critical Review of Matthew Winston’s essay ‘“How Do You Like America?”- Hunter S. Thompson and Gonzo Sports Journalism’

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Matthew Winston’s essay is looking at the way in which Hunter S Thompson wrote as a gonzo journalist compared with the more mainstream sports journalists. He also discusses how Thompson’s writing didn’t fit in with the all-American ideology and that Gonzo journalism was more concerned with the dark side of the sports world (Winston, 2015, p403). I will review his technique, the structure of the essay, the style used and his principle argument. Winston uses a number of quotations from other well-known sports journalists to support his argument and I particularly liked this effect, as it gave the essay a more analytical feel. Moreover, the use of these quotations engaged me, particularly because they were comparisons to Thompson.

The essay starts with quite a lengthy introduction followed by four sections. Each section discusses a different side to sport and sports journalism in America. In the introduction, Winston gives us an overview of what Gonzo journalism is and how Hunter S Thompson was at the centre of it. His definition of Gonzo journalism telling us that:

focusing on counter-culture and the social history of the 1960’s, drugs, dissident politics, the critical utility of radically subjective approaches to reportage and other “heavy” issues of cultural politics and literary journalism. (Winston, 2015, p403)

This use of language emphasises the cultural aspects of the time in which Thompson was writing and his non-conventional approach to journalism. The introduction also highlights the methods and style of gonzo journalism and how complex this style of writing is. Winston also refers to “Thompson-the-character” (Winston, 2015, p404) and this use of punctuation gives Thompson a separate persona, as though he is two different people, which reflects the style of journalism in which he was writing from conventional journalism to gonzo journalism.

The first section of the four referred to earlier is entitled “Mom, Apple Pie, and the Flag” and discusses the ideologies of the All-American Dream. Winston’s use of discourse here is significant in that it encompasses everything America stands for. Winston discusses in this section how sacred the faith of the American sports ideology is and that it cannot be exploited (Winston, 2015, p405). He quotes from sports journalist Michael Oriad to emphasise his point: “Football in the periodical press by the 1950’s was not simply American but America itself” (Oriard 2001 cited in Winston, 2015, p405). This use of quotation from a renowned sports journalist serves to reinforce his argument regarding the conventionality of sport in America and how Thompson’s style of journalism was in no way mainstream.

The second section of the essay is entitled Eating Heroes Like Hotdogs and Winston references Thompson’s literary works and characters from them to emphasise the side of the sporting world that no-one within that world wanted made public. He also describes Thompson’s writing as “…unconventional uses of rhetorical devices and outlandish imagery…” (Winston, 2015, p408). The language used here shows a writer working beyond the realms of tradition and conventionality. Winston touches briefly here on Thompson’s work, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 (Thompson, 1983) which focuses solely on the nature and celebrity of the sports world. Thompson was highlighting in his writing the pressure felt by the athletes to win for the advertisers through sponsorship and endorsement deals. Again, Winston is using this piece to highlight the negative side of the sports world and makes good use of it to emphasise just how unconventional gonzo journalism was in America.

The third section is entitled Violence in the Parking Lot. Winston discusses Thompson’s article regarding the Kentucky Derby and how money is all important, “Thompson shows an event that may be steeped in tradition…but is nonetheless…a sporting event about money”. Winston uses a lot of quotes in this section from Thompson himself regarding the dark side of gambling and money changing hands at major sporting events. I like the way Winston quotes directly from Thompson as it gives him a voice, as though we hear his side of the argument. A lot of Thompson’s quotes used in this essay are quite long but I do not think they detract from the essay; they add more credibility in this way.

The final section is entitled The Notes Seem to Tell the Story. I particularly enjoyed this part of the essay as it focused on how Thompson wrote. Winston explains here about how Thompson put together an article with a series of notes, “…I just started jerking pages out of my notebook, numbering them and sending them to the printer.” (Vetter 1974 cited in Winston, 2015, p413). This quote from an interview with Thompson evokes an image of a chaotic, unorganised writer who can seemingly write successfully in this way.  Winston relates this quote to how gonzo journalism can be fractured and fragmented memories of a drunken mind, half remembered and chaotic (Winston, 2015, p414).

