Imagine Hunter S. Thompson, in the prime of his writing career, transported Encino Man style to 2017.
Thompson was America’s last and almost certainly final literary celebrity. Gone are the days when writers such as Truman Capote, Mark Twain, or Jack Kerouac were household names. Today’s New York Times Best Seller List is comprised mostly of celebrity memoirs available at COSTCO (what it was really like on the set of Alf), formulaic crime and romance novels including the occasional gimmick Oprah throws her sizable weight behind such as 50 Shades of Grey, partisan political junk targeted to demographics who don’t read by tools like Bill O’Reilly, and stuff Christians read about dogs being reincarnated or some chick who found Jesus through her gig as a pastry chef.
There are notable exceptions, such as Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, but the stipulation is obvious – your books need to be made into movies – mostly so that prick at work can tell you how superior the books are. Didn’t realize you were such an intellectual heavyweight Tyler, I’ll certainly get to work on those Harry Potters.
Thompson wrote in the first person about his quest for unequivocal freedom, often in the form of furious rants against what he saw as impending fascism in the U.S. government. He’d cover various pop culture happenings. Then he mostly wrote about whatever he was doing at the moment, such as getting real fucked up on drugs and liquor while mocking any mainstream magazine desperate desperate enough to be hip to pay him, such as the Rolling Stone.
Whether or not they were in on the joke, the fact is they were buying the name and the personality as much as the content.
Hunter S. Thompson was just fucking cool.
He wrote in the first person, breaking down the traditional barriers between writer and audience. He let the writer in on his process. What he wrote was beside the point, the reader was interested in him, the writer. We don’t have that anymore. He was one of America’s first reality stars, back when they had a discernible talent, back when they were famous for doing something well besides fucking rappers.
He got meta, often writing about his writing. A typical passage in one of his books might describe a phone conversation he had with Johnny Depp while trying to get to the bottom of something else.
When not out in the real world, Thompson would seek to gauge the pulse of America by interacting with it from his desk at his secluded ranch. This included reading various articles and watching popular TV programs, making numerous phone calls every day, sending letters and faxes, and responding with vigor. A writer named Elian Peltier, who worked briefly for Thompson, described his process:
“The writer would rise in time to watch Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News, the one channel the family’s black-and-white TV set received… The days would usual last about 36 hours — coking and smoking and drinking and rolling joints the whole time. Oh, and getting work done. Typing, faxing, making crazy phone calls.”
There’s something fantastically romantic about this lunatic persona he created sitting at his big wooden desk, out of his mind on drugs and booze, decoding the spin, manically searching for pebbles of truth in a river of bullshit.
The fact is, in 2017, this would translate to Hunter S. Thompson sitting at his desk, furiously texting, tweeting at people, and having long conversations on Facebook Messenger.
There is something intrinsically far far less cool about that. Thompson counted many celebrities among his close friends, and often wrote about their conversations or nights out. Imagine Thompson writing about an Instagram DM session he had with Drake. You’d kind of want to punch him in the face. Imagine him, God forbid, uploading photos of himself and Johnny Depp to Twitter. Taking a photo of his glass of Chivas, finding a good one, and posting it to Instagram. The horror.
The word troll means different things to different people. There are obviously those on the internet who get some satisfaction out of pissing other people off.
Troll – a line or bait used for catching fish.
Increasingly, especially amongst lazy slacktivists on social media, labeling someone a troll is a parachute method of demonizing someone who requests that you clarify your opinion or points out that some of your facts are wrong. Many of these same people, when pressed, use some variation of the phrase “I’m done feeding the troll.” You can’t feed a verb, but these people don’t know that, because they’re dumb.
With Thompson’s constant and aggressive provocateuring he would almost certainly be labeled a troll in 2017, but would he also be dismissed as one? Would his needling at the status quo be wasted on a simple Facebook flame war between himself and some male feminist vegans instead of becoming a chapter in his next book?
In 2004, the owner of an electronics store in Colorado released an audio recording of a voicemail an irate Hunter S. Thompson left him because he was sold a faulty combination DVD/VHS player:
“I’ll be on your ass all day long!… I’m going to destroy it and write about it. I’ll ruin your fucking name!”
The writing is one the wall. In 2017, Hunter S. Thompson would be writing angry Yelp reviews.
Why would Thompson’s behavior, adapted to the year 2017, be so drastically lamer? What’s the difference between sending faxes all night and exchanging DM’s? After all, you can still make a late night phone call. The person on the receiving end might not answer, but you can do it.
Perhaps, for someone such as Thompson who trafficked heavily in machismo, there was an inherent pride in being direct. Picking up the phone and talking man to man. Not talking shit about someone on Yelp or having fragmented exchanges visible to the world on Twitter. Texting allows more opportunity for evasion. It’s not an inherently macho activity. More stereotypically that of teenage girls. Thompson could barely type. Most men probably started texting because a woman texted them first at some point. There is absolutely nothing cool about a guy who sits with his face in his phone all day gossiping via text.
The answer may be that Thompson was clearly creating a cult of personality. He embellished the details of his personal experiences. He was shrouded in mystery. Tweeting your every move or thought ruins the illusion. When you stand naked in front of a mirror, nobody’s really that cool.
Thompson obviously knew this. And the internet was around way before he died. But Hunter S. Thompson never joined Twitter, and that’s the point.
Maybe the cool guys aren’t online.