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From Fear & Loathing to Ecstasy

Weak Become Heroes:
An inquiry into the Visual Culture of Altered Consciousness.

James M Jepson 97055468

This dissertation is presented in fulfilment of the MA Visual Culture September 2002


Contents: ……………………………
Acknowledgements List of Illustrations Abstract Prologue:
24/7 Party People

4 5 6 7 13 25 45 59 74 87 93

Introduction Chapter 1: War on Youth…War on Future? Chapter 2: Chapter 3: Chapter 4: Conclusion Bibliography
‘The Story That Defined a Generation’ Music is the Drug Addicted to Sensation?


Acknowledgements: ……………………………
It is hoped that the efforts here can be expanded upon and contribute to the development of more intensive media education in the school system. The changing nature of our culture surely demands that the young are prepared for the unprecedented and increasingly powerful forms of visual culture that they will experience. Conceptions of the impact of technology and communication systems are currently limited to a generation who have already grown up and adapted as it took place. The newer generations will not have that luxury so it is my belief that action must be taken to prepare us for the final, irreversible integration of our lives with media culture.

Many thanks to my friends and family for their support through the good times and bad. The persecution of the recreational drug user must end one day – there is still time for forgiveness. Peace.

James M Jepson 2002.


List of Illustrations: ……………………………
Figure 1 - Commonwealth Games 2002 poster (detail of Cover Art, page 1), James Jepson Figure 2 - Pills n' Thrills and Bellyaches - p8 Figure 3 - MDMA (Ecstasy Tablets) - p9 Figure 4 - The Beatles - p11 Figure 5 - 'Twisted' artwork for the film - p14 Figure 6 - Fear and Loathing at the Watergate, Rolling Stone - p15 Figure 7 - Ralph Steadman's typically subversive style - p16 Figure 8 - Brazil (1985) - p20 Figure 9 - Depp, Toro & Thompson -p20 Figure 10 - Rolling Stone Covers 1971 - p28 Figure 11 - 'Dr. Gonzo' at work - p29 Figure 12 - Bad Craziness - p29 Figure 13 - Original rear sleeve photo for Fear and Loathing - p30 Figure 14 - Anti-War protesters - p32 Figure 15 - Gambler - p32 Figure 16 - Documentary footage from the film p33 Figure 17 - Cover art for 'Campaign Trail' - p34 Figure 18 - Thompson campaign poster - p34 Figure 19 - Rolling Stone cover - p34 Figure 20 - A Clockwork Orange (1971) - p43 Figure 21 - Scene from the film - p44 Figure 22 - Anti-War protesters (from film) - p45 Figure 23 - The red shark - p46 Figure 24 - Steadman's Hitch-hiker - p46 Figure 25 - 'It's all too bad' by Robert Crumb - p46 Figure 26 - The hitch-hiker takes a trip - p47 Figure 27 - Vietnam footage in the film - p49 Figure 28 - Sacrifice... - p49 Figure 29 - Bat Country! - p50 Figure 30 - Driving under the influence - p50 Figure 31 - Duke and Gonzo - p 51 Figure 32 - Confrontation - p54 Figure 33 - The 'fuzzy little shitheads' - p55 Figure 34 - US anti-drug propaganda - p58 Figure 35 - Flashback - p60 Figure 36 - Beginnings of club culture - p60 Figure 37 - The ecstasy of dance - p61 Figure 38 - The location for experimentation - p62 Figure 39 - Recreation of the Hacienda in 24 Hour Party People (2002) - p65 Figure 40 - Raver with pacifier - p69 Figure 41 - Steadman & Gilliam's Adrenochrome scene - p77 Figure 42 - Ugly refugee from the Love Generation p79 Figure 43 - Anti-Drug Propaganda - p89

Images taken from various sources on the internet (,, etc), scans from the book and freeze frames from the film using Movesnapshot v0.2.


Abstract: ……………………………
Being a dissertation in MA Visual Culture with the aim of better understanding the subject of drug culture and its relationship within the study of visual culture. The following chapters analyse an illustrated book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972) and the subsequent film (1998) in order to explore particular themes based on their production, consumption, and historical context. The premise is that visual culture has used representation to explore and define the drug culture. Concurrently, the drug culture has influenced both the production and reception of visual culture. The primary theme to be addressed is the continuing struggle to protect the freedoms of the drug user. The texts lament the partial failure of The Movements of the 1960s in America, and the ‘renegotiation’ of the American Dream as society is divided. Through an investigation of societal developments in the years between book and film the aim is to show how contemporary drug use can be related to changes in representation in this time. The other major discourse will be the relationship between music and drug use as a sustained mode of collective resistance. Finally, a critique of the theoretical uses of post-modernity will be used to attempt an understanding of the representation (and the use) of drugs in contemporary society.


Prologue: 24/7 Party People ……………………………
Manchester. On the busy junction facing St. George’s Church, off Bridgewater Way, there is a newly erected structure designed for billboard display. It was one of many that greeted visitors to the city centre in the month of July and the year of the Commonwealth Games 2002. The cover-page photo of this dissertation shows one of these posters and is an ideal visual statement on the contradictions of contemporary society with regard to the drug culture. The

connotations from this billboard are endless
Figure 1 - Commonwealth Games 2002 poster (detail)

and resonate deeply into the history of drug use, visual culture, and Manchester.

Originally, there was also a sign that faced oncoming traffic, reading simply “24/7” in stark yellow against a red background. Later, another sign appeared – “24/7 Party People” was proudly displayed in a space normally reserved for advertisements, but which in this case, was a message authorised by Manchester City Council and the Commonwealth Games. While the intention, clearly, is to promote the notion of a vibrant city to visitors, it also indicates a lifestyle that is truly out of step with the clean, healthy image of the Games. The phrase exemplifies the ethos of rave culture.


The notion of the hip, 24-hour city is essential to the commerce of Manchester. The creation of a world famous club culture over the 1990s has seen an incredible surge in tourism, as well as a hitherto unknown interest in luxurious living space within the bustle of the city centre. Combined with the influx of locals from in and around Manchester to the bars, clubs and cinemas, the nightlife has become an integral part of the economy, and a vital source of cultural expression. However, the wordage of the aforementioned billboard betrays an ignorance of the true realities behind this world. The recent film, 24 Hour Party People (2002) 1 , uses a documentary style to portray the Manchester music scene, as seen through the experiences of media celebrity Tony Wilson, head of Factory Records. The title comes from a song by the influential 1990s band, Happy Mondays but it is the emphasis of energy and fun that is being adopted by the City, rather than the true meaning.

The song itself is a cocky salute to the hedonistic impulse; the desire to push oneself to the extremes, and accept the consequences with as close to a grin that you can muster. Released in 1987, the chorus proudly, and prophetically
Figure 2 - Pills n' Thrills

exclaims, “You cannot beat us, so why don’t you join in

and Bellyaches

with…twenty four hour party people…plastic face, can’t

smile, whiteout”. 2 The lyrics describe a violent thirst for life, followed by the
inevitable crash that follows amphetamine elevation. Weak become heroes during the intense drug high, acceptant in the knowledge that what goes up, must come down. Step forward 15 years and (lead singer) Shaun Ryder’s words adorn a
1 2

Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Taken from the album Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out) Apr 1987 - reissued Sep 1987 & Nov 1988


billboard in the city centre, inadvertently persuading a new generation to seek such nocturnal pleasure. A Happy Mondays song was even played at the televised closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games to an audience that included the Queen, the Prime Minister, and a lot of sports fans across the world. The day after the games finished, the posters were replaced; the new message proclaimed that Budweiser is “King of Beers”.

What does Manchester offer the 24-hour party person? The city centre does not yet offer the lifestyle it wishes to promote. Sex is on offer at all times in every corner of the city from the many brothels. Several 24-hour shops satisfy most immediate needs, apart from alcohol, which cannot be served past a certain time. The opening hours of clubs and bars are slowly being extended to a degree but this is far from commonplace. When the clubs close and the city sleeps, the party can continue…but usually, this is in a place outside society’s norms, and often outside the law.

Drug culture has permeated the city’s very fabric. Most who wish to pursue a 24-hour lifestyle, in the sense described above - take drugs. Of course, alcohol is included in this sense, but increasingly it is illegal drugs like MDMA that fuels the dawn. The notion of pushing oneself to the extremes in
Figure 3 - MDMA (Ecstasy Tablets)

the pursuit of this lifestyle is increasingly becoming part of everyday culture for many people. The cost of cocaine, and particularly ecstasy has plummeted to records lows that reflect their popularity, with tablets costing as little as £2-3 in Manchester, while


the price of alcohol continues to rise with inflation. Money is often a large factor in how the 24/7 lifestyle is pursued.

Venturing further into Manchester and Whitworth Street (site of the world-famous

Hacienda nightclub), reveals a new perspective on this culture. As Factory Records
became bankrupt, everything was sold. The new owners of the Hacienda name, logo, premises, and even graphic designs, now plan to erect an exclusive block of luxury penthouse apartments on the site. The dubious (and rather contradictory) advertisement cladding the development site, says that, “Now the party is over…you can come home”. 3 In one sense it is attempting closure on the ecstasy connotations and yet it is also exploiting the fascination with youth cultural history. Elsewhere, in Hulme, a new office block is adorned with the words, “Let me take you down… to BIRLEY FIELDS forever”, while Liverpool airport has now been renamed to the Liverpool John Lennon Airport. The latest television commercial for the AUDI TT automobile features psychedelic computer graphics, music, and special effects intended to emphasise its visual and tactile pleasure. At the end, we’re told that the car was designed “under the influence of Jimi Hendrix”. Mainstream society is so used to the recycling, commercialisation, and exploitation of the drug culture, that such examples go practically unnoticed. A media literate audience is familiar with these references and on the whole acceptant, since they are removed from the context of harm, and focus purely on the assumed ‘cool’ of the liberated 1960s.

3 The plans and artist’s impression for the new flats can be found here. The developers emphasise the historical significance of the site. They even claim to be keeping the spirit of the club alive by installing unprecedented amounts of cabling for superior music systems and internet access.


However, the media also tells us we are faced with a grave, Drug Problem. Almost every day, most of Britain’s newspapers carry articles about the high cost of living within the drug culture, seemingly desperate to perpetuate the stigma of abuse. Effectively, there are two different representations of the drug user in visual culture: one negative, equating use with failure and death, the other positive, equating use with freedom and excitement. More often that not, these representations will blur – no drug is wholly positive and the very nature of excess and transgression is often attractive.

Major steps toward the acceptance of the drug user were made early on when musicians like The Beatles, with unprecedented global popularity, admitted their

‘experimentation’. Their ‘psychedelic’ influence spread throughout the music scene in parallel to the burgeoning youth movement. The significance of Paul McCartney’s
Figure 4 - The Beatles

confession of LSD use cannot be understated. Firstly, it

provided the public with a role model for the safe consumption of drugs, and secondly, it was the catalyst for greater openness between celebrities and the media. Later with the drug induced deaths of several key figures in this generation such as Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, combined with the massive increase in users, the tone shifted dramatically. The ‘beautiful people’ were transformed into failures, perhaps even enemies of society. However, in recent years, the inherent appeal of this era has been rejuvenated in the form of nostalgia; in advertising; fashion; music; in film and television. Drug use by The Beatles is considered by many to have influenced


major and culturally important changes in society. 4 Today, as we are coming to terms with rave culture, the significance of the youth collective is being understood as an impetus for social change and a consequence of the drug culture as represented by visual culture.

Meanwhile, society argues with its own contradictions. Prozac, the legal antidepressant has been aggressively marketed as a veritable ‘cure’ for the stresses of contemporary living. The legal drug industry continues to push its product, loudly exalting one form of drug use, while simultaneously demonising another.

The very ethos of drug culture is anathema to the nature of progression and social development espoused by government. Military power, combined with the ruthless necessities of corporations to stabilise the economy, have meant that the drug culture has been relegated to an almost barbaric status. It is not recognised as a genuine culture at all. The tension between the two sides is best described as a rupture in history. For many, contemporary culture itself is like an altered consciousness, but for those who understand only war and aggression, history, and consciousness, is fixed.

4 MacDonald, I, Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties, Henry Holt & Company, Inc, US, 1994. This book chronicles the music alongside historical events. The Vietnam war required the backing of the public to succeed but the most popular media celebrities of the day spoke of peace. Drug use and aggression were conflicting premises.


Introduction: ……………………………
The direction may seem to become blurred at times. The history of drug culture is blurred … marred by lies, propaganda and the underground nature of its proponents. It will be necessary to change course at times – to open up new enquiries. For any audience, there will be a natural division between users and non-users of drugs. There are some who may hold certain views about drug culture and others who aren’t interested at all, and this will shape the reception of this work. It must be made clear that primarily, this is a discourse into the relationship between visual culture and the behavioural patterns of youth. It is recommended however that the reader is familiar at least with the key texts in question.