Winston uses the final three paragraphs to conclude his argument. A brief review of how gonzo journalism is different from the main stream sports journalism but focusing on the social context. He then reviews the writing style of unfinished prose and narrative, commenting again on the differences between the two. Here Winston is bringing together all of his previous points to a short end, which ultimately brings the essay together satisfactorily but it is the final paragraph which I feel substantially ties everything together. Winston describes gonzo as “…this new exuberantly radical sports journalism, represents a perfect marriage of form and function” (Winston, 2015, p415). He also comments on the structure, style and form, technique and refers to certain aspects of it as poetry. This gives the reader a certain belief that if they had not read anything by Thompson before, they should certainly do so just because of how unconventional his writing was. Winston is somewhat in awe of this style of writing and has an undeniable respect for Thompson and this becomes clear as the essay draws to its conclusion.

 

Bibliography

Hellman, J. (ed) (1981). Fables of Fact: The New Journalism as New Fiction. London: University of Illinois Press

Nadel, A. (1955). ‘Disneyland: ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’ and the Fiction of Cold War Culture’. In: McHale, B. & Stevenson, R. (eds). (2006). The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Literatures in English (1) [Online]. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Available from: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/staffordshire/reader.action?ppg=1&docID=448742&tm=1483609214697 [Accessed: 16/12/2016]

Oriard, M. (2001). King Football: Sport and Spectacle in the Golden Age of Radio and Newsreels, Movies and Magazines, the Weekly and the Daily Press. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Thompson, Hunter. (1983). Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72. New York, NY: Warner Books.

Vetter, C. (1974). “Playboy Interview: Hunter Thompson.” Playboy Magazine, November.

Winston, M. (2015). ‘”How do You like America?”: Hunter S. Thompson and Gonzo Sports Journalism’, Journalism Studies [Online] vol. 16 (3) pp. 403-416.  Available from:  http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.staffs.ac.uk/10.1080/1461670X.2014.937154 [Accessed: 16/12/2016]

 

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How Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

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As January is coming to a close, I have confession to make. Dry January did not go to plan. It was a catastrophe of gin and tonics followed by a complete and utter failure of wine and prosecco. Not sure whose silly idea it was in the first place. Certainly not mine, I’m sure. Never mind, onwards and upwards as they say! I did manage Sunday to Thursday in the first week so all wasn’t totally lost.

The small one’s bedroom still hasn’t been tidied from the post-Christmas chaos and onslaught of cardboard boxes, wires and plastic screws, all designed to piss off every parent at Christmas, still to be found in February lurking underfoot ready to cause sever pain and much cursing or lodged somewhere in the Dyson. This is a job for February half term I think. Yes definitely. The school year goes so quick. One minute the small one is starting juniors, the next minute it only a matter of weeks until Easter. The same can be said for me at University. The first semester is done and we’re well into the second with the academic year finishing at Easter. It seems only yesterday when I was contemplating going to university. Now here I am, halfway through the first year and loving it.

It’s been a fantastic experience so far. I’ve made some great friends and had some half decent grades back from the first set of assignments, (next lot due back this Friday…..aaaarrrghhh!!!!) And breathe…. Fingers and toes crossed. So Friday night’s bottle of Prosecco will either be for celebrating or commiserating…watch this space.

I shall be starting to look into what jobs I can do with an English degree soon. This needs thinking about sooner rather than later so I can get some work experience somewhere. So much is happening, it’s hard to keep up but at the same time it’s a very exciting ride. I’m trying to enjoy every minute although time is flying away so quickly, it’s hard to keep feet my feet on the ground.

