Gonzo journalism is a style of journalism that is written without claims of objectivity, often including the reporter as part of the story using a first-person narrative. The word "gonzo" is believed to have been first used in 1970 to describe an article about the Kentucky Derby by Hunter S. Thompson, who popularized the style. It is an energetic first-person participatory writing style in which the author is a protagonist, and it draws its power from a combination of social critique and self-satire.[1] It has since been applied to other subjective artistic endeavors.

The "Gonzo fist", characterized by two thumbs and four fingers holding a peyote button, was originally used in Hunter S. Thompson's 1970 campaign for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado. It has since evolved into a symbol for gonzo journalism.

Gonzo journalism involves an approach to accuracy that concerns the reporting of personal experiences and emotions, in contrast to traditional journalism, which favors a detached style and relies on facts or quotations that can be verified by third parties. Gonzo journalism disregards the strictly edited product once favored by newspaper media and strives for a more personal approach; the personality of a piece is as important as the event or actual subject of the piece. Use of sarcasm, humour, exaggeration, and profanity is common.

Thompson, who was among the forefathers of the New Journalism movement, said in the February 15, 1973, issue of Rolling Stone, "If I'd written the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people—including me—would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism."[2]



The term "gonzo" was first used in connection with Hunter S. Thompson by The Boston Globe magazine editor Bill Cardoso in 1970. He described Thompson's article "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved", which was written for the June 1970 edition of Scanlan's Monthly, as "pure Gonzo journalism".[3] This predates the December 1970 debut of the Muppet of that name in The Great Santa Claus Switch.[4] Cardoso said "gonzo" was South Boston Irish slang describing the last man standing after an all-night drinking marathon.[5] He also said it was a corruption of the French Canadian word gonzeaux, which means "shining path", although this is disputed.[6]

Another speculation is that the word may have been inspired by the 1960 hit song "Gonzo" by New Orleans rhythm and blues pianist James Booker. This possibility is supported by a 2007 oral biography of Thompson, which states that the term is taken from a song by Booker[7] but does not explain why Thompson or Cardoso would have chosen the term to describe Thompson's journalism. The 2013 documentary Bayou Maharaja: The Tragic Genius of James Booker[8] quotes Thompson's literary executor as saying that the song was the origin of the term.[9] According to a Greg Johnson biographical note on Booker,[10] the song title "Gonzo" comes from a character in a movie called The Pusher,[11] which in turn may have been inspired by a 1956 Evan Hunter novel of the same title.

Thompson himself first used the term referring to his own work on page 12 of the counterculture classic[12] Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He wrote, "But what was the story? Nobody had bothered to say. So we would have to drum it up on our own. Free Enterprise. The American Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad on drugs in Las Vegas. Do it now: pure Gonzo journalism."[13]

Lexico proposes etymology from Italian: gonzo (simpleton, dolt) and/or Spanish: ganso (dolt, goose).[14]

Hunter S. Thompson


Thompson based his style on William Faulkner's notion that "fiction is often the best fact".[15] While the things that Thompson wrote about are basically true, he used satirical devices to drive his points home. He often wrote about recreational drugs and alcohol use, which added subjective flair to his reporting. The term "gonzo" has also come into (sometimes pejorative) use to describe journalism in Thompson's style, characterized by a drug-fueled stream of consciousness writing technique.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas followed the Mint 400 piece in 1971 and included a main character by the name of Raoul Duke, accompanied by his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, with defining art by Ralph Steadman. Although this book is considered a prime example of gonzo journalism, Thompson regarded it as a failed experiment.[16] He had intended it to be an unedited record of everything he did as it happened, but he edited the book five times before publication.

Thompson would instigate events himself, often in a prankish or belligerent manner, and then document both his actions and those of others. Notoriously neglectful of deadlines, Thompson often annoyed his editors because he submitted articles late, "too late to be edited, yet still in time for the printer".[17] Thompson wanted his work to be read as he wrote it, in its "true Gonzo" form. Historian Douglas Brinkley said gonzo journalism requires virtually no rewriting and frequently uses transcribed interviews and verbatim telephone conversations.[18]

"I don't get any satisfaction out of the old traditional journalist's view: 'I just covered the story. I just gave it a balanced view,'" Thompson said in an interview for the online edition of The Atlantic. "Objective journalism is one of the main reasons American politics has been allowed to be so corrupt for so long. You can't be objective about Nixon."[19]

The Gonzo Studies Society proposes eleven features that, to varying degrees, are included in Hunter S. Thompson's Gonzo journalism:

Influence and legacy


Thompson felt that objectivity in journalism was a myth. Gonzo journalism has now become a bona fide style of writing that is similar to the New Journalism of the 1960s, led primarily by Tom Wolfe and also championed by Lester Bangs, George Plimpton, Terry Southern, and John Birmingham, and is considered a subgenre of New Journalism.[21][22] When asked whether there was a difference between the two, Thompson answered, "Yeah, I think so. Unlike Tom Wolfe or Gay Talese, for instance, I almost never try to reconstruct a story. They're both much better reporters than I am, but then I don't really think of myself as a reporter."[23]

In 1998, Christopher Locke asserted that the webzine genre is descended from gonzo journalism,[24] a claim that has since been extended to social media.[25] Thompson's gonzo journalism influence is reflected in the current website Gonzo Today which features a top banner by Thompson's longtime illustrator Ralph Steadman, with rotating contributions by others including Thompson associate, poet Ron Whitehead.