The main theme of this work is the pursuit of altered consciousness: an individual’s instinct to transgress society’s norms and the inevitable clash that occurs. Drug use amongst young people in Britain, especially ecstasy, is now so widespread that some suggest it ‘can no longer be adequately explained by either sub-cultural theory or traditional notions of deviance’. 5 The most recent surveys used by the BBC indicate that about 10% of 15-29 year olds in the UK have tried ecstasy. That figure jumps to about 90% for young people who regularly attend outdoor raves, festivals or


Redhead, S (Ed), Rave Off: Politics and Deviance in Contemporary Youth Culture, Avebury, GB, 1993, p. 12


nightclubs. 6 According to Customs and Excise, the volume of the drug arriving in Britain went up 4000% between 1990-5. 7 American statistics are also beginning to reflect this. Possibly, the iconography of ‘rave’ culture - represented as the ‘ecstasy of youth’ - that has been imported from Europe has increased demand for the drug.

The beginning point for this inquiry stems from the initial viewing of Terry Gilliam’s film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). 8 The mainstream (Universal) release of such an explosive set of themes and imagery exposed a mass of contradictions. Coincidentally, perhaps, the film has emerged at a time when the book’s author, Hunter S Thompson, has been canonised by the academic literary establishment. The book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A savage
Figure 5 - 'Twisted' artwork for the film

journey to the heart of the American Dream (1971) has

been appointed a Modern Classic, alongside other great works of American literature, from, mostly dead authors. The ethos of the book is commonly agreed to be representative of the mood of discontent in that period.

The key word when describing the nature of Thompson’s writing is ‘Gonzo’. The notion of a ‘new journalism’ as espoused by Tom Wolfe is also helpful in understanding the break from traditional writing that he epitomises. 9 In 1967, Jann S. Wenner turned American journalism on its head when, at the age of 20, he Collins, M, Altered States: The Story of Ecstasy Culture & Acid House, Serpent’s Tail, GB, 1997 (1998), p. 132 8 At the screening, a member of the audience attacked her companion with her fists, for laughing. She was horrified, unable to balance her formed perception of the drug user with the sympathetic character that was making him laugh. 9 Wolfe, T, The New Journalism, Picador, USA, 1973



launched Rolling Stone magazine. Treating the interests of America's increasingly vocal youth with a previously unknown seriousness, Rolling Stone magazine gave a unique opportunity for radical writers to attract a mass audience. With the music industry evolving rapidly during the mid 1960s, the magazine was able to combine photography, music news, and (most importantly) articles that reflected the world news from an altogether new perspective. The most famous of these articles were by Kentucky born, free-lance writer Hunter S Thompson, whose

collaborations with the Welsh satirical artist Ralph Steadman, heralded a wave of powerful visual critiques on American culture during the 1970s. 10
Figure 6 - Fear and Loathing at

the Watergate, Rolling Stone

Gonzo suggests a different idea of objective truth – a rejection of the old ways, during a period of intense socio-political upheaval. THE news had always rung a little hollow to some, and Gonzo injected a more subjective edge to whatever event was being covered. Combined with Steadman’s vitriolic illustrations, the gonzo style is ultimately a visual form of writing. Thompson’s aim is to represent a scene in such a way that the reader feels like an accompanying player. Thompson bases his style on William Faulkner’s idea that ‘the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism – and the best journalists have always known this’. 11

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas featured in Rolling Stone magazine in 1971. Thompson, H S, The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time – Gonzo Papers Vol. 1, Ballantine, USA, 1979, p. 106. From an unused sleeve-jacket for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.



The first time Gonzo was encountered was in June 1970 in an article for Scanlan’s Monthly entitled,

The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.
Thompson was venturing out of his fortified compound in Aspen (where he had been living a rural life for several years) to return home; it was

Private Eye illustrator, Steadman’s first ever visit to
America. Typically, his drawings have a chaotic nature and often feature a clash as soft, human
Figure 7 - Ralph Steadman's typically subversive style

flesh interacts violently with its surroundings. He has a very harsh drawing style in various media - for the Scanlan’s article he used lipstick and eye pencil - utilising a very dense technique, layering and splattering the page with ink to induce a visceral impact. His rejection of traditional methods of caricature or realism allows him to reveal his own perceptions and the inner character of his subject. In the Derby piece, standard reportage of a sporting event became something very unique and this ‘pure gonzo’ style came to signify the following:

• • • • • •

Overlapping themes of social criticism, politics, drug culture, music, sport, etc Use of quotation and references to public figures A tendency to wander from the subject Sarcasm and vulgarity – exaggeration Creative and conversational prose style Close scrutiny of the world around the author – he will become part of, even instigator, of the story


• •

Viewpoints may be necessarily bias and subjective Author covers subjects that are often ignored, or misrepresented by mainstream journalists

Illustrations replace photo-journalism in order to convey a sense of satire and subjective truth

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, is divided into two sections: it joins two separate
writing assignments and presents them as consecutive days in a road-trip scenario. The first section deals with Thompson’s (Raoul Duke’s) exploitation of his reputation - he is offered a small assignment covering the Mint 400 motorcycle race, because of his notoriety as the man who rode with the Hells Angels as research for his book. 12 In the second section, he offers his perspective on the National District Attorney’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Alongside close friend and attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta (Dr. Gonzo), the protagonist spends ‘expenses’ money on drugs and rents convertible sports cars for the trip. They rely on society’s warm embrace of the media celebrity (credit) cult and expense accounts to lubricate their passage through car-rental firms, hotels and bars. In between assignments, the two men sample the nightlife of Las Vegas; become involved in the lives of two teenage runaways, and tangle with authority figures, and other members of the ‘silent majority’. The tempo of the piece emulates that of a ‘trip’ – the energy, humour and control eventually peaks and precipitates the ‘crash’ - the final wisdoms ring rather hollow, in realisation perhaps, that the experience is the only real truth.


Thompson, H S, Hells Angels, Penguin, GB, 1967


The narrator of the book intersperses these sections with observations about the drug culture, the youth movement and the War in Vietnam. Thompson, like many patriots, had been horrified by the repression of peaceful protesters and the military’s disregard for the ethics of combat in Vietnam. His paranoid style of writing is often understood to be a reaction to psychedelic drugs causing a skewed, or paranoid perspective. It is more accurate to say that these drugs, and the deviant label, laid bare the contradictions that were appearing in Thompson’s notion of the American Dream. The loathing in his writing focuses on the abuse of an individual’s freedom and the assault to human morals. He is afraid because society turned him into a criminal. He is afraid because he could be next…

But our trip was different. It was a classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in the national character. It was a gross, physical salute to the fantastic

possibilities of life in this country – but only for those with true grit. And we were
chock full of that. 13

The book can be summarised as a radical new form of representational journalism. The blend of fiction and non-fiction enables the author to address themes that would ordinarily be an admission of felonious, possibly deviant, guilt. Years earlier, Thompson had said that the only way ‘to write honestly about the scene is to be a part of it’. 14 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was not the first time he discussed his own drug use, but it was the most extreme example, and one in which he used license to exaggerate aspects, often for humour and shock value. He had originally



Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, Paladin, GB, 1972, p. Thompson, H S, The ‘Hashbury’ is the Capital of the Hippies (NY Times Magazine, 1967) in Thompson, H S, The Great Shark

Hunt, p. 392


planned to submit all the notes he took as an account of his assault on the morals of Vegas, as it happened, but ultimately decided to add a fictional framework – ‘Only a goddamn lunatic would write a thing like this and then claim it was true’. 15 An important theme to be addressed later on is the divide that society makes between the drug user and the ‘straight’. There is an ongoing need for honesty, so that the everyday person who happens to use drugs is able to admit it - for them to become positive role models for those who will inevitably experiment.

There is no shortage of documentation for the thesis that the current Haight-Ashbury scene is only the orgiastic tip of a great psychedelic iceberg that is already drifting in the sea lanes of the Great Society. Submerged and uncountable is the mass of intelligent, capable heads who want nothing so much as peaceful anonymity. In a nervous society where a man’s image is frequently more important than his reality, the only people who can afford to advertise their drug menus are those with nothing to lose. 16

The impetus here is for a better understanding of society’s slow integration with the drug culture, by looking at certain examples of visual culture: Fear and Loathing in

Las Vegas in its original form as illustrated, music-press article, then book, and its
reincarnation as a mainstream Hollywood film. By looking at themes of excess; the relationship between ‘straight’ society and the drug user; and the connections between music and ‘resistance’, the aim is to illuminate the theory that (drug) cultural practice is shaped by the most pervasive forms of visual culture (and vice versa).

15 16

Thompson, H S, The Great Shark Hunt, p. 108. From an unused sleeve-jacket for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Thompson, H S, The ‘Hashbury’ is the Capital of the Hippies (NY Times Magazine, 1967) p. 392


Terry Gilliam, former animator for Monty

Python’s Flying Circus, directs films that are
acutely recognisable, associated as they are with subversive imagery and an enormous attention to detail. The compositions of his frames are rich and imaginative and the fluidity
Figure 8 - Brazil (1985)

of his camera explores every detail. His films typically feature fantasy worlds, but contain analogies to the repressive nature of urban life, such as in Brazil (1985). Gilliam presents a world where human dignity is decayed by the inflexible bureaucracies of modern life, where technology fails to live up to its promise, and loneliness contributes to a loss of faith. Familiar objects or institutions are presented through twisted, jarring

perspectives to reveal more sinister truths. Through the analysis of his filmed treatment of the text, alongside the contribution made by actors Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro, we may understand its relationship to contemporary
Figure 9 - Depp, Toro & Thompson

audiences and the relevance of its themes.

Themes of resistance that are raised in the text are mainly a reaction to the Vietnam War (particularly the ‘draft’ that sentenced conscientious objectors to prison), and its crude military aims. It is horror at the destruction of a massive portion of America’s youth, and dismay at the crippling of the national psyche for future generations. The text also highlights the struggles, and parallel realities that exist between the drug


user and the almost mythic ‘moral majority’. The confusing theory of post-modernism (which hasn’t lived up to its promise to permeate the national consciousness) is still our best hope of understanding society’s drug ‘problems’ and the effects of a visual culture on the creation of personal identity. It is vital the subject of visual culture is constantly re-addressed with relation to notions of resistance, as well as general trends in public behaviour and social/economic policy. The Western concept of ‘life’ is fluid and shifting - the personal history of the individual becomes ever more fragmented and variable, due in parts to the rise of communication systems and technological advances in media representation. This culture has dominated leisure time and reinvented the methods by which generations’ access and share information. Historical knowledge is often translated through the cinema and media culture is becoming more persuasive as we rely increasingly upon its notion of truth and allow the unreal to influence our dreams, aspirations and self-esteem.

This generation was likely conceived in the sights and sounds of media culture, weaned on it, and socialised by the glass teat of television used as a pacifier, baby sitter, and educator by a generation of parents for whom media culture, especially television, was a natural background and constitutive part of everyday life. 17

Kellner goes further, asserting that media culture is the principal culture today – that it replaces the forms of ‘high’ culture as the centre of cultural attention and impact for many people. In the years since then, the situation has only polarised more – media culture renews itself regularly and must be constantly re-evaluated. As a new


Best S & Kellner D, Beavis & Butthead: No future for postmodern youth quoted in Epstein, J S (Ed), Youth Culture: Identity in a Postmodern World, Blackwell, GB, 1998, p. 81


generation is cultured within this framework, it seems likely that new methods of education will be needed.

Furthermore, visual and oral forms of media culture are supplanting forms of book culture, requiring new types of media literacy to decode these new cultural forms. Moreover, media culture has become a dominant force of socialisation, with media images and celebrities replacing families, schools, and churches as arbiters of taste, value, and thought, producing new models of identification and resonant images of style, fashion, and behaviour. 18

Flowing through the various themes addressed so far is an integral part of the drug culture scene, and one that can’t be overlooked in investigations into identity. The history of music follows a parallel to the history of drug use, and therein remains a source of transgression, despite corporate attempts to homogenise fashions. In particular, the recent mainstreaming, and mass marketing of the underground club scene, has also run parallel to a near hysteric tabloid press with regards to the supposed drug ‘problem’. Music both adapts the experiences of users into a pleasing aural sensation, and in visual terms, through representation. Imagery and media that presents alternative lifestyles to the dominant society will more often be found in the music press and also in late-night television, and film. Like the academic institutions based on the arts, these forums are quite often ‘left of centre’ in their political approach. In this sense, they are more sympathetic to the drug user who is associated with the notion of the artist who reflects life from the periphery of a potentially unjust society. Essentially, the music press keep alive the spirit of


Kellner, D, Media Culture: Cultural Studies, identity and politics between the modern and the postmodern, Routledge, UK, 1995, p. 17


resistance, through discussion and criticism, and through the unprejudiced representation of these lifestyles.