An All Time High

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Here we are at the beginning of 2017, resolutions abound, somewhat bright eyed (not too much, it was a late night) and poised for a new start. The chimes of Big Ben at midnight signify the out with the old and in with the new although I’m not quite ready to let go of last year just yet. I have had a great 2016. I started university and got engaged to a wonderful man, with whom I am planning the rest of my life with; two major life changing events. A lot of other amazing things happened last year big and small but too numerous to mention here. Can we really carry on the high of last year though? Don’t get me wrong, there were bumps in the road and always will be and that’s life but will the new year be just as exciting? Well I for one cannot wait to find out.

My resolutions for the New Year are to write everyday, start exercising and eating healthy. My fiancé and I have also decided to go teetotal for January. This one worry’s me the most as having a glass of chilled white wine at the start of every Friday evening is what I look forward to all week. Anyway, I digress. So far so good. Apart from the exercise, I can tick off the rest and I’m only half way through the day! Yoga is looking favourable as I don’t think I have to exert myself too much but we’ll see. I shall report back on this one.

Even though today is New Year’s day, I am itching to put the decorations away, chuck the tree outside and put the house back into some sort of order. I loved bringing all the old decorations down from the loft, ones the kids had made at school, buying new ones to add to the masses already acquired over the years. When the time comes to de-Christmas the house though, I can’t wait to box it all up again. I know the living room will look almost minimalist by comparison but I like to start the new year with a clean and tidy house, (well try to in any event). My youngest’s room however looks like the sales aisle at Toys R Us but that’s ok. He’s allowed. He turned eight on Christmas Day so he has double the amount of stuff than perhaps other eight year old’s received for Christmas. His is a room I can think about another day, possibly when dry January is complete. I will need a drink to contemplate tidying his room.

A happy and healthy new year to you all. I hope it brings you an abundance of happiness and that all of your dreams come true. I know mine did. I am excited about the chapters of my life that aren’t yet written. I hope you all are too.

Cheers

School Has Started

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My university life started four weeks ago. Already I’ve made quite a few friends, attended workshops and seminars, even played roulette whilst eating monster munch and drinking diet coke! That was a surreal Tuesday afternoon I can tell you!

My journey has begun and what an amazing first month it has been. The lecturers are all really inspirational and down to earth. They are always there with any offers of help and direction. The classes are a mixture of ages, (I’m not the oldest as I thought I would be) and everyone seems really friendly. So far so good. Not sure how I expected it to be but I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute. It’s funny sitting alongside students of my daughter’s age; they are my classmates, my fellow students yet I am old enough to be their mother. I think that this fact makes them slightly wary of me, in case I start asking them if they are eating well or if their rooms are tidy.

I can hear them talking about boys, nights out and clothes and they’re no different from me at that age. Yet we sit alongside each other as peers. It will be interesting to see how this develops over the next three years.

At the beginning of last month I helped my daughter move down to Bristol Uni for her first year. That was hard. Her room was’nt a bad size and the kitchen was clean and tidy, not that it was going to stay that way I feared. There were five flats sharing a kitchen and bathroom. I met two of her flatmates before I left; they seemed really nice and friendly (hopefully tidy and clean!). She did’nt want to stay though once we got there. I think reality set in once we started unpacking her stuff that it was actually happening. She cried and did’nt want me to leave, said she would catch the train back home if I left. In the end, I had to walk out back to my car for the three hour long journey home. I cried.

She did’nt come back the next day. I think she was drunk a lot that first week. She’s loving it now though. All her flatmates are great and they’re having a fab time. Thank God! It’s all you can hope for in the end really; she’s made friends and she’s getting on with it. A bit like me really!

