Fear and Loathing at MOCA Tonight

Tucson's Museum of Contemporary Art wraps up this year's book club—Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’12—with a discussion of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, moderated by yours truly, Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel.

It all goes down at 5:30 p.m. at MOCA. You can find the details here, but as for the important stuff: Yes, there will be beer and wine.

I first read Hunter S. Thompson's 1972 campaign dispatches back in 1983, when I was in Mr. Albertson's government class at Rincon High. (I scored high enough on an initial civics quiz that Mr. Albertson, in his infinite wisdom, felt it would be waste of time for me to sit in class with everyone else, so he sent me off to the library to read books about government and produce reports. Fear and Loathing was first on my list. How I got away with that is one of the great mysteries of my life.)

I'm left with a number of impressions as I've re-read it all these years later, some of which we'll dig into this evening. To wit: In a historical context, HST's observations rolled back the curtain on what campaigning like no one else; it must have been deeply weird to watch these dispatches unfold in the pages of Rolling Stone (which itself was a youngster in those days); running for president has changed a lot in the last 40 years; HST had a lot of filler and digressions in these articles (but it's great filler and digression); and I sure wish I could read Hunter's impressions of Campaign 2012. It's just a delight to read the words that poured out of him.

Matt Taibbi has a wonderful introduction in the 40th anniversary edition of the book that was reprinted in part in Slate a few months back. An insightful excerpt:

People who describe Thompson’s dark and profane jokes as “cynical humor” don’t get it. Hunter Thompson was always the polar opposite of a cynic. A cynic, in the landscape of Campaign Trail ’72, for instance, is someone like Nixon or Ed Muskie, someone who cheerfully accepts the fundamental dishonesty of the American political process and is able to calmly deal with it on those terms, without horror.

But Thompson couldn’t accept any of it. This book buzzes throughout with genuine surprise and outrage that people could swallow wholesale bogus marketing formulations like “the ideal centrist candidate,” or could pull a lever for Nixon, a “Barbie-Doll president, with his box-full of Barbie Doll children.” Even at the very end of the book, when McGovern’s cause was so obviously lost, Thompson’s hope and belief still far outweighed his rational calculation, as he predicted a mere 5.5 percent margin of victory for the Evil One (it turned out to be a 23 percent landslide for Nixon).