“To live outside the law, you must be honest.” [Hunter] Thompson, like a lot of people in the sixties and seventies, interpreted Dylan’s famous apothegm to mean that in order to be honest you must live outside the law. By the time the fallacy in this reading became obvious, his persona, thanks in part to the Uncle Duke figure in Garry Trudeau’s comic strip, but largely because of his own efforts, was engraved in pop-culture stone. It’s an occupational hazard: if you construct a career raging against the system, you can’t stop raging just because the system has accepted you, or has ceased to care or to pay attention. The anger needs someplace to go. At its best, in the Nixon era, Thompson’s anger, in writing, was a beautiful thing, fearless and funny and, after all, not wrong about the shabbiness and hypocrisy of American officialdom. It belonged to a time when journalists believed that fearlessness and humor and honesty could make a difference; and it’s sad to be reminded that the time in which such a faith was possible has probably passed.
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