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A Shared Journey

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As well as my university place being accepted, I have also heard that my student finance is now in place. The only thing left to do now is tell my boss I would like part-time hours from September. Ha! So easy to say but nerve-racking nonetheless. I have to work, unfortunately, but it’s true. I have a romantic notion of coming out of lectures, sitting in cafes with my laptop writing essays and hanging out with other like-minded individuals talking shop and being intellectual.  Yeah right. I’ll be hightailing it from my lectures like a bat out of hell to get to the office, changing into a suit and heels whilst driving at break neck speed to fit in a couple of hours before it’s time to pick the small person up. Phew.

One of the funniest things about me becoming a uni student is that my daughter will also become one. Our three years as undergraduates will run side by side but how different they will be. She will no doubt take part in freshers week, drinking games and initiation ceremonies that as her mum I don’t really want to think about. Me on the other hand will probably be curled up on the sofa in my pj’s with a cuppa whilst my classmates pour vodka down each others throats and run through the town half-naked.

It will be interesting to see how we both fair in our different journeys. She turns eighteen this week. She is just starting out and I’m excited for her. I feel that maybe I’m just starting out too, well certainly on this university journey and I’m a little bit excited for me too.

 

 

Change is on its Way

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Well that went really well! After half an hour of summing me up and checking out my previous assignment scores, the nice lady at the university offered me a place on the degree course this September! Can’t quite believe it! I still have to  submit my ucas application through the usual channels but my place is secure!

I shall be a student full time and I can’t wait. The intake for mature students is quite high so I don’t think I’ll be the only oldie amongst the 18 year olds!

The lecturer has sent me a list of books that she thinks will benefit me. I have made a start this evening on The Great  Gatsby; loved the film so hopefully the book will be even better.

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Change is in the Air

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My UCAS application is about to be submitted and I shall wait anxiously for confirmation that I shall be offered a place.  I have decided to apply for university. A BA Hons. degree in English no less. I have researched the financing and have decided to go for it.

The last few nights have been taken up with perfecting my personal statement. It’s harder than I realised to sell myself. As a nation, we British aren’t very good at that. I didn’t want to sound pretentious and big headed but I’ve tried not to be too self effacing and have given it my best shot.

Tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to meet the head of the english department at the university. A short informal chat so she can sum me up. She has told me that I will have a small piece of work to do before the university will accept me. Hopefully this will go well.

It’s In The Job Description!

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Just when you are thinking your child is growing up too fast, they do something that says I still need you mum!

Today,  my daughter went with three friends to Alton Towers, which is approximately 20 miles away from our house.

alton towers

Nothing wrong in that I hear you cry! She has been many times before with me and her dad and other friends with their parents. Today, though I let her go with no parent and they made their own way there. They took the bus, which would take about 45 minutes and had to save their tickets, and be at the bus stop for the correct time for the return journey.

For most of this week, I have reminded her on numerous occasions to note the times of the buses, make sure she would be at the stop in good time because she wouldn’t want to miss it! It didn’t stop there either! Did her friends know which bus stand to catch the bus from?

Basically, I have driven her crazy! She even said she wasn’t going to talk about going anymore if I brought it up again! This morning we left the house early to pick one of her friends up and get to the bus station on time. I started to mention the times of the buses whilst we were driving, but she cut me off and said she KNEW what was going on and so did everybody else and could I STOP MITHERING HER!!!

O.K. Noted! She just wanted me to trust her. I did, but I can’t help being a mum. It’s part of the job description!

I am just being a concerned parent and I know that she knows this because when she got out of the car, she said “I’ll text you when I get on the bus and when we get there coz I know you’ll worry about me!”. Bless her!

I received two text messages before I arrived back home and we only live three miles away from the bus station, another when she arrived at the theme park and then numerous messages throughout the day telling me which rides she had been on!

She is back home now, up stairs absolutely shattered. She did get the right bus home, she didn’t lose her return ticket and they all had a fantastic day!

I don’t suppose you ever stop worrying about them, even when they get older. She is fourteen tomorrow (going on 18!) and even though it has been lovely for her to have this independence and go off for the day with her friends, she will always be my baby, fourteen or forty!

growing up