collection of warped props for his own countercultural drama. Now, with the fracas of American history reduced to a sound bite, he’s left with no one worthy of his contempt. I mean, it’s really not that easy to ridicule Jim and Tammy Bakker or Ed “The Upright Swinehound” Meese; they seem to exist only to mock and humiliate themselves. Blessedly, Thompson never stoops to nostalgia there is no belly-aching over the conversion of Eldridge Cleaver or the that Thompson misses about the sixties it is that orgiastic decade’s dark side, the grandeur of its infamy. Measuring Ronald Reagan’s performance during the Iran/Contra scandal against the standards set by the villains of yesteryear, Thompson notes that “Johnson would have rather gone to Parchman Prison Farm than beat a felony rap by pleading dumbness and giggling in public like some batty old woman. . . . And Richard Nixon tried to crush everyone who even smiled at him the wrong way.” Am I wrong to insist for some broader political commitment from Thompson, beyond the very useful service of denouncing the ruling class for being the street gang it is? South African writer Richard Rive broached an analogous topic last year in the New York Times, when he insisted “it is impertinent to suggest that a black South African writer’s credentials depend on how often he throws stones at a White Policeman.” When asked to choose between writing and fighting, between “storming the castle” and “defining the happening,” Rive argued that writers must strive to fill both roles, but remain true above all to their craft. This is Thompson’s choice, a legitimate one. But even with his preference for the act of writing, Rive admitted that there are times when politics must come first: “While [a writer] is being teargassed he is too preoccupied to sit down and write.” No such heroics for Thompson; we will no more find him in the front row of history, a pen in one hand, a rock in the other. On election night last year, a dance club in New York threw “An Evening with Hunter S. Thompson”: for $15 a crack you could hear Thompson analyze the latest episode in our unspooling national cartoon. The event sold out, but Thompson staggered on-stage an hour late. An audience member passed him a joint which he immediately lit, and smoked, according to a reporter from In These Times, “to no visible effect.” For the next two hours this chintzy simulacrum swayed back and forth before a giant television screen, while George Bush, a man the real Thompson called the “meanest yuppie in history” clambered to the bridge of our Ship of Fools. The audience quickly tired of the plucked vulture’s mumbled asides and incoherent babbling; the hissing and booing did not subside ‘even at the evening’s high point, when Thompson thrashed a grapefruit to a dripping pulp with a walking stick. A nice metaphor for permanent brain damage, that. But I remain unconvinced that there is a biological basis for the doctor’s tailspin. The novelist Jim Harrison, a longtime compadre of Thompson, told me several years ago that despite two decades of substance abuse the doctor’s mind had never been better. Indeed, the recent jacket photos on Generation of Swine show a lean and limber author, hardly the drug-boggled decadent or punch-drunk boxer of our fears. BY MARY ANNE REILLY TURNING POINT: 1968 By Irwin Unger and Debi Unger New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1988 568 pages, $24.95 . BY THE ACADEMIC year of 196768, our Catholic school religion teachers scarcely knew what to do with us. At 13, we were too old to parrot the answers to catechism questions of the “Who is God?” variety and too young to discuss embattled church theology. So we made a lot of collages. We cut out magazine pictures of riotravaged cities and napalmed children, glued dozens of them to posterboard, and superimposed above or below them, words like “justice” and “why.” At our teacher’s request, we reassembled these out-ofcontext media images in order to discover what broader concepts, like justice and peace, meant to us. Our attempts to make these collages mean something usually resulted in chaos. That was acceptable for teenagers caught in the crossfire of current events. But it’s hardly what you’d expect from NYU professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Irwin Unger, and Debi Unger, coauthors of Turning Point: 1968. After all, Turning Point was published a full two decades after the events it describes enough time to write the thoughtful retrospective the authors purport the book to be. Turning Point, however, is neither a retrospective nor introspective work. It is, instead, a collage-like compilation of images and data that meticulously relates what happened in 1968, and in the decades preceding it, without adequately examining either what can be Mary Anne Reilly is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. What Thompson , suffers from, I suspect, is’ more a failure of nerve than a destruction of wit. The depravity of America is what ails him. Ken Kesey, another Woodstockera wild-man, whose decline has been more precipitous and pathetic than Thompson’s, had a name for this: he called it the Combine, the social machine that sucks you down and grinds you up. Hunter S. Thompson seems to have fallen in; let us only hope he can sew himself back togethei. learned from that period or why that year remains significant today. The most blatant example of the book’s lack of analytical insight as well as the disdainful attitude the authors display toward some of the subjects they discuss is found in an otherwise inforinative discussion of the sixties origins of modern feminism. After describing the extremist agenda of groups like the -Society for Cutting Up Men Valerie Solanis, Andy Warhol’s would-be assassin, the Ungers conclude: “Solanis was probably a certifiable lunatic, though the courts tried her as sane and sentenced her to three years in jail for the attack on Warhol. But the anti-male frenzy cannot be dismissed solely as dementia. Some of it derived from a half-hidden Lesbian agenda pushed by militants.” What are we to make of this? That lesbians are frenzied? That militant lesbianism is a form of dementia? Well .. . what? Of course, political groups, like religious groups, attract their share of deeply troubled true believers. But surely this is an unsatisfactory explanation for the depth of anti-male feeling in the fledgling women’s movement. A look at the evolution of that movement might shed some light on the matter. In the mid-1970s, straight and lesbian involvement in the establishment of rape crisis centers and battered women’s shelters, underscores the fact that there were many sources of women’s anger toward men that could not be attributed to dementia or sexual orientation. Indeed, as it became more acceptable first to discuss, and then to take action on such issues, women began seeing themselves less as victims and more as individuals capable of controlling their lives. This growing sense of autonomy helped make it possible for women to command, Unfinished Business 18 MARCH 10, 1989 4
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