James, Captain Mojo and Lex have weighed in with eloquent posts about the late Hunter Thompson. I encourage you to read them if you haven’t. Lex is particularly insightful about where Thompson fit in the big social and political picture of the 1960s.
I confess to reading one of Thompson’s books and maybe a few articles, and to having read quite a bit about him over the years. He was brilliantly insightful in his day but didn’t seem to change much subsequently. I found him personally unattractive (and I seem not to be alone). It’s too bad he died but the muted burst of ’60s nostalgia that accompanied his passing got under my skin. ’60s nostalgia is a bit like humidity: frequently present, usually cloying and we’d be better off without it. It comes with qualifiers — yes, the war was bad, but the music was good; yes, the riots were bad, but people really got in touch with each other; yes, the drug culture was destructive, but there was real freedom of speech without today’s stifling political correctness. And so on. I always thought that most of this talk was either after-the-fact rationalization or coded nostalgia for high and licentious times. I think it was generally a lousy period. Many people disagree.
Lex and I were going back and forth on this topic by email. He announced that “it is time for post-revisionsism on the 60s,” and asserted that it was an age of “glorious music, terrific economic performance, beautiful automobiles, heroic achievements (space, civil rights) disastrous public policy, riots, our worst war.” This got me riled up and I responded that the ’60s were
More negative than positive. The music and pop culture were crap (sorry), the economy that boomed in the early 60s ended in a major and prolonged recession, stock market crash and inflation. The cars were stylish but far inferior to modern ones. The clothes and other fashions were ugly. Moral confusion was epidemic. The seeds of today’s academic anti-intellectualism were sown. The hippie drug culture was a shadow of earlier youth cults. I can’t fucking stand hippies, or for that matter anybody who would rather dope up and look in the mirror than learn about the world. The 60s were full of that kind of thing. The hubris of the hippies was at least as bad as that of the technocrats and generals. I think you are excessively nostalgic for that which you almost experienced. I am a few years closer to having experienced it, or at least to having seen some of it, and I think it mainly sucked.
There were some pretty bad wars too, not just Vietnam: India and Pakistan, the Nigerian civil war. Not to mention the Soviet suppression of the Czechs. And as I mentioned in a comment on the blog, most of the civil-rights progress was made before the 60s. During the 60s the civil-rights organizations started their long march to the leftist fringe, having achieved most of what could be achieved by govt.
[Tom] Wolfe was being kind to his old friend — de mortuis etc. Thompson was washed-up long ago and only stayed in the public eye because of boomer nostalgia and his outlandish behavior, not his ideas, which were tired and foolish.
Lex was apparently still in ’60s mode when he read this, because he responded that it was “raw and vital” and that I should post it on the blog. OK. That was a couple of days ago, and as I reread my email it seems a bit overdone, but only a bit. The 1960s were not as destructive as the 1930s, but they were a period during which the nation lost ground in many ways. We are still repairing some of the damage. (Would Saddam Hussein have invaded Kuwait in 1990 if we had not abandoned Vietnam in 1975 after mishandling the war in the 1960s?) Most people don’t think of cars and music first when they think of the 1930s. Part of the problem with some people’s opinions about the ’60s is that their nostalgia for the funky lightweight stuff overrides more-serious appraisal of the period.