Gonzo Reincarnation Of The Week


Now that his ashes have been blown into the Colorado sky over his Woody Creek ranch, those interested enough can begin to seriously ponder the legacy of Hunter S. Thompson, the outlaw journalist who killed himself earlier this year on February 20. It has been argued that after the major works of his catalog were published–from Hell’s Angels to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas–Thompson himself could no longer maintain his own legacy. Three decades of youthful truancy and criminal behavior peaked within one decade of now-legendary writing followed by sparse dust devils in his post-1970s twilight.

While there’s no consensus on the lasting value of Thompson’s art nor his effect on young writers traces of his impact can be found everywhere. “Only In America” follows New York Times journalist Charlie LeDuff as he initiates a new breed of televised “participatory journalism”. The pilot episode airs Friday, September 2 at 10 pm on the Discovery-Times channel (Cox ch. 103). LeDuff is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has worked for the New York Times since 1999 and traveled to Iraq and Kuwait as an embedded war correspondent. Unlike Thompson, he is a trained and sanctioned writer. LeDuff’s journalism, however, has focused on bringing to the mainstream media stories from America’s colloquial corners. His column “Bending Elbows”, for example, published stories from New York’s bars. Now he will travel further down the block, into various pockets of American sub-culture.

Slipping himself into the cast of these real characters, LeDuff seeks to gain fresh insights by maintaining his journalistic sense while temporarily occupying the life of a cowboy, biker, or a member of an actual fight club. Taking one step back from the famed gonzo journalist’s approach to not only becoming involved in but also actively provoking the story, LeDuff seeks to gain new perspectives by stepping more lightly. It is sympathetic, participatory journalism, a restrained violation of the requisite objectivity of journalism in order to assume a role in the story. This, LeDuff hopes, will encourage understanding across differences adding to the novelty of watching these edgy American’s private lives on television.

Eric Beltz, 2005