March 5, 2012

“ . . . print the legend.”

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:22 pm

A column describing the events of Saturday, March 3, 2012 experienced and witnessed by the World’s Laziest Journalist might prove how and why the parable of the six blind Hindus is still important in the Internet era.

[Six blind Hindus touched an elephant and were asked to describe their reaction. The one who felt the tail thought elephants were like a strand of rope. The guy who touched the elephant’s trunk, said elephants were just like snakes. The fellow who touched the ear observed that elephants were just like a big leafed plant. The man who felt the elephant’s stomach was very convinced that elephants were a subcategory of walls. The guy who touched the tusk, knew that elephants were like swords. The guy who felt a leg concluded that elephants were very similar to trees.]

On Saturday morning, we met up with James Richard Armstrong II, the homeless columnist who lives in Berkeley CA. This writer wanted to brainstorm some possible column topics and have a morning cup of coffee. James was, among other things, concerned about some generalizations a reader had made regarding one of his columns about the plight of the homeless. People who live in houses (glass or not) tend to be very certain of their perceptions as do all of the six blind Hindus.

Since the homeless writer uses Hunter S. Thompson as a role model and since Thomson’s public persona often displayed a cavalier attitude about money, we criticized the Berkeley resident’s tendency to imitate Thompson when making financial decisions.

We suggested that perhaps Thompson’s attitude was part of a fictitious “image” that was deliberately manufactured. This was met with a vehement denial of that possibility, which, unfortunately, was impossible to fact-check. The World’s Laziest Journalist explained that he was basing his assertion on one actual encounter with one of the founding fathers of the Gonzo school of Journalism.

At an appearance at the Viper Room in Los Angeles, in 1996, Thompson had made a conspicuous display of having security eject hecklers. What many in the venue did not notice is that subsequently the persons who had been 86’d would be seen again in the sold out event, quietly observing the proceedings from the very back of the auditorium. The victims had the material for a personal encounter story that they would still be telling many years later, Thompson had bolstered his Wildman image, and the audience had been treated to an entertaining example of Thompson’s lack of tolerance for dissention.

We suggested that (perhaps) Thompson (who owned real estate in the Aspen area of Colorado) was just helping to create an image of an outlaw journalist when he seemed to act irresponsibly about financial matters.

We have been reading a recently acquired copy of “The Kitchen Readings: Untold Stories of Hunter S. Thompson” (by Michael Cleverly and Bob Braudis Harper Perennial paperback) and have become aware that often the reality of stories about Hunter do not match the legend and that the tendency is to use the Rio Bravo advice: “print the legend.”

Hence we strongly asserted that the famed father of Gonzo may have been playing a role when he used an expense account to subsidize living large.

Next we discussed the bogus aspect of the image of the homeless as free wheeling “king of the road” people who could come and go as the mood strikes them. Unfortunately the reality is the complete opposite. Often their movements are very restricted because they have to worry about finding a place to temporarily store their possessions if they want to move about during the day.

We volunteered to do a column delineating the problem. If (for example) a homeless woman wants to go into a public building and use the women’s rest room, the backpack and bedroll is an open invitation for hassling. If she can leave her gear with a trusted friend, she can run off, use the facility, and return very quickly. The problem is exponentially more complicated if the homeless person wants to stash their backpack and go across to San Francisco for a day. Where can he or she leave the backpack for a whole day?

Storage lockers are a quaint reminder of the past. (We will expand on this topic for use as a full column in the future.) So where can a person leave all his worldly possessions while taking a one day trip over into San Francisco? Taking sleeping gear and a heavy backpack will certainly put a damper on any one day outing in San Francisco. What’s with these practical restrictions vs. the image of “go anywhere when the mood strikes you” freedom?

A few hours later we were at the opposite end of the social spectrum. We were in Marin County as the guest of a woman who has devoted her life to helping women’s causes and helping philanthropists decide where and how to make their contributions. She has lived the “those who can, do” aspect of the story; now she also does coaching and teaches about that and related subjects.

As it turns out, the woman had met Hunter S. Thompson at the wedding of one of her close relatives. The philanthropy coach corroborated our impression of Thompson as a fellow who created a public persona that was very different from the private person.

The prolonged economic “recession” has added some additional new challenges to the task of encouraging wealthy citizens to make well informed decisions about making philanthropic donations to an every growing list of worthy non-profit organizations.

As it turns out, on that very day that we were discussing the particular financial needs of various organizations devoted to women’s causes, radio personality Rush Limbaugh may have inadvertently drawn added attention to women’s causes in particular by apologizing for calling a collage student a slut, earlier in the week. Liberal pundits noted that the apology was “out of character” for the bombastic radio talk show host.