Depictions of music festivals, club culture and music videos infer a history of youth culture, and both confirm and suggest extreme identities through behaviour, fashion and style. The spirit of ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ lives on through the exploits of musicians and music lovers. In combination there are powerful forms of representation that portray the scene in positive ways, both as a rite of passage for youth, and a way of living out fantasies of ‘playful’ resistance. Primarily, we are discussing the growth and export of the Manchester club scene (as recently documented in a ‘gonzo-esque’, faux-documentary, fictionalised account of the

Hacienda nightclub in the film, 24 Hour Party People) as an example of how youth
culture has been co-opted into the mainstream.

Youth cultures are a response to the combined experience of primarily a location in the labour force and in social class, and the experience of a reality mediated by education, neighbourhood, generation, leisure, social control and dominant values. Youth culture is an essay in the mini-politics of rebellion against obscure social forces. From this is created a collective symbolic identity which for a brief time during youth steps outside the stark reality of industrial society to explore the excitement and vitality of being young, optimistic and joyous, a moment all too brief in personal biography. 19

The final chapter will be concerned with applying contemporary critical theories of post-modernity to these themes. The notion of a ‘revolution’ in representation can be

Brake, M, The Sociology of Youth Culture and Youth Subcultures: Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll? Routledge, 1980, p. 176/7


analysed to appreciate the creation of personal identity in a world where we have lost our faith in the representation of the ‘real’, in absolute terms. By looking at the notion of ‘schizophrenic’ culture; of nostalgia; of a ‘ruptured’ history; and the ‘simulation’ of reality, we can perhaps better understand the relationship between drug culture and youth culture. The various arguments will be tested to see whether they hold relevance in the struggle to legitimise the freedom of the drug user and in the attempt to draw correlations between visual culture and behaviour.

Decadence is one consequence of restlessness, self-examination, agonising commitments, monstrous renunciations and, above all, increased time awareness. 20

By using theories to help us negotiate these themes, it might be possible to make connections between common experience, discourses, institutions and social relations. Interpreting these texts, and the wider aspects of the music culture, will involve various tools, including film theory, social history, political analysis and ideological/cultural critique. Kellner addresses the pitfalls of critical neglect, warning of the dangers of cultural studies becoming ‘merely another academic subdivision, harmless and ultimately of benefit primarily to the culture industry itself. 21

… to adequately analyse media culture we must situate the objects of analysis within the system of production, and … distribution and consumption, within which they are produced and received. A cultural materialist approach thus stresses the importance of the political economy of culture, of the system that constrains what can and what cannot be produced, that provides limits and possibilities for cultural production. 22

20 21 22

Horrocks, C, Baudrillard and the Millenium, Icon Books, UK, 1999, p. 13 Kellner, D, Media Culture, Op. Cit, p . 42 Kellner, D, Ibid, p . 42


Chapter 1:
War on Youth…War on Future?

One of the most fundamental mistakes a society can make is to produce tension between certain groups. Furthermore, if laws or ideologies come into conflict with the next generation, they literally attack our own future. Here we examine some of the cultural conditions that provide the context for the production and consumption of the text of 1971, and the film of 1998. However, it is also necessary to approach this subject matter from the perspective of a post 9-11 sensibility. 23 We will learn that in the three decades between the texts, there have been few significant breakthroughs in the struggle to integrate the drug user, and simultaneously, there has been a massive increase in their use.

The original text first appeared in Rolling Stone magazine in November 1971 as a two-part, illustrated serial. At that time, the magazine dominated its field and attracted a wide audience. Today, it still retains a loyal subscription base of around 1.25 million but has recently acknowledged that it is not appealing to the target youth market. In response to dwindling sales and the recognised popularity of ‘malelifestyle’ magazines such as Maxim and Loaded, the editorship is being handed to the British former FHM editor, Ed Needham. The intelligent cultural and political
9-11 is how society chooses to refer to the devastating terrorist attacks on America that occurred 11.9.01 and caused the socalled War on Terror; and amendments to civil liberties previously enshrined in the constitution.


journalism that revolutionised counter-cultural debate is to be replaced by shorter and more lavishly illustrated stories with none of the in-depth articles that Thompson specialised in. ‘All the great media adventures of the 20th century have been visual,’ says Needham. ‘Television, movies, the Internet, they're all visual mediums, and I don't think people have time to sit down and read.’ 24 Magazines targeted to males have changed radically - in the last decade particularly. FHM tells you what to wear, where to go, what to buy and encourages total submersion into consumer culture, presenting this lifestyle in a highly satisfactory way with glossy images of attractive, near naked females, handsome, well groomed men and luxurious surroundings. It promotes a way of life based on conspicuous consumption that also suggests the male’s responsibilities to conform to society’s rules.

What is new about this is that the magazines also promote an increasingly more excessive, hedonistic culture based on sex, drugs and leisure. Is this a reflection of changes in society, in the nature of human impulse, or is it down to changes in representation? Certainly, there are far fewer restrictions on what imagery is deemed to be obscene, or liable to corrupt. We now live in an ‘anything-goes’ culture where the ability to shock is applauded by an ever more desensitised audience. An unexpectedly successful magazine, Bizarre is currently the most radical on the market, actively celebrating the weird transgressions of some members of society. It features stories that are often overlooked by mainstream media and it exploits the attractive nature of resistance.



Most magazines are eventually co-opted into the mainstream - it is often necessary for them to survive economically. However in some cases, like Rolling Stone in the 1970s and Bizarre today, the mainstream comes to them as alternative lifestyles or ideologies gain popularity and acceptance. Today, Bizarre will treat the drug user as normal whereas Rolling Stone would be more inclined to discriminate against them. A visit to the Rolling Stone website today will cause a ‘pop-up’ window urging you to join the US Army.

The original text of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas covers the most painful aspect of the ‘sixties era’ – the early 1970s - summed up by the painful final words of John Lennon’s song of 1970, God … ‘the dream is over’. For Hunter S Thompson, this was a time of harsh realisation, both emotionally and economically. In part, of course, he was making use of the drug culture, commercialising it for profit – doing what he had to do to survive. In his own words, ‘When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro’. 25

Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas was never a book. It was and is one man’s attempt to
come to terms with the loneliness of pure perception, unutterable fatigue with, and flight from, America’s dysfunctional over-indulgence. The fright of confronting America’s sickness inside his own skin drove the poor bastard on a trip to his own destruction, bringing him face to face with a mirror image of himself. In his heroic attempt to escape the dark morass of America’s screaming lifestyle he sold his soul to the devil for one moment of happiness. Like Faust he lives in mortal torment, but unlike Faust he quite enjoys it … but the sonofabitch would, wouldn’t he? 26


Thompson, H S, Songs of the Doomed: More Notes on the Death of the American Dream – Gonzo Papers Vol. 3, Picador, GB, 1991, Foreword 26 Steadman, Ralph, Gonzo: the art, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, UK, 1998, p. 83 


The original front covers of the article reflect two common conceptions of that era. The first features an outlaw image of a biker, reminiscent of the hero from Easy

Rider or a Hells Angels member, riding triumphantly over the blank, zombie-like
‘suits’ underneath. The second depicts a stereotypical caricature of a junkie, his plight ignored by the lascivious tussle between a cop and his wife. Steadman’s illustrations, influenced by Thompson’s prose, convey a sense of alienation from the dominant society and cynicism that they can provide the answers to the needs of this generation.

The trip to Las Vegas occurred as an opportunistic release from a serious involved article in Thompson the was



murder (and police cover-up) of a reporter called Ruben Salazar during a riot involving Chicano militants. Fear and Loathing in Las
Figure 10 - Rolling Stone Covers 1971

Vegas contains fiction, clearly, but the intention of the piece

is pure journalism. It is about drug culture; music; gambling; politics; about the tension between ‘straights’ and ‘freaks’; but it is also about the writing process itself, and the industry of representation. To an extent, the whole book is about testing the limits of the American Dream, which in Hunter’s case especially, involved aggressively using the system for his own (admittedly financial, as well as moral) advantage. To a degree, it is a success, in that Thompson (and of course Steadman


and Gilliam) is unrelenting, yet still reaches a mass audience - the freedom to criticise the dominant culture is paramount. It is uncertain however, whether the film would still have been made today, in a post 9-11 context which has seen the President of the USA denounce all drug users for providing funds to terrorists.




described in the book as Dr. Gonzo, was actually a respected author. 27 Acosta was lawyer Oscar also and Zeta Thompson’s friend, and an
Figure 11 - 'Dr. Gonzo' at work

invaluable connection to the world of Chicano

militant politics – the Brown Power movement in Southern California that began to equal the Black Panthers’ protests. In the film, Gilliam illustrates his genuine responsibility (between drug frenzies) in a short scene in his office, highlighting that the men do contribute to society, despite their opposition to the political party and their moral stance. This is not highlighted in Thompson’s text, or in Steadman’s illustrations but added by Gilliam to promote a better understanding of his extreme behaviour.

Figure 12 - Bad Craziness

27 - Some information about Oscar’s life and work


It was during the Salazar piece that tensions between the two friends were high because Thompson had a potentially unpleasant side to his personality. Namely, he was likely to put into print the more delicate sides of the Chicano operations, and severely compromise Acosta’s position. For example, in Strange Rumblings in Aztlan (Rolling Stone, April 1971), Thompson describes Rudolfo ‘Corky’ Gonzales, as being part of one of,

the few viable Chicano political organisations in the country. Gonzales is a poet, a street-fighter, a theorist, an organiser, and the most influential Chicano ‘leader’ in the country next to Cesar Chavez. 28

However, the following page quotes Oscar and reveals a different side to the image:
This weekend is really going to hell … Whenever Corky’s in town, my apartment turns into a fucking zoo. I have to go to a motel to get any sleep. Shit, I can’t stay up all night arguing radical politics when I have to be in court the next morning. These wild-eyed fuckers show up at all hours; they bring wine, joints, acid, mescaline, guns …

It is made clear later in the quote that ‘Corky’ himself wouldn’t dare be surrounded by this activity, but it is patent that his supporters would. Oscar took more risks that necessary, even insisting that the first edition of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas carried a rear jacket photo of Thompson and
Figure 13 - Original rear sleeve photo for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
28 Thompson, H S, The Great Shark Hunt, Op. Cit, p. 127 29 Thompson, Ibid, p. 128


himself (bizarrely clad in a single black glove) sat in a casino – stamping authority on the book and removing all doubt over his personal stance on narcotics. His mysterious disappearance and presumed death several years later has never been solved. The ‘trips’ to Las Vegas were an escape from the heavy situation Hunter found himself in, since Oscar took him deep into the world of underground, revolutionary politics. By chance, as a freelance writer, he was offered the assignment to cover the Mint 400 race in Las Vegas, with press credentials and keys to a sound-proof room. He exaggerates, to an extent, what he calls, “the essential decency of the white man’s culture”. 30 In the book, Raoul Duke has total credit - an uncanny, and bizarre consequence of being a writer with a reputation. However, the trips were actually partly funded by the author, and he sensed a book from the outset. 31

But what was the story? Nobody had bothered to say. So we would have to drum it up on our own. Free enterprise. The American Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad on drugs in Las Vegas. Do it now: pure Gonzo journalism.

There was also the socio-psychic factor. Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only real cure is to load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas. To

relax, as it were, in the womb of the desert sun. Just roll the roof back and screw it
on, grease the face with white tanning butter and move out with the music at top volume, and at least a pint of ether. 32

30 31

Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas: Op. Cit, p. 11 Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist 1968-1976, Bloomsbury, GB, 2000. This book of letters details Thompson’s activities during the Vegas article. 32 Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Op. Cit, p. 12


There was a point at the height of what is known as ‘the summer of love’, circa 1967-70 when major cities across America and Europe erupted as a passionate youth movement targeted sexual inequality, racism and the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War. Many of in the mass protesters who



were fuelled by the safety in large numbers, and inspired by the optimistic rush, and perceived clarity of newly discovered drugs. Thompson’s unique position within the movement, as chronicler, political candidate and drug ‘expert’
Figure 14 - Anti-War protesters

provided him with the reason to create this ‘vile epitaph for the Drug Culture of the Sixties.’ 33 The promise he had experienced first-hand, and the energy of what seemed like an entire generation, caused terrible anguish when the final come-down began. There are different notions of what the movement represented. One of these is counter-culture – a rejection of the false desires and controlled tastes of the indoctrinating consumer market. Steadman uses a variety of techniques to demonise the clientele of Las Vegas and make them indicative of this kind of conformity. His ugly gamblers for example, with their feeble, scratched and exaggerated features believe in the myth of ‘the big winner’ emerging from the casino.
Figure 15 - Gambler

Gilliam also provides counter images to ‘straight’ society with documentary footage of ‘free’ youth, her face painted to signal her uniqueness and political defiance.