It has been claimed that Thai writer Rong Wongsawan wrote in a style that was Gonzo, beginning in the 1960s when he reported from San Francisco. However he wrote in Thai, and he probably developed the style independently of Hunter S. Thompson. He also used the style in his books Sattahip and Takli which describe American soldiers and Thai bar girls during the Vietnam War.[26] His book "The Man from Bangkok: San Francisco Culture in the 60s" is an English translation of a book published in Thai in 1978.[27]

Modern gonzo journalism


In the early days of YouTube and digital journalism in the early 2000s, outlets such as Vice Media began to create videos in the style of gonzo journalism. Journalist Shane Smith, the founder of Vice, published videos and articles reporting on his visits to extreme locations. These videos included a multi-day propaganda tour he received of North Korea, his visit to a Bangkok brothel, and on-the-ground reports of Darfur and Iran. Vice also published on-the-ground reports from people experiencing current events, such as a 2007 issue written by Iraqi citizens about their ongoing experiences surrounding the Iraq War troop surge.[28][29]

Journalist Hamilton Morris wrote 'The Magic Jews' for Vice in 2008, in which he documented his experience taking LSD with a group of Hasidic Jews.[30][31] In 2009, Vice hired Morris to write the monthly column Hamilton's Pharmacopeia, which quickly evolved into a series of articles and documentaries in which Morris documents the culture, pharmacology, manufacturing, and use of psychoactive drugs; The series generally documents Morris using substances alongside the people he is documenting.[32]

See also



  1. ^ Bowe 2012, p. 92.
  2. ^ Andrews, Robert (January 1993). The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations. Columbia University Press. p. 486. ISBN 978-0-231-07194-9.
  3. ^ Hirst 2004, p. 5.
  4. ^ Surprising stories behind 20 Muppet characters - CNN.com
  5. ^ Thompson 1997.
  6. ^ Hirst 2004.
  7. ^ Wenner & Seymour 2007.
  8. ^ Keber, Lily (2013). "Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker". Mairzy Doats Productions. Archived from the original on March 31, 2014.
  9. ^ "Unplugged: New documentary explores life, legacy of pianist James Booker". Do Savannah. Archived from the original on April 7, 2014.
  10. ^ Johnson, Greg. "James Booker". Archived from the original on April 20, 2008.
  11. ^ goblinhairedguy (February 1, 1960). "The Pusher (1960)". IMDb. Archived from the original on June 12, 2017.
  12. ^ "Entertainment – Thompson's classic Las Vegas trip". BBC News. February 21, 2005. Archived from the original on February 27, 2014.
  13. ^ Thompson 1971.
  14. ^ "Gonzo". Lexico Dictionaries. Archived from the original on October 25, 2019.
  15. ^ Rolling Stone 1998.
  16. ^ Thompson, Hunter S. (1996). Fear and loathing in Las Vegas and other American stories. New York: Modern Library. p. 210. ISBN 0-679-60298-4. OCLC 38432032.
  17. ^ Whitmer, Peter O. (1993). When the Going Gets Weird: The Twisted Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson (First ed.). New York: Hyperion. ISBN 1-56282-856-8. OCLC 26544707.
  18. ^ Thompson 2000.
  19. ^ "Writing on the Wall: An Interview with Hunter S. Thompson". The Atlantic Monthly Company. August 27, 1997. Archived from the original on September 12, 2010.
  20. ^ Wills, David S. "What is Gonzo?". Gonzo Studies Society. Retrieved 2023-04-16.
  21. ^ Hunter S. Thompson and gonzo journalism as literature - EWU Masters Thesis Collection
  22. ^ The Hunter S. Thompson You Don't Know - The Atlantic
  23. ^ Thompson, Hunter S.; Hitchens, Christopher (2009). Thompson, Anita (ed.). Ancient Gonzo Wisdom: Interviews with Hunter S. Thompson (First ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-7867-4798-6. OCLC 449190907.
  24. ^ Locke, Christopher (July 9, 1998). "Fear and loathing on the Web". The Industry Standard. Archived from the original on January 17, 1999.
  25. ^ Marinelli, Jennifer (May 1, 2010). "Hunter S. Thompson: The Man, The Legend, and his effect on the Digital Age". Michigan Online News Association. Archived from the original on May 10, 2010.
  26. ^ Tony Waters (2019). Rong Wongsawan’s Gonzo Journey through California in 1976, A Thai Writer Looks at the Americans, Journal of the Siam Society 107(2) https://so06.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/pub_jss/article/view/224702
  27. ^ The Man from Bangkok by Rong Wongsavun (2022), tr. by Tony Waters. Thailand: While Lotus Books.
  28. ^ Williams, Alex (2010-08-16). "A Wild Man Grows Up (Just Enough)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2024-03-19.
  29. ^ "Inside North Korea (Part 1/3)". Video. Retrieved 2024-03-19.
  30. ^ Margolin, Madison (November 27, 2023). "The Magic Jews". Tablet. Retrieved March 18, 2024.
  31. ^ Williamson, Hamilton Morris; Photos: Jess (2008-09-02). "The Magic Jews". Vice. Retrieved 2024-03-19.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  32. ^ Jonze, Tim (2017-01-16). "PCP to psychedelic fish: uncover the stories behind the world's strangest drugs". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2024-03-19.

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