Why is HST an icon?
August 24, 2005
Dear Editor:Last summer, the Aspen Institute offered an amazing afternoon to its supporters: a cocktail party and book signing with Hunter Thompson and a lecture and book signing with Dinesh D’Souza. As a local who had arrived shortly after Thompson’s run for sheriff, I knew something about him, but nothing about D’Souza. The party for Thompson in the Meadows exuded excitement. “The Doctor” leaned against the bar with the whimsical air of a youth out of “Animal House,” surrounded by a swirl of media reps. As he signed my book, he transmitted a feeling of fun – the type of rebellious fun we college freshmen had felt savoring the feat of a student who, one night, had painted huge footprints up the side of the Stanford Campanile.After another half hour of observing the Thompson fête, I walked to Paepcke [Auditorium] to hear D’Souza. A polite man of color from Bombay, India, he had worked his way through Dartmouth, become an American citizen, and written several books praising the USA. He spoke lucidly, dissecting many of the precepts of today’s political correctness. The sparse audience sedately listened to him. Afterwards, I took the signed book from him, and returned to my condo to peruse both books.D’Souza’s writings, though reflecting a Reaganesque patriotism toward his new country, further debunked popular shibboleths on the touchy subjects of race, feminism and immigration. If one thought with reason rather than emotion, one could hardly disagree with him.I turned to Thompson’s book for countering arguments, still believing that a fellow Ph.D. would offer some profound truths, despite his reputation as a druggie, hotel-room trasher, and reckless rifle-shooter. The book, though it contained flashes of brilliant writing, was mainly a rehash of his previous comments about sports and politics. The problem was that most of his arrogant assertions were wrong. How could this be, when Ph.D. training stresses a stringent testing of hypotheses before asserting them as facts?The answer came later, when, after reading of the flamboyant “cannonizing” of Thompson’s ashes, I researched Thompson’s background and education. He had no earned college degree, perhaps some extension courses from Florida State while serving an Air Force tour imposed by a judge after a burglary conviction. His “doctorate” was a mail-order from a church, in divinity (yet!). Why do people make icons of characters like Hunter Thompson or Dennis Rodman? Do we worship rebels more than team players because we resent our parents or admire pranksters? Thompson’s grudge against American society was more than prankish, perhaps caused by the fact that, after the early death of his father, he was raised by an alcoholic mother.An Aspen paper compared Thompson to Ernest Hemingway. The works of the two writers differ, however, in a major aspect: Hemingway’s successes were mainly fictional, but revealed truths about life. Thompson’s were supposedly nonfictional, but reflected angry fantasies.Still, he had that charisma and that aura of fun. These may offset his excesses, though the parents of children who became drug addicts in Aspen High School emulating Thompson might disagree.Incidentally, I sent D’Souza’s book to my liberal daughter and Thompson’s to my conservative one, shocking both.Richard M. JenningsAspen