Uncle Rushbo could add a considerable amount of credence (“What me make an insincere apology just to get myself off the hot seat?”) if it were accompanied by a large donation to a relevant women’s nonprofit organization.

We asked the Philanthropy coach if she or any of her associates had ever asked Uncle Rushbo (Doesn’t he live in a house that is worth $24 million?) what the level of his philanthropic donations are and also ask if he would like to increase that amount of giving during the economic hard times which have perceptively swelled the difficulty level of maintaining America’s commitment to subsidizing charitable organizations.

Wouldn’t most Americans be quite prepared to assume that Uncle Rushbo’s annual philanthropic donations are rather anemic? Doesn’t he advocate the “bootstrap” philosophy of self reliance?

The World’s Laziest Journalist adheres to a stringent budget, but we have, in the early phase of the Occupy movement, bought fast food meals, on different occasions, for two Occupy protesters. Could it be that the parsimonious columnist outspends Rush on philanthropic endeavors? Perhaps Rush Limbaugh makes large philanthropic donations anonymously or very quietly while perversely bolstering the Scrooge image?

On Monday morning’s broadcast, Uncle Rushbo’s introductory monologue seemed to be an apology to his regular listeners for making the apology on Saturday. His mistake was to lower himself to the level of leftists, he explained. “ . . . it was way beneath me . . .”
He did use the term “self reliance” several time Monday morning.

When Armstrong posts and shares a link to one of our columns on facebook , we get a perceptible bump in hits. We had shamelessly suggested that the Philanthropy coach bring the humble efforts of the World’s Laziest Journalist to the attention of some of her well known friends in the journalism industry. Could they do better at boosting the hits?

What would happen if Uncle Rushbo destroyed our speculation about his level of philanthropy giving on air and enumerated and elaborated on his donations and specifically mentioned that he was providing some fact checking information for the World’s Laziest Journalist?

Over the the course of this weekend and Monday morning, we realized that about one percent of journalists have about ninety percent of the clout that publicity can deliver. The other ninety nine percent of those working in Journalism must share the remaining amount of influence.

The folk wisdom in Hollywood is: “I don’t care what people say about me as long as they spell my name correctly.” Should we, perhaps, hope that Rush does mention our columns in a negative context? What if Limbaugh resorts to ridicule and speculates about the incongruity of someone who works very hard to promote the image of being an example of Lazy Journalism?

While this columnist roamed about Australia in a “sundowner” style, we often left our suitcase under a bunk in a hostel. We were oblivious to the homeless’ concern about “stowing the gear for a day,” until Armstrong elaborated it. This proved to me his contention that people who live in glass houses (or even sleep on a hostel’s bunk) should not assume that they fully understand what it means to be homeless.

What would life be without handy, comfortable illusionary images?

The closing quote has to be a line from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”

[Correction: the Howard Hawks series has not concluded but continues at the Pacific Film Archive until mid April. Rio Bravo will screen Saturday, April 14, 2012, at 8 p.m.]

Now the disk jockey will play “the man who shot Liberty Valence,” “Do not forsake me oh my darlin’” (the Oscar winning theme song from “High Noon”) and the theme song from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” We have to go get us a cup of celestial tea. Have a “smile when you say that” type week.

1 Comment

  1. Bob, of course Hunter Thompson’s public persona was a larger-than-life invention for publicity purposes, partly hatched by Thompson and partly by Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone. It helped sell books and magazines. (Or did you really believe he ate a daily breakfast consisting of: “four Bloody Marys, two grapefruits, a pot of coffee, Rangoon crepes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon, or corned beef hash with diced chiles, a Spanish omelette or eggs Benedict, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon for random seasoning, and something like a slice of Key lime pie, two margaritas, and six lines of the best cocaine for dessert….” Hunter drank copiously and took many drugs, but a breakfast like that would leave him barely able to leave his bed, much less write. Believing Thompson practiced journalism is akin to believing insects actually emerged from the typewriter of William S. Burroughs. Hunter was not a ‘journalist of record’ nor historian; he was a critic of American society and politics who based his critiques on fact, and a damn funny writer. In creating his persona, he did no more than emulate his hero Ernest Hemingway, who also created the persona of the hard-living, hard-drinking writer that he couldn’t possibly live in real life to sell his books.)

    BTW, I understand you’re trying to maintain your reputation as the World’s Laziest Journalst, but just FYI, the line, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” came from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence,” not “Rio bravo.” It wasn’t clear if you knew that.

    Comment by RS Janes — March 5, 2012 @ 7:20 pm

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