Thompson, H S, The Great Shark Hunt, Op. Cit, p. 109


Figure 16 - Documentary footage from the film

Another notion is that with the right catalyst, people will come together to protect freedom, and to make a stand for what they believe in – even if it runs counter to the law. American media culture was absorbing the radical, alternative lifestyle and making it mainstream. There is an inherent paradox in this since the counter-culture was exploiting an industry whilst simultaneously criticising it. To a degree, this was merely common sense – adapting the system for their own ends - but it also reveals some naivety because the ideal of freedom and individuality was essentially being eroded by the all-consuming culture industry. In a sense, it was another example of the mythic, American Dream - the frontier philosophy of the everyday man’s fight against a bureaucratic, repressive system. The context in which Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas arrived was a culture deeply divided about the morals of Government, the military, and the future of youth. A culture in revolt against ‘homogenised forms of experience.’ 34

Related representations included that of the ‘Establishment’ as a set of outdated conservative values, of the police as an enemy rather than a friend, of the patriarchal family as an institution for the oppression of women, of the liberal ideal of economic interests, especially war industry interests, of foreign policy as a form of neoimperialism, of Third World liberation struggles as heroic, of the value of subjective experiences related to mysticism and drugs, of the importance of the preservation of


Hutcheon, L, A poetics of postmodernism: theory, fiction, history, Routledge, UK, 1988 (ed. 2000), p. 115


nature, of sexuality as a rich terrain of possibility rather than as an evil to be repressed, and of capitalism as a form of enslavement instead of a realm of freedom. 35

After the success of his book, Thompson was selected by Rolling Stone magazine as the first political correspondent assigned to a music newspaper, covering the presidential campaign in

Figure 17- Cover art for 'Campaign

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail (1972).
He had previously developed a unique perspective


Figure 18 Thompson campaign poster

on the workings of politics, when, at the peak of his idealism he attempted to mobilise the ‘freak power’ vote and assume political power. It was a bold move, and one that has been attempted since with little success. His idea was that the unused votes of the disillusioned veterans of the summer of love, could be utilised to elect someone to a position of authority who would be sympathetic to the cause of freedom and justice. 36 His campaign began as an attempt to elect a friendly mayor of Aspen, his home, who would not encourage the ‘rape’ of the land by greedy developers. He also entered the race for sheriff. Ultimately he was defeated on both counts but only by the narrowest of
Figure 19 - Rolling Stone cover

margins, and only through a reluctance (or ignorance) to

use the ‘dirty tricks’ that were employed by his rivals. The near-success of his


Ryan, M and Kellner, D quoted in Mintz, S & Roberts, R (Eds), Hollywood’s America: US History through its Films, Brandywine, USA, 1993, p. 266 36 Thompson, H S, Freakpower in the Rockies, Rolling Stone #67, October 1, 1970


mission undoubtedly caused massive ripples through the corridors of power. In a democracy, it seemed possible for a time, that Thompson’s model could be used nationally and overthrow the old men of Government. His poster featuring a fist clutching a peyote button is inspired by the Communist salute used by the protesters in Paris, May 1968. The sheriff’s badge also invites a John Wayne connotation. Thompson also shaved his head for the occasion – a direct visual affront to passive hippy idealism. Meanwhile, the front cover of the Rolling Stone issue that featured the ‘freak-power’ article, seems to show a hippy figure looming over carefree bohemians relaxing by a car. A call to arms perhaps … asking them to join the protest in whatever form they can.

Counter-culture is thus the active critique or transformation of the existing social, scientific or aesthetic paradigm. It is religious reform. It is the heresy of whoever confers a license upon himself and prefigures another church. It is the only cultural manifestation that a dominant culture is unable to acknowledge and accept. The dominant culture tolerates parasitic counter-cultures as more or less innocuous deviations, but it cannot accept critical manifestations which call it into question. Counter-culture comes about when those who transform the culture in which they live become critically conscious of what they are doing and elaborate a theory of their deviation from the dominant model, offering a model that is capable of

sustaining itself. 37

In Thompson’s own words … ‘we brought out a massive backlash vote. They couldn’t handle a mescaline-eating sheriff who shaved his head and looked like the devil.’38

37 38

Lumley, R (Ed), Apocalyse Postponed, (Eco, Umberto, Does Counter-culture exist?), p. 124 Thompson, H S, Songs of the Doomed, p. 118


Resistance has not completely died out, and many of the principles of the youth movement of the 1960s have not failed, but in terms of media representation, it has almost disappeared from public scrutiny. Primarily, the military-industrial complex has not been reigned in, and war has become part of everyday life. Secondly, the assault on personal freedom known as the War on Drugs continues to wreak havoc across the globe. However, it has become clear from the outset that the ‘drug culture’ can only exist as a tolerated alternative to a dominant culture that doesn’t universally endorse it. Traditional notions of drug culture require a commercial framework for the buying and selling of drugs and this in turn presupposes a free enterprise culture. 39 Although this might not be the case if naturally occurring drugs such as mushrooms, cannabis, etc, were allowed to propagate. What has changed significantly is media coverage.

While the youth movement was relatively new, and such demonstrations were unprecedented, there was a massive interest by the media, who were often exploited to encourage coverage, knowing it would highlight the ‘cause’ more effectively. Today, opposition is on a much smaller scale than in the late sixties, but has not disappeared altogether. However, there has been little, if any media coverage of the protests or dissenting voices, arguing, for example, against increasingly colonial tendencies of America. The media voices opposition in political circles, but organised resistance by the masses receives little attention. A recent poll suggested that 59% of Americans support pre-emptive military action in Iraq, that 64% support a ground war and that 45% support a ground attack despite high US casualties. 40 Perhaps

39 40

Lumley, R (Ed), Apocalyse Postponed, BFI, UK, 1994 (inc. Eco, Umberto, Does Counter-culture exist?), p. 123 Source: LA Times, August 2002


there is no protest after all. The mainstream media offer certain perspectives, but often, it is only from underground news sources that unfavourable stories about Governmental policies can be found. The internet for example, remains the only truly democratic news provider, and especially in the wake of 9-11, there has been an unprecedented amount of criticism of authority. In the mainstream media however, this criticism is mainly targeted against people who don’t support the Government. There have been charges of treason - not heard since the youth movement caused national scenes of panic as patriotic minded US soldiers beat peaceful protesters into submission. Hunter S Thompson observed that the idealism of the movement resonates, but that it’s power is diminished, so that the film of his book exists only as ‘an eerie trumpet call over a lost battlefield’. 41

At the peak of the dance music revolution in places such as Manchester, the Gulf War took place, in 1991, and was presented by a complicit and controlled media as a ‘just’ war, backed by a coalition of 32 countries. Learning the mistakes of Vietnam where the press were given too much freedom, military chiefs supplied information and images that would not disturb, nor reduce support at home. Resistance to the war was not feasible for most people. After all, the draft no longer existed – people were happy to volunteer and technological advances meant that fewer soldiers were needed anyway. The miniscule casualty rate for allied soldiers meant that support continued. The images of war were clean and exciting – for many, the entire


McCabe, B, Dark Knights & Holy Fools, Orion, London, 1999, p. 179


enterprise absolved America for it’s past sins. Even President Bush himself said, ‘…by God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all. 42

War was thus something that one could enjoy, admire, and cheer about. War was fun, aesthetic, and fascinating. The videos created a climate of joy in destruction in its audiences. 43

The full horrors of the ‘turkey shoot’ tactics of that war only came to light afterwards, and predictably, they didn’t stir the people into revolt. With a new war against Iraq imminent, it will be interesting to see whether any active resistance occurs, and of course, if the media refuses to show it, it may as well not take place at all.

As a consequence of the 9-11 attacks, a patriotic ‘alert’ has been announced that declares that you are either with ‘us’ or with the terrorists. The literal terror that ensued has meant that Americans have voluntarily renounced certain civil liberties – a sacrifice in the name of homeland security. In a poll, about 4/10 favoured restrictions on the academic freedom of professors to criticize government military policy during war. 22% strongly supported such restrictions. Also, The poll found that 49% think the First Amendment goes too far in securing the right to free speech. 44 The Patriot Act ensures that the FBI can spy on religious or political meetings; that information searches can be made on any individual by any means (email, phone, even library book records); that any US citizen can be detained without charge or


President George Bush, March 1991, quoted in Simons, G, Vietnam Syndrome: Impact on US Foreign Policy, Macmillan, London, 1998, p. 341 The Vietnam syndrome can be characterised by a reluctance to commit troops to ground wars where heavy casualties may shift public opinion against the Government policy. 43 Kellner, Douglas in Walsh, J (ed), The Gulf War did not happen: Politics, Culture & Warfare Post-Vietnam, Arena, UK, 1995, p. 163 44


access to civilian courts; that the military can undertake domestic law enforcement duties previously allowed only by police. 45

George Bush Senior’s first television address in September 1989 saw an attempt to ‘mobilise the nation’ for an aggressive War on Drugs. For this purpose, an initial budget of $7.8 billion was announced, coupled with the threat of the withdrawal of federal subsidies to any institutions that did not implement Governmental (anti-drug) programmes. In December of that year, the first instance of military intervention took place when Operation ‘Just Cause’ saw 24,000 US troops invade Panama, arresting General Manuel Noriega for drug trafficking. 46 Many years later, the CIA has been forced to admit complicity in drug trafficking itself in order to carry out covert operations. It is common knowledge that the flow of drug money around the world banks is vital to the global economy. Unlike ‘digital dollars’ like the ones that evaporated in the Enron scandal, drug money is tangible and consistent. Today in Afghanistan, the yield of heroin has hit new heights since the Bush Junior administration removed the Taliban regime. As rulers of the country, they had eradicated opium production while their replacements, Northern Alliance, had continued, yet anti-drug propaganda in the US firmly situates the drug user as a supporter of international terrorism. The number of Americans in jail for drug offences - about 500,000 - is greater than the entire jail population of western Europe and last year the US spent $40bn fighting drugs, a 40-fold increase since 1980. 47 The effect on drug use and public opinion is minimal: 35% of Americans over

45 46 47 Gilbert, M, A History of the Twentieth Century 1952-1999: Challenge to Civilisation, Harper Collins, GB, 1999, p. 307 and


the age of 11 have tried marijuana, and an estimated 11m say that they are current users.

Bush Senior made statements in the late 1980s, congratulating the population for rejecting the ‘Easy Rider’ excesses of the 1960s, and making a successful recovery to a more conservative ethos. Somehow, the irony of 400,000 music fans watching Elton John (wearing a Donald Duck costume) play Central Park, NY in the 1980s (during a major cocaine phase), never became apparent. The ‘just say no’ era heralded a return to unspoken vices and is perhaps responsible for much of the ignorance surrounding drugs in the 1980s. The dominance of American politics by highly conservative, often fundamentalist, Christians, has created a situation where a war on youth as well as racial minorities has occurred. They have become a scapegoat, a type of person that can be used to shoulder society’s guilt. In Christian terminology of course, this is an essential part of human life: a blameless one dying for the sins of man.

But the greatest passion of the American people is to watch their children being destroyed. Why? Because according to the most renowned American psychologists, the slaughter of the innocents is the people's favourite subject, something that is buried in the very depths of their subconscious. 48 Salvador Dali

48 Quotation by Salvador Dali.


On 10th July 2002, the British Home Secretary, David Blunkett announced that the use of cannabis would no longer be an arrestable offence from July 2003. 49 The practice essentially gives discretion to the police and has been piloted in Lambeth and Brixton to varying results. 50 Ultimately, it is not about excusing drugs, but about using police resources in the most effective way. The highly publicised approach (to a scheme that has attracted as much criticism as applause) has been to make a clear distinction between getting ‘high’ from soft drugs, and choosing to use harder drugs such as heroin, that frequently corrupts the weaker members of society and can cause self-destructive behaviour. Alongside this overhaul of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 comes an extension for the maximum sentence for dealers of any drug, and this has attracted much criticism. Clearly, this is to satisfy the voters who are terrified of a drugs epidemic and who want firmness with any drug user. The message from the Government is muddled however, but it does seem possible that the general attitude towards cannabis and other drugs will change, as this law is accepted. Scientific reports have acknowledged that cannabis isn’t more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco since the late 1960s, but since recommendations for changes in the law have been consistently rejected, they haven’t made as much impact as this latest development. This is the first publicly announced recognition by the authorities that cannabis is not the threat it was considered to be. Unfortunately, the absences of debate or positive role models have meant that the public is generally confused by these changes.

Cannabis is to be re-classified to a Class C drug to reflect the harm it has been judged to do to the individual. - Further to this, a 3-strike in a year policy is being considered to maintain control over public use of cannabis. 50 - The Chief Constable who began the scheme, Brian Paddick, was a frequent poster to this website. The link is to a chat session on the subjects of drugs and anarchy.



