Calling all Gonzos – Your country needs you, preferably sober and at a god-damned desk

“Eyes on the road, Steve... This War Ain’t Done...” (Art by Scott Kingsnorth)

by Nick Bain – GonzoToday contributor –

A rampaging global pandemic, a near military coup, 15% unemployment, international demonstrations for racial justice and the political nerve-center of America becoming Minnesota… I’m not religious, but some of these at least must mark the end of days, or at the very least the advent of some really great coupon codes. America is having a long, dark, fire sale of the soul and everything must go.

So, as I sit at my desk, writing a TV pilot about Scottish vampires (Don’t ask) and savoring the languid breeze off the closed-for-maintenance Pacific Ocean, I try to ignore the faint but distinct smell of Venice sewage riding on it like a drunk asleep on a Ferris Wheel. Even so, I’m sure we could be forgiven for thinking we might just, finally, be turning the corner in America.  

The last four years have been like an extended, low-budget director’s cut fusion of The Empire Strikes Back meets Saw, where Luke is tied to a post and a senile, barely coherent Vader has been lopping off limb after limb in a series of wristy, half-assed sweeps of his tiny sabre, while simultaneously gaslighting the Rebels on Twitter…

(Actually, I would definitely watch that… probably on Pornhub.) 

Even so, overly cutesy and derivative as they may be, I’m about ready for some Ewoks, preferably holding Pina Coladas. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet, and the pen wielders among us have some serious work to do.

Yes, the good guys have arrived in numbers and the forces of darkness look hesitant and incompetent, but the war for the message is far from over. The reflex action of the established media is to present balance. Two teams, two Americas, both alike in dignity, red vs blue. Even in a moment like this one, they will go looking for the ‘All lives matter’ of it all, just to prove that they’re balanced, even about inherently imbalanced things like slavery or police brutality caught on camera. 

It is already happening. These outlets will highlight pain to equate with pain. The shop owner whose business is looted will be somehow aligned to ‘balance’ those seeking to end 400 years of institutional racial persecution. They will seek to shame, undermine and discredit those with the courage to take a stand.  They will tell you, the ordinary everyday hard working American that you don’t need all this.  You could be sitting in front of your TV, buying those potentially lethal medicines with the made-up, medical-sounding names in the big pharma ads, enjoying a barbecue or a new insurance policy if only those pesky minorities weren’t brazenly making themselves heard all up in your grill. All real, god-fearing Americans know that grills are for grilling, not for being ‘all up in’!

And that’s just the mainstream TV and news guys who right now are like your amiable if slightly creepy uncle who still runs Windows 95 and relies on outdated things like reason or logic or erudite prose. How does that guy compete for clicks with a mulleted gay Oklahoman who raises tigers and has released two Country and Western albums? In the age of social media, there is no competition. The information silos created by Big Tech have made it easier than ever for disinformation to spread. Platforms free of any sort of legal accountability for the content they carry, monetise and promote have created an information ecosystem where anything can be news if enough people share it or pay for it. If it’s incendiary enough, riles enough people up or just supports their basest beliefs about the world, (or if it’s cats falling off tables… No one can get enough of those loveable scamps) it can multiply like a virus. Unlike Corona, it isn’t going to fuck up your respiratory system. Way too easy. Nope, it’s after the very fabric of your society. What’s right and wrong, up or down, racist or reverse racism. Worst of all, to win, it doesn’t even have to prove a point or win an argument, just sow enough confusion that no sane person can find their bearings. And the way the system works, the more diabolical, fucked up or just plain wrong the content, the more money the platform makes, so there’s no incentive to slow the spread, (at least not financially) to protect or nurture even a ballpark version of the truth.

Hang on a god damned minute… I hear you say… Isn’t this supposed to be Gonzo?  What happened to “Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of journalism.” (Note – It’s even deadlier in the context of marriage, and no, your butt does not look big in that Black Lives Matter shirt… Your soul does…)

But yeah, this is my point, people.  As Gonzos, we may not have an absolute loyalty to truth (Or what we can remember of it through our whiskey haze) but without an information society that works, there will be no lines for us to blaze across, no stiffs to rebel against with our devil-may-care do or die accounts of the worlds we wish we lived in, no Hell’s Angels to stomp some sense into us because they’d have nothing to ride or die for either. There’s a difference between a great story – well told… and clickbait from a Russian Troll farm.  At its best, the first enriches the society that the second is trying to destroy.

It’s probably for the best that Hunter S. Thompson had been dead a year before Twitter was founded. He voluntarily checked out of that experience and any others he might have had. By all accounts, most poignantly that of his wife, he’d lived as long as he cared to.  But that didn’t mean he didn’t care.  Even up until his death, though flawed and battling his demons, he also fought for what he believed in. The door he chose to exit through, stage left is not one I have any intention of following. Truthfully, it isn’t a door available to most of us. In my case, it’s not that I lack the courage to pull the trigger, it’s just in my blue state, middle class, anti-gun household, I don’t have the hardware. I’d probably have to lie on the floor and drop a particularly heavy casserole dish on myself, which, by the way, is the number one method of suicide in France. (Don’t fact-check that)

So, fellow Gonzos, if you’re of a similar mode when it comes to choosing to go to work over putting the 45 in your mouth, let’s go to work. Let’s be Gonzo. The information space has never been weirder and by all accounts, we’re supposed to be pros at that. Our country needs us, journalism needs us. Thompson never had Corona or Trump, he had Watergate and Vietnam, but this, like those that came before is a moment they will teach in the history books. We know people are going to fuck with the narrative to slow the momentum of change. We Gonzos have to fuck with it first in ways that make it so compellingly weird that it becomes impossible to deny.

When my soon-to-be-born daughter asks me what I did in the great Civil Rights Revolution of 2020, I want to be able to turn to her and tell with pride, that I wrote articles with weird Star Wars fetishes to overly labor metaphors about equality. 

This is, I believe, the least any of us patriots can do.

Nick Bain is a Scottish screenwriter, producer and occasional journalist living and working in Los Angeles

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