The line between serious and ridiculous is all subjective it seems, and if the political conversations of today show anything, its that showmanship, statesmanship, seriousness, and ridiculousness all blend together in ways that are both revolting and offensive to our civil religion all at the same time. It seems like only one question remains as America once again marches towards another cycle of fear and loathing as we get to decide who gets to live in the five-star public housing on Pennsylvania Avenue—is it worse to be a serious man acting ridiculously or a ridiculous man acting seriously? In the curious case of famed journalist Hunter S. Thompson, is it too hard to ask for both?
The perfect example of a situation which makes you put this question into consideration is the sheriff’s campaign ran by Thompson (which was accounted for and published in Rolling Stone) in Aspen, Colorado, in 1970. Thompson, in full on “Gonzo” mode as he was most notably remembered for, ran the most ridiculous campaign imaginable for the most serious of reasons.
Attempting to bring attention to police abuse against the “undesirable” young grifters in Aspen who were a threat to the gentrified town’s image, Thompson also used his campaign as a loudspeaker against President Richard Nixon’s new war—the war on drugs. Thompson, a political junkie who understood that traditional campaigning would get him nowhere, decided instead to not simply run outside of the major two parties on his own Freak Power ticket, but against the traditional notion of “ordinary politics” itself.
For example, on Thompson’s campaign platform he outlined how to deal with dishonest dope dealers. This might not seem like something of grave concern to squares like you and me, but apparently, this was something that he had to put some real thought into:
“My first act as sheriff will be to install on the courthouse lawn a platform and a set of stocks in order to punish dishonest dope dealers in a proper public fashion… It will be the general philosophy of the sheriff’s office that no drug worth taking should be sold for money. This will establish a unique and very human ambiance in the Aspen (or Fat City) drug culture, which is already so much a part of our local reality that only a falangist lunatic would talk about trying to ‘eliminate it.’ So the only realistic approach is to make life in this town very ugly for all profiteers—in drugs and all other fields.”
Now, I’ve been studying Thompson for years and I can’t honestly tell you how much of that was pure show and shock rolled into one, or whether he was entirely serious, but we need to be thankful that we live in a country where conversations about how to deal with dishonest dealers can happen on the debate stage which includes men and women like Thompson… oh wait a second…
Now one can look at Thompson’s campaign as nothing more than a ridiculous sideshow and counter-cultural gimmick, but at least in Thompson’s head, it was the only way to show people how far the political discourse and civic action had really gone astray from how our Founding Fathers envisioned.
Thompson was not a libertarian, but he believed that in a nation led by statists such as Richard Nixon, it was important for people to remember that they could still have a direct impact on the lives of those in their community by living and exercising the virtues of the Jeffersonian democracy that gave localities the power to determine their own direction. Thompson did it in a theatrical way, and even though he lost by only a few votes, still managed to sway the conversation of the election and many elections in the Aspen community to come.
Maybe we need more irreverent men like Thompson who just want to smoke dope and shoot guns in their own back yard in the public square. More individuals with a devil-may-care attitude willing to act and say ridiculous things for serious reasons instead of being serious about ridiculous things such as socialism. But maybe that’s the rub, the lines between serious and ridiculous are so blurred we can’t even tell what’s real anymore.
If the case of mass political mania is in fact true, than maybe that was Hunter’s final lesson to us all—no one person or group of people should have control over everybody, so the best thing to do is to devolve power back to the people so individuals can focus on their lives and those of their families and direct communities, instead of wondering if the men in Washington are going to decree something so severe and dangerous you can’t tell if they’re being serious or ridiculous to begin with.