I have been meaning to get around to reading this book for quite a while especially since I delved into a couple of Thompson's other works such as [book:Hell's Angels]. However this book sort of sits apart from not only his other works, but other works of non-fiction, though I would probably not go as far as calling it 'non-fiction' because technically the story did not pan out the way Thompson has described it. Sure, he did make a couple of trips to Vegas as a journalist, but his Samoan attorney (who seems to provide legal advice for anything and everything that doesn't have anything to do with the law – as your attorney I advise you to have the chilli burger) never actually existed. Actually, in real life Hunter's companion on the trip to Vegas was Oscar Zeta Acosta, a Mexican activist and lawyer.
In a way this book is somewhat of a laugh – it is about how Thompson, under the alias of Roaul Duke, travels to Vegas with his attorney to first of all cover an off road car race (the Mint 400), and then the District Attorney's conference, but rather than actually doing what he is being paid to do, he simply goes around consuming copious amounts of drugs and causing heaps of trouble. Then again, isn't that what one is supposed to do in Vegas – take drugs and cause trouble? Isn't that why there is a saying that goes along the lines of 'what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas'? Anyway, when I think about it, what does one expect to happen when you give people money and tell them to go to Vegas to do something – I would say not what you have instructed them to do.
The weird thing about this book is that I kept on getting it mixed up with another story about a trip to Vegas – the Hangover. Yet it sort of makes me wonder whether one can actually have any other story set in Vegas that doesn't involve gambling, drugs, and getting yourself into no end of trouble. Well, one sort of wonders whether it is possible to get oneself into trouble in Vegas, particularly since Thompson suggested that he managed to catch a plane by doing an illegal u-turn on the expressway, crashing through the fence, driving down the runway, and then proceeding to drop his attorney off behind a baggage truck. Actually, I'm not sure if you could get away with that these days, not with all the added security around airports, but this was 1971, and people could get away with a lot more back them.
The other rather amusing thing is that before I started reading this book I had just finished another book on American culture – The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. Normally I don't read two books of a similar theme in a row, namely because it can lead to a bit of confusion, but this is what I did, and in a way this is what happened. Well, not really, but it was interesting to see two different perspectives on the American way of life – from from the view point of a child in the fifties, and another from a drug addled journalist in the early seventies. Mind you, both writers are no doubt contemporaries, yet Bryson and Thompson couldn't be more different, not just in their outlook on the world, but also in the way that they describe it – but while they are quite different, in many cases they are simply saying, and perceiving, the same thing.
Well, it does make me wonder a bit because it all boils down to the concept of the American dream, and Bryson in a way saw it in action, and being fulfilled, as he grew up in Des Moines. This is the idea that if you work hard, and are persistent, then anybody can share in the country's prosperity, and if you don't end up sharing in this prosperity then it must be something that you have done wrong. Well, Thompson looks at the other side of this belief, but in a way it is what has come of the dream after the upheaval of the sixties, and if one can point to a result it clearly comes down to one word – Vegas. You see what Vegas represents in the dark side of the American Dream – it is not a question of working hard and living a prosperous life, it is a question of never being satisfied with what you have and always wanting more, and the blowing what you have on incredibly risky ventures so that in the end you have something.
Yet it is also the idea of how one can only participate in the American Dream if one is the right type of person. This is shown with this idea of North Vegas, the part of Vegas where everybody who does not fit the image of what Vegas is supposed to be about lands up. Take for instance the Longhair who was wandering down the strip, and is then arrested for vagrancy – he doesn't fit the image that is trying to be displayed, and because he doesn't fit the image he is taken out of the picture and kept locked up, and is only let out if he can show that he has money. Well, even when he gets money, they decide to take a bigger cut than they are entitled too, and there is little that he can do about it. This in a way also paints the picture of the viciousness of American capitalism – it is not a question of working hard and getting ahead, it is a question of have you got what it takes, and are you willing to tread on anybody and everybody to get ahead.
The American Dream of the fifties is dead, even if it was ever actually in existence – if you were a Negro, or Hispanic, then the American Dream certainly didn't apply to you – only if you were white, and male. However things have changed, and if you don't have the right connections, are not born in the right family, or even have the charm and charisma (or the ethics) to move into the upper classes, then you are probably going to find yourself falling further and further behind. Sure, we may live in an era where those of us in the west are wealthier than anybody has ever been before, but we are also witnessing the slow death of the middle class, and the gap between the haves and the have nots grows ever and ever wider.