Cannabis, more than any illegal drug, has a visual history. Ecstasy’s history, being more recent, still belongs to a younger, more underground generation. Cannabis, however, has become the symbol of prohibition, but also the increasingly more acceptable face of illegal drugs. In actual fact, due to advances in technology and changes in demand and affluence, stronger variations of the plant have been developed – the result being that the drug is almost unrecognisable from that which existed in the past. Skunk is a more potent variety of cannabis – indica. It is favoured by dealers because it has the same mass, but is much more valuable, than the weaker form of cannabis – sativa. The argument exists that cannabis helps to relax, and this can be true, especially once the user has built up a tolerance to the drug. However, the infrequent user of indica will experience a very strong ‘trip’ through smoking the substance. While the idea of ‘getting high’ is commonly associated with cannabis, many phrases today (fucked, wasted, wrecked) disclose a weariness that suggests more a need for consciousness escapism than expansion. Too often, users will enter vegetative states simply because the drug is too strong and their constitution too weak. Their tastes however are dictated by the whims of the dealer, the patterns of their social circle, the status of the law. Cannabis is supposed by many to be the ‘safer’ drug, and this is a reputation that is understood by many users through experience, and non-users by the persuasive nature of visual culture.

Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting, contributed to a massively successful film on the subject of heroin abuse and the plight of urban, poor, Scottish youth. He said that the,


… main issue for me is that so many people are using drugs negatively, to get as far away from the horror and dullness of straight, mainstream life as possible, rather than positively, as life enhancers. 51

It’s an interesting comment because he acknowledges that the characters of the text behave in this way, but that in an ideal world, they would not seek to escape, merely to enjoy drugs alongside a fulfilling life. Trainspotting, and indeed, what we understand by the British ‘drug problem’ has deep roots in the economic conditions since the 1970s. The explosion of addicts coincides with the plight of the lower classes that suffered most from the decline of the economy, the changes in the education system and the scarcity of jobs. Mismanagement of housing schemes and healthcare all
Figure 20 - A Clockwork Orange (1971)

contributed. A consequence of the poorly constructed housing developments in Manchester in this period was that the Hulme House Group Health Practise were said to have prescribed 250,000 tranquillisers and anti-depressants per month. 52 The residents were stressed out by poverty, poor living conditions and the actions of exuberant, unfulfilled youth who began to resemble the ‘droogs’ of A Clockwork

Orange (1971).

51 52

Irvine Welsh quoted in Haslam, D, Manchester England: The Story of the Pop-Cult City, Fourth Estate, GB, 1993, p. xxvi-ii Haslam, D, Op. Cit, p. xxii


Meanwhile in Nevada, USA, the setting for this text,

preparations are in force to hold a revolutionary drugs referendum. After gaining a state-record 110,000
Figure 21 - Scene from the film

signatures, backers won a place on the November ballot for a measure that would legalize possession of up to 3 ounces of marijuana. The once strict state, ridiculed in the text for demanding life sentences for the selling of cannabis, now leads the way in breaking away from federal law, not only in the case of medical usage, but also in respect to personal freedom and the more effective use of law enforcement resources. 53 Someone has already announced plans to open an Amsterdam-style coffee shop in Las Vegas, defending his premature decision as necessary resistance. This approach has been tested in England and so far, the Dutch Experience shop in Stockport continues to open for business every day. Advocates are hoping for an escalation to mass civil disobedience that will be impossible to defeat by conventional law enforcement tactics.

It is time that America get with the times and follow the Netherlands’ drug policy. We can jail peaceful pot smokers no more. We must fight the system directly with open protests such as mine. 54

53 54 Associated Press, 2.9.2002. Found on alt.drugs newsgroup.


Chapter 2:
‘The story that defined a generation…’

So announced the voiceover for the theatrical trailer of Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. For this film to be made when it was (1998),
suggests several things. Firstly, all major books are destined to be filmed and this one had been in pre-production for many years, but secondly, computer technology was only recently available to realistically emulate the drug ‘experience’ on film - a prerequisite of the drug movie since the psychedelic efforts of the sixties, e.g. The

Trip (1967), Easy Rider (1969). However, with the close of the millennium, the film
can also be seen both as an exercise in nostalgia, and also as an analogy to contemporary political and social issues.

Figure 22 - Anti-War protesters (from film)

The film opens with grainy images of peace demonstrations from the ‘60s, and juxtaposes them with images of helicopters dropping napalm and ‘agent-orange’ in Vietnam. Gilliam uses this device to provide the context for what will follow and makes the audience identify with the feelings of despair and hope epitomised by


those images. The melancholy music and the signs of struggle the fighting between

generations, is suddenly sliced into by a heavy rock blues song and the image of a car cutting through the desert highway. It is here, under duress of several drugs, that the main characters encounter their first runaway. The hitch-hiker is an innocent, driven by powerful forces to take to the road and accept a lift to anywhere. In Steadman’s illustration, he is quite a sympathetic character. His tshirt features Mickey Mouse wearing a swastika, a comment on the homogenous Disney style that presented life as a theme park. His wild-eyes, long hair and youthful enthusiasm is characteristic of many of that younger generation, persuaded by Tim Leary to ‘turn on, tune in, and drop out’ and by Jack Kerouac to get ‘On the Road.’ 55
Figure 24 - Steadman's Hitch-hiker Figure 23 - The red shark

… the best the white world has offered me was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks,

darkness, music, not enough night. 56

Figure 25 – ‘It's all too bad’ by Robert Crumb

In the 1960s, Harvard professor Tim Leary’s experiments with LSD led him on a crusade to ‘turn on’ as many people as possible and join with him in a rejection of modern consumer society. In the 1950s, Kerouac’s book, On the Road inspired legions of young people to seek adventure, music, drugs, sex and experience in the golden age of the automobile. 56 Jack Kerouac quoted in Hebdige, D, Subculture: The meaning of style, Routledge, GB, 1979 (1991), p. 46



He is also reminiscent of some of the creations of underground cartoonist, Robert Crumb. Crumb was also a highly influential figure in counter-cultural circles, and some of his work has become synonymous with drug cultural iconography. However, while he showed appreciation for the spirit of youth, he was also hugely cynical of both revolutionary politics and the drug culture. He often contrasted such cute, Disney-fied, youthful characters alongside dark, densely drawn ‘straights’ of the older generation. In each artist’s illustrations, they comment on the vitality of youth being suppressed by bitter elders, however, simultaneously there is a sense the exuberance is destined to fail. Not least because alongside the aspiration to create a revolutionary politics is a burning desire to get high, and persuade girls to take the contraceptive pill.
Figure 26 - The hitchhiker takes a trip

Contemporary audiences will identify with Duke’s paranoia that the boy might mistake his drug talk for the babblings of an insane man, making the connection between the mass media’s portrayal of Charles Manson as a hippy killer. Gilliam emphasises the edge of danger in the scene with sharp cuts and extreme close ups until the boy finally flees in terror. The changing nature of safety means that today, the scene has a different meaning – sensationalist media has succeeded in teaching us to fear strangers.


The innocence of the era, despite significant social changes, is resounding compared to the savvy younger generation of today. The media machine, always parasitically feeding on whatever new trend or fashion is in vogue, presented the 1960s world an enticing image of escape and love. What was nostalgia just 5 years later for Thompson, is today a grand myth, at least for this generation. The notion of resistance however, has perhaps given way to the allure of hedonism.

San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run … but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant … 57

In a sense, knowledge can only be gained in retrospect. Connor argues that the claim to know the contemporary is a kind of ‘conceptual violence’, fixing the fluidity of the present into a tangible form by irrevocable acts of critical selection. Experience and knowledge are divided, for when we experience life, we can only partially understand it, and when we understand life, we are no longer experiencing it. ‘Knowledge, therefore is always doomed to arrive too late on the field of experience’. 58 The retrospect provided by Gilliam’s film provides an opportunity to trace the path of the drug user and the nature of resistance, but until now, it has not been taken.

57 58

Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Op. Cit, p. 66-7 Connor, S, Postmodernist Culture (1989) quoted in Jenks, C, Culture – Key Ideas, Routledge, UK, 1993, p148


Whenever a television appears in the film, it is flickering between mundane images of popular culture, to the destruction of Vietnam, to the face of Richard Nixon, begging the American people to sacrifice their children for the greater good.




horrifying disasters: explosions and

twisted wreckage, men fleeing in terror, Pentagon generals babbling insane lies. 59
Figure 27 - Vietnam footage in the film

It is the last time an American president has asked this, and the ultimate end of a period of blind trust between Government, military and citizen that was finalised by the Watergate scandal in 1974. Gilliam’s montages emphasise the need to readdress the mistakes of the past, and to always question the decisions made by statesmen. For a generation more familiar with ‘Zippergate’ than ‘Watergate’, this has never been more vital. In the film, the triple-television display in the hotel reflects the overshadowing power of this medium. Younger generations are often allowed unfettered access to television and its not uncommon for contemporary homes to have one in almost every room.

Figure 28 - Sacrifice...


Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Ibid, p. 29


The memorable opening scene of the text sees Duke cataloguing his ‘serious drug collection’. Gilliam’s erratic camera direction aims to confuse the viewers’ senses and create excitement as the car zooms across the highway. The original illustration also reflects this energy – while the characters features are warped and mutated to emulate the ‘twist’ of psychedelic reality, it is still
Figure 29 - Bat Country!

emphatic of speed and exhilaration. This scene also invites connotations to the ‘road trip’ theme so common in films of the ‘60s and ‘70s, such as Easy Rider. The two men alone signal a departure from traditional narratives concerning the family and instead focus on male empowerment. The cult of the automobile is also important as a reference to a culture increasingly dependent on the means of mechanical reproduction. 60 Defying the risks, the men drive to escape the stress of their lives. Driving under the influence, or dangerously excessive drug use, is frowned upon by most
Figure 30 - Driving under the influence

members of society, but not all. For some, the exhilaration and the attraction to perilous pleasure, is too great.

We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of highpowered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multicolored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers … and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.

For more analysis of the cultural significance of the road-movie see Corrigan, T: A cinema without walls – Movies and culture after Vietnam, Rutgers Uni Press, USA, 1991


… Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. 61

Figure 31 Duke and Gonzo

In the illustrations, Steadman’s line is coarse and messy, to signify the chaotic behaviour of the protagonists, but the warped characters are often rendered more attractive by Gilliam’s camera. For example there is the star quality of Depp, whose charismatic persona imbues the lead role with a sense of ‘cool’ that in part is inherited from previous roles as rebels and romantic misfits. Steadman makes clear distinctions between the different characters – the animalistic features of the Vegas inhabitants as compared to the twisted but more interesting protagonists – and Gilliam also actively seeks to recreate this vision. However, the cinema provides the opportunity to generate more impact with camera techniques, acting, colour and aesthetics.

There is an argument that drug use (and in this example we will use ecstasy) can be mapped culturally. The first rush begins the honeymoon period – a ‘loved-up’ phase but usually will diminish with varying amounts of time as the initial excitement wanes. At this point, the individual is faced with a choice. Some people will accelerate into excess, some abuse, and the possible psychological or physical

Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Op. Cit, p. 4


problems that can arise. Others will face ‘the comedown’ – a realisation that the initial high cannot be recaptured - followed by reduced use. Finally, for many people, there is a ‘re-entry’ – a time of reassessment, and often an attempt to quit drug use altogether to gain equilibrium with supposed ‘straight’ society.62 This narrative would seem to flow through the various scenes within the culture, but it is often smudged by the official propaganda made by Government. Society’s official line on drugs is that they are stronger than the individual – particularly the harder drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine – and will lead to self-destruction. The reality is that many statistics and studies are often deeply flawed since they examine limited populations such as criminals and individuals who have voluntarily sought help for addiction.

It is always the unique cases that grab media attention – society does not propagate positive drug stories, despite the obvious proof of the reality. The majority of people receive information about the nature of addiction or use from the newspapers and television. However, apart from the occasional documentary, most of these stories feature celebrities – either actors or musicians – and both these formats have to abide by rules that forbid the promotion of drug use. The result is that the wild excesses of celebrities can be described in the media (for example, the ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ life of the Rolling Stones), but a derogatory tone must be set, or the individual must announce regret at the wasted years. The vast amount of celebrities (too numerous to mention here) who have had publicly scrutinised drug problems, are not fitting examples for the rest of society. They are atypical, often very wealthy people who must consistently produce the highest levels of artistic excellence or face mauling by critics who can end their career. Of course, plenty of hopeless cases

Collins, M, Altered States, Op. Cit, p. 8


exist, for whom the allure of blaming addiction for the desperate passage of their lives is too great. However, there are many more people who manage both their lives and drug use, or who easily give up drug use when they recognise problematic symptoms. If these role-models could reveal their stories without fear, perhaps addicts, public policy makers, and citizens would be all better served. 63 It is argued that there is not enough reliable evidence to suggest illicit drugs, in the pure form, do any genuine harm when used in moderation and with educated knowledge of dose and effects. If this theory is true, and it is accepted that the harm invariably comes from excess, we must face the question of why anyone would voluntarily engage in self-destructive behaviour. 64 On the characters of Duke and Gonzo, Terry Gilliam felt that they had made a choice, that they were intelligent people ‘having a last hurrah, one last chance to just say ‘fuck it’. 65

No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride … and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than you had in mind, well … maybe chalk it off to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten. It’s all in Kesey’s Bible … The Far Side of Reality. 66

One of the major reasons for the climate of distrust between the younger generation and ‘straight’ society or authority is the contradictions inherent in the War on Drugs. The creation of personal identity is increasingly shaped by the visual culture surrounding us, and the drug user within that culture is often part of an exciting and visceral world of inherent resistance. In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the key

63 64 65 66

Lawrence Miller, R, Op. Cit, p. 56 Lawrence Miller, R, Ibid, p. 23 McCabe, B, Op. Cit, p. 183 Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Op. Cit, p. 89


scenes are at the Drug Convention where Thompson’s comments are twisted by previous vendettas. He had suffered from police brutality at the riots in Chicago, 1968, and had written venomously about the trigger-happy guards who had fired onto the students at Kent State University.

