Saturday, March 17, 2012

Good Books - Bad Ripoff?

Thompson by Steadman. Via Printed Editions.

Marc shared this hallucinogenic animation for Goodbooks International, featuring "a loving homage to the High Priest of Gonzo, and one of the most original talents to ever put ink to a page, Hunter S. Thompson" on Osocio:

Good Books "Metamorphosis" from Antfood on Vimeo.

I should love this. Dr. Thompson was one of my favourite American writers, despite (or perhaps because of) all of his personal flaws.

But it's a ripoff, plain and simple. Some writer at String Theory has stolen the dead writer's voice, and some animator has stolen Ralph Steadman's style, to promote a bookshop. (One that donates all profits to charity, but still...)

Dr. Thompson isn't with us anymore, so he can't comment on the homage. But during his lifetime, he was notoriously hateful towards those who would co-opt his image. He couldn't stand the fact that Garry Trudeau turned him into a Doonesbury character, once stating "I might set the little bastard on fire." (He reportedly gave the character a grudging acceptance by the end of his life.)

Many English writers want to emulate Hunter S. Thompson, especially if they discover his classic books and articles during their formative years. I speak from experience here. But there comes a time when you have to find your own voice, not indulge in mimicry.

By calling this video an "homage" the writer and animator have given themselves permission to indulge in faux-Gonzo. But, as often happens with Dr. Thompson portrayals, it focusses only on his extravagant recreational drug use and tries to approximate his obsession with making the written English language keep up with his resulting visions and thoughts through obscure and excessive description. That was the character he played, sure, but he was a deeper thinker than that. He was, in life, a passionate believer in American libertarian issues, and 60s-style social justice. When you try to recreate Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but skip the bleeding-heartedness of the chapter "Genius 'Round the World Stands Hand in Hand, and One Shock of Recognition Runs the Whole Circle 'Round" you are simply engaging in parody. And not very smart parody, either.

Sound designer Antfood writes on their Vimeo post, "DISCLAIMER: What you will see is an entirely fictional and completely unendorsed representation. [Though we humbly suggest Hunter S. Thompson might have liked it.] We are devoted fans paying homage. No disrespect is intended." I'll take their intention at face value. But I still don't like what the video stands for.

If you want to honour the writer, read his books for yourself and let him rest. Or watch the movie version of Fear and Loathing, which was made with his participation and is fairly loyal to the spirit of the print. (I'm not sure about Dr. Thompson's late-life BFF Johnny Depp's continued efforts to put the legacy on film, but I haven't seen The Rum Diary yet.)

And don't muck up a great American voice with shallow "homage", no matter how cool it looks.

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