We were the Menace – not in disguise, but stone-obvious drug abusers, with a flagrantly cranked-up act that we intended to push all the way to the limit … not to prove any final, sociological point, and not even as a conscious mockery: It was mainly a matter of life-style, a sense of obligation and even duty. If the Pigs were gathering in Las Vegas for a top level Drug Conference, we felt the drug culture should be represented. 67

Steadman drew stereotypical ‘redneck’ policemen – the kind of ignorant brutes who killed the protagonists of Easy Rider. In the film, Gilliam recreates this literally, as he does for many of Steadman’s illustrations. In his encounters with the police, Duke is purposely impudent, reflexively oppositional to the morals they inflict through force. When stopped for speeding, he says,

“Yeah,” I said. “I know. I’m guilty. I understand that. I knew it was a crime, but I did it anyway.” I shrugged. “Shit, why argue? I’m a fucking criminal.” 68

Figure 32 - Confrontation

67 68

Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Op. Cit, p. 110 Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Op. Cit, p. 92


The impudence that the protagonist displays is imbedded into him – an enormous resentment toward the symbol of authority. Gilliam also added a homosexual subtext into this particular scene, insinuating that the cool manner of the protagonist charms the policeman even as he berates him. This standoff between citizen and the law will always exist for the drug user and for Thompson he takes affront at the very suggestion of interference. Steadman implies that the mutant like features of Dr. Gonzo in a psychedelic haze are no worse than the brainless, thug-like police at the convention, who Duke suggests would pay to beat and gang-rape Lucy, the young runaway befriended by his attorney. His explicit criticism of authority stems from a lack of confidence in the moral outlook of the military complex in Vietnam and a Government who is fighting to preserve the same values in America. By entering the conference as a representative of the drug culture, he is openly defying their laws and mocks their patronising attempts to deal with his kind.
Figure 33 - The 'fuzzy little shitheads'

… but they had no idea where to start. They couldn’t even find the goddamn thing. There were rumours in the hallways that the Mafia was behind it. Or perhaps the Beatles. 69


Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Ibid, p. 144


The purpose of this study is to better understand contemporary drug use amongst youth and it’s relationship to visual culture. As computer technology advances further, there are no limits to what can be represented except for the human imagination. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas contains some of the most explicit scenes of drug use ever seen, coupled with techniques that actively seek to emulate the experience of altered consciousness through cinema itself. Powerful images and themes bombard the senses for hours at a time and allow a form of transgression that surpasses all previous efforts in visual history. The film in question, like

Trainspotting, takes the viewer on a trip, allowing them to enjoy the highs before
crashing them down to the harsh realities of excess. Like the horror, gangster, combat or disaster film, the viewer is made complicit in the actions of the characters, and temporarily allowed to step outside society’s norms.

Only in exceptional cases does society interfere with the production of visual culture – on the whole, it is now accepted as a defining part of civilisation, part of history and identity. Pushing personal limits and risk-taking are popular themes in visual culture and it is central to the argument made in this study that an increasingly ‘safe’ western society seeks transgression. This is reflected in the consumption and production of visual culture in the 21st Century. Risk-taking is often characterised as an adolescent stage that contributes to the development of independence from the family or educational institution. It is also a step towards the creation of identity and maturity. 70 Some even argue that it is a wholly positive attribute, despite the possibility of negative outcomes, that ‘mastery needs are frequently met by


Jack, MS (1989) Personal Fable: A potential explanation for risk-taking behaviour in adolescents, Journal of Pediatric Nursing, quoted in Plant M & Plant M, Risk Takers: Alcohol, Drugs, Sex and Youth, Routledge, GB, 1992, p. 116


experimentation, which often involves testing limits’.71 The commercialisation of the drug culture occurred alongside the drug explosion that hit the sixties generation and since that time, various strategies have attempted to quell the attraction of that scene. However, society’s dependence on visual culture has decreed that ‘anything goes’ more or less, meaning that arguments that correlate ‘on-screen’ violence with delinquency or aggression are generally ignored. The English film certification board (BBFC) 72 have also recently adopted a more American style whereby younger children can attend screenings with more adult themes providing they have parental consent and supervision.

Surprisingly, the release of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas caused no real debate about the depiction of transgressive behaviour or drug use. Society concentrates it’s efforts on other factors when attempting to understand and remedy the allure of youth to the drug culture, such as environment, peer pressure and drug dealers; all of which are important of course, but to naively dismiss the power of visual culture is to ignore the reflection in the artist’s mirror. The conception of ‘art’ has changed in the years since the release of the book – painting is dead and film is king. Yet the traditionally coded power or function or art is not always translated to film, which is still conceived as inferior. Lacking the ‘aura’ of high-art, it is still mere entertainment - popular culture. The decline of academia is perhaps related to these events for despite the necessity for renewal and reinvention (such as the field of visual culture



Irwin, CE & Millstein, SG (1986) Biopsychosocial correlates of risk-taking behaviour during adolescence, Journal of adolescent healthcare in Plant M & Plant M, Op. Cit, p. 116 WWW.BBFC.CO.UK


itself), it is becoming lost in an overflow of contradictory images and information as notions of individualism, patriotism and warfare dominate the popular imagination.

The problem continues to persist at alarming levels. The younger generation, warned by official propaganda about the dangers of drugs, are experimenting more and discovering that the reality contradicts their education. Particularly so with ecstasy: the ‘one pill can kill’ diatribe spouted by Government does not match the lived experience. By causing young people to become criminals through the natural act of taking risks, society creates distrust for the law. Further, certain aspects of visual culture, as we have seen, celebrate the very notion of dividing oneself away from the mainstream, even if this is through rejection of the law. It is through excess that one can transgress the very notion of humanity as espoused by mainstream, Christian sensibilities. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas can be seen as antidote to a society that prejudges the drug user as deviant or disturbed. The visual excitement of excess and the attractiveness of resistance has been co-opted by the mainstream to appeal to youth markets. It is evident that the dominant society needs to resolve its hypocrisies: the dominant culture conflicts with the laws of the land and we persist in punishing those who perceive this.
Figure 34 - US anti-drug propaganda


Chapter 3:
Music is the Drug

Persons who feel they have done nothing wrong become confused and resentful as formerly protective institutions become persecutory. There is social danger in such confusion. If scapegoats reject the deviant label, they may also reject society’s other norms. And as persecution increases, individual scapegoats begin to develop a group cohesion. An outlaw group can evolve from individual citizens who were once as law abiding as everyone else. And when that group comprises the next generation … 73

It is in music culture that drug warriors have consistently sought to curtail freedoms and it has also been a sphere of cultural resistance. However, in recent times, particularly since the rise of ‘acid house’ or dance music, active protest has dwindled from mainstream culture. This could be related to the acceptance of this alternative lifestyle and it’s merging with traditional leisure activities. Today, especially in Manchester, the use of drugs is clearly understood to be part of the nightclub scene, which in turn is considered to be an integral part of the city’s economic vitality. The drug MDMA, in turn demands uplifting, positive music for optimum results – hence the drug culture has adapted to embody pure enjoyment – hedonism, ecstasy.


Lawrence Miller, R, Op. Cit, p. 118


Figure 35 Flashback

In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, there is an extended flashback sequence that portrays the excitement of the club where Thompson first took LSD. The camera sways from side to side and arms reach for the ceiling in ecstatic rhythm to the music. It is a visual image that is drawn from popular consciousness and memory rather than from description in the book, and like the familiar perception of hippies at Woodstock, it is instantly recognisable as the ‘60s’. However, apart from the murals of love and acid on the walls, the scene looks comparable to the contemporary

club today, although with the band usually replaced by a DJ.
Figure 36 - Beginnings of club culture

So I stuck with hash and rum for another six months or so, until I moved to San Francisco and found myself one night in a place called ‘The Fillmore Auditorium.’ And that was that. One grey lump of sugar and BOOM … A victim of the drug explosion. A natural street freak, just eating whatever came by. 74


Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Op. Cit, p. 66


Thompson emphasises his belief that it was invigorating to be part of that scene, to belong with other people that understood that environment. Equally today, the club culture positively instils a sense of community to patrons and when combined with the empathetic qualities of MDMA, creates a collective through which identity is shaped. Gilliam idealises the scene, emphasising the ecstasy of dance and the sense of love in the room with a fluid camera that lolls through the crowd as though it was another reveller. The use of slow motion and jump cuts are utilised to alter the perception of time and space and also to emulate the drug as it multiplies dimensions within the experience. Gilliam also makes full use of the film soundtrack to trace the cultural and social history of the period through song. As the plot swings from excess to calm, from fear to pleasure, songs from the era signify the shifts in emotion. At different times, mainstream love songs indicate society’s desire to locate culture in an idealised dream world; songs of peaceful protest signify the hopes of a generation; while others express the
Figure 37 - The ecstasy of dance

realisation that this won’t be achieved. Finally, there are songs that seek to gratify the drug user by stimulating senses with sensuous, complex rhythms and knowing lyrics.

The scene where Thompson first takes LSD in the toilet is significant because culturally, it is the location where users typically administer their drugs when in a club. It is a place away from the prying eyes of authority figures, and also an opportunity for people to share experiences and gauge dilated pupils in mirrors. In


this sense, it develops new meanings, becoming almost like a confessional booth in a church – a place of sanctuary.

Figure 38 - The location for experimentation

Where the hippy scene was antagonistic toward the dominant society, today’s clubbers generally embrace a culture that has been refined over the years to emphasise leisure and consumption, but also individualism and experience. Increasingly, it is at music events that people are first persuaded to try harder drugs, particularly amphetamines. In order to fulfil desires of living as ‘24/7 party people’ they are compelled to stay awake (and of course, dance) for as long as possible.

The music scene has always affected commentary on youth culture and behavioural patterns - from the scenes of drug-addled revellers at Woodstock, to rebellious mods, to punk, and finally to present day rave culture. However, this latest movement, inspired by dance and the communal experience has progressed beyond mere fashion and its popularity shows no sign of waning. Rather, it must be accepted as a genuine form of contemporary cultural expression. As music has evolved, especially since the electronic programming of repetitive beats, the experience has become one of escapism rather than as a form of protest or social comment.


Popular music and drug are two products, which, by their very success, indicate the spread of behaviour previously reserved for the elites: the right to explore one’s interior or social space. They are tied to the growth of the industries of dream and relaxation. 75

The commercialisation of this scene has spread across all forms of popular music. Ten years ago, the British dance scene was estimated to be worth up to £2 billion a year, similar to the book or newspaper industry. 76 Traditionally black forms of music such as hip-hop and rap embraced drug culture and extolled its virtues in lyrics and on music videos. For popular consumption, these are often censored, which simply increases their popularity since they need to be purchased in order to enjoy the complete versions. The kinetic energy and basslines from dance music have been incorporated into much of the pop music that is aimed at the teen and even pre-teen audience. The videos, featuring unprecedented technology and budgets, increasingly depict an adult world, and of course sex is always inferred. It is always party time and more often than not, the setting is within the club or concert hall. To a young generation weaned on this most popular aspect of modern visual culture, the club is becoming a symbol of adulthood and a rite of passage. The club is the modern-day church, and God is a DJ.

The music video has had to adjust to the increased bpms (beats per minute) of dance music. This has meant that more complex imagery has combined with computer generated graphics to mimic the kinetic energy of the music. As a consequence, the music video has become a powerful aesthetic form that influences
75 76

Redhead, S (Ed), Rave Off, Op. Cit, p. 176 Collins, M, Altered States, Op. Cit, p. 267


many other kinds of visual culture. As the music itself has grown in popularity, so it (and the visual forms that describe it) has been absorbed into the mainstream in advertisements, television programmes and cinema. This effect is even evident in the style of contemporary ‘blockbuster’ films that attempt to attract a young audience, weaned on MTV, with sharp, explosive cuts, shocking imagery and carefully choreographed action scenes. In a bizarre chain of events, it would seem that the energy of a collective, stirred into defying society’s drug laws, are responsible for major shifts in the consumption of visual culture. Shifts that reflect their own urgency and desire for excess, dance and pleasure.

“Turn up the fucking music!” he screamed. “My heart feels like an alligator! “Volume! Clarity! Bass! We must have bass! He flailed his naked arms at the sky. “What’s wrong with us? Are we godamn old ladies?” 77

Excess is often the only way for the modern clubber. The hours are long, the conditions are often difficult, but they understand what needs to be done. While alcohol is still a massive part of the scene, for many it is diluted with energy drinks. The many clubbers who take numerous drugs are a collective, but for the majority, their energy is focused only on good times. In terms of resistance, most consider themselves perfectly normal citizens whose only crime is to take an illegal substance. Resistance against what? Society has normalised the clubbing experience to a point where the act is no longer deviant. For many people (as has always been the case), the weekend pleasure counters the toil of the working week. In Manchester, there is an increasing reliability on insecure, part-time jobs that don’t offer satisfaction, nor

Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Op. Cit, p. 18


praise an ambitious nature. Society itself is adopting pleasure-oriented goals. Films such as Human Traffic and 24 Hour Party People also make explicit these contradictions of the exploitation of youth music culture. The latter defines major changes in city life through the music event, in a part-fact, part-fiction narrative. The film celebrates the spirit of Manchester and the creativity of its residents yet without drugs, the entire history would have been different. In the sense that Fear and

Loathing in Las Vegas contributes towards historical knowledge, so does this film, yet
the lessons that it offers about the drug culture are not understood by society. If the dance aesthetic is so attractive and the experience so exhilarating, how then can society denounce and persecute the drug
Figure 39 - Recreation of the Hacienda in 24 Hour Party People (2002)

user who is simply following a pattern laid out by visual culture?

In the text, Thompson takes a temporary step outside his culture into a far more conservative one. From there, the energy and relevance of his scene resounds against the backdrop of die-hard gamblers, washed up singers and prejudiced locals. In the final scene of the film he is happy to return to ‘safety, obscurity, just another freak in the Freak Kingdom’. 78 This sense of separation continues to exist today, posing one generation against the next: parents against children. The notion of the ‘freak’ has also never been more relevant. For how does one identify the drug user? Today, it is easier than ever with the conscious branding of oneself to signify difference. The popularity of piercing and tattoos has far exceeded any expectations.

Thompson, H S, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Op. Cit, p. 83


It was understood by most people to be a symbol of punk rebellion and of course it can be – it can also be a fashion statement. However it is becoming more likely that it is a collective, almost subconscious movement based upon a rejection of the contradictions of the dominant culture. It is also a consequence of altered consciousness – seeing the world in a new way and adapting (or withdrawing).

This English nation, will it get to know the meaning of its strange new today? 79

‘Acid house’ 80 was coined after a nostalgic reinterpretation of the hedonistic impulse of the ‘60s generation and has begun an ever-expanding collective that lives and breathes within a drug and visual culture. Illegal and legal drug use is, for good or ill, an essential part of the music industry. Due to the criminal nature of this form of culture, a growing portion of youth is playing with a form of resistance in a way not seen since the 1960s. However, the type of resistance is markedly different. For example, mass civil disobedience of drug laws at festivals has always been common. But in protest to the commercial encroachment into music, recent events such as the infamous Woodstock ’99, and Carling Leeds Festival ’02, suffered from rioting and violence. Those who felt the need to carry out anti-social acts were not protesting so much as transgressing. The Leeds festival ended with up to 500 people setting toilet blocks, and temporary buildings aflame, and during the music, bottles were thrown into the crowd in scenes reminiscent of punk rebellion – wilful destruction and possible self harm. Such acts are petty and trivial, with no particular aim or message. The rebellion is simply for its own sake, almost a kind of anger at being safe, at

79 80

Thomas Carlyle, 1843, Past and Present, quoted in Haslam, D, Op. Cit, p. 9


having little to rebel against. An interesting point is made by Malbon, who describes the music scene as an escape attempt, and ultimately harmless to the dominant culture. A convincing portrait of clubbers in the film Human Traffic (2000), whilst fictional, is an indication of this playfulness. The characters tread water through their unfulfilling, 9-5 jobs, with all expectations of happiness rooted firmly in the weekend’s pleasures. Ideas of revolution and demands for equality are realised only in lucid highs and in private fantasies of role reversal.

Playful vitality, then, is not ‘resistance’ as conventionally theorised, especially with reference to so-called ‘youth-cultures’ and their supposedly resistant practices – this is not a resistance to a parent or ‘dominant’ culture. Playful vitality is, rather, partly a celebration of the energy and euphoria that can be generated from being together, playing together, and experiencing ‘others’ together …is also partly an escape attempt, a temporary relief from other facets and identifications of an individual clubber’s own life – their work, their past, their future, their worries. Playful vitality is found within a temporary world of the clubber’s own construction in which the everyday is disrupted, the mundane is forgotten and the ecstatic becomes possible. 81

Similarly, Redhead notes that in this sense, the ‘rave’ scene is akin to virtual reality, almost a leap from earthly concerns into a hedonistic play-world,

… adapting our nervous systems, bringing our perceptual and sensorial apparatus up to speed, evolving us towards the post-human subjectivity that digital technology requires and engenders. 82

81 82

Malbon, B, Clubbing: Dancing, Ecstasy and Vitality, Routledge, GB, 1999, p. 164 Redhead, S (Ed), The Club Cultures Reader, Blackwell, GB, 1997, p. 90


The evolution of the nightclub in Manchester has a history of intervention by the authorities and subsequent renewal to cater for youth tastes. For example, Alan Lawson notes that the coffee shop, with its jukebox and social space, was ‘probably the first sign of social emancipation’. 83 By 1958, the British coffee bar was threatening the traditional ‘pub’ that has been attempting to modernise to attract a youth market ever since. The Manchester Corporation Act of 1965 closed down most of the clubs that had sprung up with the relaxation of alcohol laws because of health and safety issues, and the use of ‘uppers’ like Dexedrine. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the acid house scene was encouraged by high-profile busts at illegal raves, meaning it was only a matter of time before it was neutered and commercialised for city consumption. However, the relationship between drug use and gang warfare, as well as the pressures applied on club owners to curb dealing have meant that another shake up of the current scene is perhaps inevitable. In 1991, the Hacienda nightclub distributed flyers, possibly as a legal requirement, which asked for a change in the habits of its clientele.

This must involve the complete elimination of controlled drugs on the premises. In this we continue to rely upon your help and co-operation. Please do not, repeat NOT, buy or take drugs in the club, and do not bring drugs onto the premises. Please make sure everyone understands how important this message is. Thank you for your support. 84

Recently, many people were confused by a Government backed policy that might be introduced to curb drug-related deaths in nightclubs. They were shocked because it
83 84

Alan Lawson, It Happened in Manchester quoted in Haslam, D, Manchester England, Op. Cit, p. 86 The flyer that was distributed to promote the clean Hacienda, reprinted in Redhead, S (Ed), Rave Off, Op. Cit, p. 16-7


recognised that drugs would be taken and called for measures to alleviate, rather than punish the individual. The measures are to include: monitored air quality and temperature; ‘chill-out’ facilities; free drinking water; advice on how to avoid problems with drugs; trained staff who can spot symptoms and provide help. These same measures were introduced to Manchester City Council as long ago as 1987, but have never been forced requirements. 85 Since many of the health risks associated with drug use in clubs, can be attributed to the above measures, it would appear to be a sound idea. However, it could also be damaging to the scene because effectively it would be a revitalisation of
Figure 40 - Raver with pacifier

the 1965 Act and clubs that didn’t (or couldn’t afford to) adopt the measures, would be closed down. Meanwhile, in America there is an almost perverse movement to carry out the opposite of the measures proposed above. The RAVE Act (Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy) is similar to the Criminal Justice Bill in that it can prosecute the organiser of any event if drug use is known to be happening. Unsurprisingly, fans of dance music believe they are being unfairly targeted and that such legislation would actually encourage a more dangerous environment as promoters attempt to appear drug free. Chill-out rooms, even glowsticks, could attract the attention of the law. The act could ultimately drive the rave scene back underground where safety is even less of a priority. Americans have not yet embraced the dance culture as Britain has.


DrugLink – Russell Newcombe, High time for harm reduction


The modern British music festival is heavily sponsored by mainstream brands like Orange or Carling. In the weeks leading up to it, a massive advertising campaign by radio, television and print media announces the line-up and promises the experience of a lifetime. At the Leeds festival this year, shops sold salvia extract, one of the strongest psychedelics known to man, but, like ketamine, it is completely legal since it has yet to be classified. These events are also seen as a rite of passage, forever imbedded into the minds of a generation who ‘missed out’ on the sixties experience. The image of Woodstock is repackaged and resold every time. For one weekend, they promise transgression and excess, but now it is under the familiar safety net of a branded experience. Spontaneity has been diminished by the familiar visual reproduction and the ensuing commercialisation runs counter to the ideals of counter-culture. 86 The events no longer inspire the masses for positive action, rather they endorse and support the dominant culture – you can even recharge your mobile phone. Modern standards of living for many people in England and America are so high now that the urge to right the injustices of the capitalist system are often overshadowed by the urge to protect that way of life. Such is the natural progression of the free enterprise ethos. The ideals of counter-culture look ever more remote and impossible. In fact, the people who don’t follow the rules of the dominant culture are often the people lining the streets of Manchester, begging for change.

Anarchy and social action today is distilled in various ways that ultimately conform to accepted modes of behaviour. Reclaim The Streets and the anti-capitalist protests that occur every May Day across the world have become a novelty in the eyes of the British press. Anticipated well in advance, policed to cause minimum visual impact

Ryan, M and Kellner, D quoted in Mintz, S & Roberts, R (Eds), Hollywood’s America, Op. Cit, p. 270


and reported as the last desperate struggle of a group of throwbacks to the ‘flower power’ era. A recent march through Manchester city centre sought to protest the arrest and detainment of Colin Davies (the man who opened the Dutch Experience Coffee Shop), who refuses to acknowledge the law prohibiting medicinal cannabis. The police reaction to this small gathering was to blockade it from view. As the march progressed, they were almost outnumbered by horses, vans, cars and police on foot. Despite the blatantly peaceful demonstration, their aim was to instil fear into the populace and generate a climate of danger, of illegality into the procedures. Despite the massive police presence, the strong smell of skunk filling Oxford Road made a parody out of the scene.

Today’s youth can exercise their anarchic yearnings through virtual reality. State of

Emergency is a video game that pits the player against The Corporation – a Big
Brother Government that has seized control of the country. The people have taken to the street and the player can use any method to fight for ‘freedom’. Ethically, the game promotes a healthy scepticism of corporate power and the need to fight to protect cherished values of humanity. However, the same company (Rock Star Games) also released Grand Theft Auto 3, a game whose objective is to raise the player up the crime ladder through violence, theft, pimping, and murder. Both games utilise incredible, never before possible, technology that enables a total immersion (and almost free will) in the massive world created within the game. The transgression promised by these games highlight the contradiction inherent in all passive entertainment. While the user revels in extreme fantasies (spurred by crime documentaries, films, newspapers, television and the mythical image of the eco-


warrior), the developers of entertainment lifestyles keep them safely flaccid. The player is another consumer, permanently frustrated by the partial realisation of these fantasies, and ever hungry for the next, more extreme dose. As with television, and increasingly, the Internet, the user is a non-threat, surrounded and to a degree, pacified, by the warm radiation of an electronic screen. The surveillance age is upon us, and new media technologies provide powerful forms of social control through more efficient, subtly concealed techniques of indoctrination and manipulation.87

Thompson remembers the period when the ‘energy of a whole generation’ appeared to come to a head in a ‘long fine flash’. Over his words, more documentary footage appears, this time cut with ecstatic images of music, ‘flower power’, demonstrations, dancing – the promise of change.

There was madness in any direction, at any hour … You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was

right, that we were winning … that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old
and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting – on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave… 88

The final scene is a reappraisal of the movement in retrospect, facing the realities of an economic climate that favours the strong and kills the weak. ‘The realities were already fixed; the illness was understood to be terminal, and the energies of The

87 88

Kellner, D, Media Culture, Op. Cit, p. 16 Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Op. Cit, p. 67-8


Movement were long since aggressively dissipated by the rush to self-preservation’. 89 The political administrations of American and Britain from then, right up to the present day have emphasised individualism, capital and conservative politics. It is the myth of the ‘60s’ that prevails – an era of excess and change, but also of failure. Ultimately, history recognises that the freedom to protest, or even to express resistance through art, film or music, can only arise through the advantages and technology that the capitalist system provides. This is the contradiction that finished the hippy movement – they could only exist in a system of surplus value, the music of that generation could only exist on the basis of commercial viability and distribution methods.

We are all wired into a survival trip now. No more of the speed that fuelled the Sixties … This was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary’s trip. He crashed around America selling ‘consciousness expansion’ without ever giving a thought to the grim meathook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him too seriously. … All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure is ours, too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped to create … a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody – or at least some force – is tending that Light at the end of the tunnel. 90

89 90

Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Op. Cit, p. 180 Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Ibid, p. 178-9


Chapter 4:
Addicted to Sensation?

These texts located strange, eclectic, violent, timeless worlds in the present. They make fun of the past as they keep it alive. They search for new ways to present the unpresentable, so as to break down the barriers that keep the profane out of the everyday … The postmodern eye looks fearfully into the future and it sees technology, uncontrolled sexual violence, universally corrupt political systems. Confronting this vision, it attempts to find safe regions of escape in the fantasies and nostalgia of the past. Dreams are the postmodern solution to life in the present. 91

The idea of the post-modern, although widely discussed in academic literature, has not penetrated the psyche of the masses. Whereas modernity was perceived as a literal and self-evident truth, attempts to understand our present day are hindered by the excess of information inherent in our society. Modern life was characterised by technology, spontaneity and exploration of the limits of reality. Massive changes in representation and the relationship between humanity and culture have occurred but the premise that we now live in post-modern times is not universally accepted. This isn’t to say it is not useful, but maybe that the academic institutions are not as powerful as once they were. Today we understand that major changes have taken

Denzin, N K, Blue Velvet: Postmodern Contradictions in Theory, Culture & Society, Vol 5, No.2-3, Arrowsmith, Bristol, June 1988, p. 471



place in representation: the effacement of the boundary between art and everyday life; the blurring between high and low culture; the eclecticism of styles and the celebration of the reflexive, self-obsessed nature of art.

There are various strands of thinking about the post-modern and each will need to be addressed. For example, one debate assesses the socio-cultural changes of the past 50 years and how it affects contemporary life. The post-industrial western society is based upon the convergence of computer and communication technology that allows for rapid circulation of information and images – an essential compression of time and space. This in turn is fundamental to the notion of globalisation and the homogenising aspects (particularly of American culture) that have encouraged societies based more on conspicuous consumption than ethics. The relationship of humanity to knowledge has changed radically with the power of accessibility and the increased value of control over the self. The ‘enlightened’ individual, centred and unified has given way to the fluid subject who assumes different identities according to necessity. Drug use in particular facilitates this fluidity, providing the opportunity to explore different notions of the self. By watching Gilliam’s film, the viewer may also absorb this ethos of resistance to homogenised identity. Finally, there is the aesthetic debate that is concerned with visual culture and the changes in artistic and commercial practice. 92

Theories of the post-modern ‘experience’, or ‘cultural determinant’ are confused and contradictory but they may help explain how visual culture is received and why it takes the form it does. Jameson links the aesthetic and behavioural characteristics of

Hill, J, (Ed), The Oxford Guide to Film Studies, Oxford Uni Press, GB, 1998, p. 96-7


the post-modern to the ‘cultural logic’ of capitalism and particularly multi-national corporate power. He identifies the post-industrial, media-oriented, consumer society that has emerged since the 1950s as the impetus for massive social change. In turn, this has demanded perpetual reinvention of fashions and styles; the ascendance of the advertisement; the rise of suburbia; standardisation and mass production; international travel; automobile culture. He is critical of nostalgic re-interpretations such as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas because he contends that they have no social function, but rather they merely simulate the real. 93 He understands the ‘mood’ of post-modernism as schizophrenic – the ‘fragmentation of time into perpetual presents’. 94 The isolated individual is denied a clear perception of temporality - the human relationship to the past, and collective identity. The image rich culture of film, magazines, television, photographs, adverts, music videos, etc can be said to stand in for reality, ‘become a reality; the signs of experience, of

self’. 95 Eventually, life and art become so conjoined that practical resistance may be
impossible since all reaction is passive and controlled.

The schizophrenic implies a deterioration of assumed aspects of the personality. The protagonists’ pursuit of pleasure as well as individualistic identities is reinforced and justified by the context surrounding the original text. The reception of the film and these ideas on the influence of personality can only be gauged by looking at millennial society. Can correlations be drawn between the behaviour of the protagonists then, and in youth culture today? In terms of rave culture, we have witnessed another mass, deliberate defiance of official policies and studies presented
93 94 95

Bertens, Hans, The idea of the Postmodern: A history, Routledge, London, 1995, p. 162 Jameson, Fredric, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Verso, 1991, p. 125 Chambers, I, Popular Culture: The Metropolitan Experience, Methuen & Co, USA, 1986, p. 69


by an aggressive propaganda campaign. It is clear that representations of extreme risk taking in visual culture are at least partly responsible for the increase in drug use. The images in the book and film that describe the adrenochrome trip reflect this rejection of homogenised forms of experience in favour of the unknown. It is perhaps more true today that visual culture transcends and shapes notions of the real for many people so these representations are a useful way of understanding our relationship to identity.
Figure 41 – Steadman & Gilliam’s Adrenochrome scene

Jameson believes that the merging of culture and capital is damaging to both, leading to

‘depthlessness’. He also assumes that an individual, ‘deprived … of historical consciousness … cannot hope to gain the interpretive grasp which will yield an explanation of the social and cultural totality’. 96 The struggle to understand the present proves the inherent failure to do so and denigrates analogous representation of the past to mere stereotype. 97 He has been criticised for his totalising judgements however, and not all theories of the post-modern are based on the ‘dumbing down’ of culture. Hutcheon on the other hand, argues that the best examples of post-modern culture demand active participation from the viewer, that the levels of connotation that exist deny mere escapism. She speaks of nostalgic parody’s potential for positive opposition and
96 97

(ed) Brooker, Peter, Modernism/Postmodernism, Longman, US, 1992, p. 22 Jameson, F, Op. Cit, p. 296


contest, with multi-layered themes that force us to reconsider ‘operations by which we both create and give meaning to our culture through representation’. 98 For Baudrillard, it is a specific characteristic of contemporary culture to revive the repressed values and energies of history in order to purify or ‘positivise’ the events, as repentance for the present. These are often attempts to understand their significance and explore the failings of human endeavour. 99 His notion of ‘schizo’ culture differs from Jameson slightly in that what it characterises is less the loss of the ‘real’ but rather the contrary:

… the absolute proximity, the total instantaneity of things, the feeling of no defence, no retreat. It is the end of interiority and intimacy, the overexposure and transparence of the world which traverses him without obstacle … He is now only a pure screen, a switching centre for all the networks of influence. 100

However, this still endorses the view that the articulation of meaning in visual culture is destined to fail and that culture itself is uncontestatory. For Hutcheon, the fact that post-modern culture questions ideology’s role in subject formation and historical knowledge, means that the spirit of resistance, of mistrust of the ideologies of power, continues. 101 Whether or not that is still the case is open to discussion. The premise perhaps relies upon the counter-cultural practice that ultimately evaded rather than confronted the state. This overlooks the fact that reformist or revolutionary idealism must involve a relationship to the political economy. Individualism and art are presented as solutions but are invariably neutralised within
98 99

Hutcheon, L, The politics of Postmodernism, Routledge, 1989, p. 117 Horrocks, C, Baudrillard and the Millenium, Icon Books, UK, 1999, p. 21-2 100 Baudrillard, J, The ecstasy of communication quoted in Berger, A A (Ed), The Postmodern Presence: readings on Postmodernism in American Culture & Society, Altamira Press, US, 1998, p. 133 101 Hutcheon, L, Op. Cit, p. 117


the cultural conditions of the consumer society. 102 Kellner also attributes the mood of nihilism and political limitation (as expressed in Thompson’s original book and replayed in the film) as an enunciation of the experience of desperate defeat at the crash of the Movement. 103 In a sense, as the meta-narratives of modernity have failed to emancipate the human spirit, post-modernism has arisen as a nihilistic response.

By transgressing literal reality for altered states of consciousness, the characters in the text exemplify this notion. They reject repressive ideological structures to pursue a form of enlightenment through self-analysis. However, this often instigates paranoia, despair and aggression. The most excessive scenes of drug use occur when Dr. Gonzo overdoses on acid and attempts suicide in the bath. Steadman’s illustration dehumanises the subject, presenting him as a primitive beast with countless eyes and an overloaded mind that looks like it
Figure 42 - Ugly refugee from the Love Generation

has ruptured. In Gilliam’s vision, Gonzo rejects present

and past ideologies in order to seek a higher truth, through the intense peak of music. Thompson says he is an ‘ugly refugee from the Love Generation, some doomstruck gimp who couldn’t handle the pressure’. 104

102 103 104

Brake, M, The Sociology of Youth Culture and Youth Subcultures: Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll? Routledge, 1980, p. 100 Kellner, D, Media Culture, Op. Cit, p. 23 Thompson, H S, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Op. Cit, p. 63


While one could characterise the perpetuation of academic critical theory as a method to reproduce and sustain itself, it is also a form of resistance, and, almost in contradiction of itself, is a new grand narrative that continues to search for emancipation. It is vital that this resistance is maintained so that the study of visual culture doesn’t merely serve the culture industry.

Basically, postmodernism is whatever you want it to be, if you want it bad enough. 105

Does Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas still represent a challenge to authority? It makes a plea for the triumph of diversity and chaos over the conformity of straight society, but it is nostalgia nonetheless. Through Gilliam’s renegotiation of these themes however, it is argued that the critique of society continues. The way it presents the ‘unpresentable’ in the scenes of excessive drug consumption is a challenge to the boundaries of private and public life but it is no longer shocking since films such as Pulp Fiction (1994). Such imagery however does contribute to the integration of individuals on the periphery of society into the mainstream. The nostalgic paradigm has long been associated with feelings of alienation, particularly for the intellectual, and was of great significance to the development of German social theory from Marx to the Frankfurt school. Social thought from the 19th century onwards has sought to reconcile new systems of cultural and personal exchange that was, and continues to be, affected by the market and the economic ties between human beings. In the text, Thompson signifies the individual who is dominated by bureaucracy and the state. The revival of the period in full detail is an expression of


Society, Altamira Press, US, 1998, p. 52

Handy, B, quoted in Berger, A A (Ed), The Postmodern Presence: readings on Postmodernism in American Culture &


history as decline and fall – of the chances that failed. Director Oliver Stone is most concerned with this nostalgic paradigm and in many of his films he recreates moments of the sixties as points in history that directly affect the present such as the death of JFK, or the war in Vietnam.

Contemporary drug use can be studied in parallel to the transformation of the nature of representation in post-modern society. In the creation of identity or the manipulation of mood, visual culture is an immediate fix and can be directly related to youth behaviour.

The changes produce new identities and can provide instant pleasure, alleviate symptoms, and reduce pain. When people use the electronic media, the changes are instantaneous. Electronic media works like a drug rushing through the bloodstream: they directly affect the sense and passively produce the desired effect, bypassing cognitive processes such as deliberate thinking or practise. The way a viewer identifies with the characters who are suddenly transported into another dimension within the hyper-reality of the TV ads is akin to drug highs. The quick jump-cuts in music video frames and TV ads parallel the quick rush experienced from cocaine. … What is arguable or contested in each instance is the degree to which the user is critically controlling the experience and/or is being manipulated by the corporate media. 106

Forbes analysis of drug use in the context of post-modern culture observes that the competitive society doesn’t affirm the dignity of each person. This causes the selfmedication, through drugs, to alleviate feelings of insecurity, sorrow, pain, anger or


Forbes, D, False Fixes: The Cultural Politics of Drugs, Alcohol and Addictive Relations, NY Uni Press, USA, 1994, p. 97


boredom. He also acknowledges that drugs serve the function of relaxation, of play, escape and sociability. When policy makers struggle to comprehend and deal with the drugs problem through a prohibition framework, they fail to acknowledge the constant search by humanity to express feelings of personal power and enjoyment to enhance and expand consciousness. 107 For the younger generation of drug users, it is already part of their culture on a spiritual level, increasing as other religious institutions diminish. The authorities underestimate the power of popular culture.

America is neither dream nor reality. It is a hyper-reality … because it is a utopia which has behaved from the very beginning as though it were already achieved. 108

The methodology of drug prohibition follows various formulas. The conservative approach is of zero tolerance and relies upon surveillance and punishment to instil a notion of moral fibre. The liberal approach is a belief that treatment and care is required to support the user and re-integrate them into society. The more leftist philosophy is based upon the assumption that drug use itself is symptomatic of the inherent deficiencies of the capitalist system. The solution would be found in a change in the impersonal functions related to the market and class reform. Forbes observes that the failure of each meta-narrative is a consequence of their position outside everyday culture.

Popular culture, they assume, is not as legitimate as some predetermined social structure, whether it be a divine social order, the free-market, the state, class conflict, or genuine human needs. But this perspective restricts understanding of

107 108

Forbes, D, Op. Cit, p. 11 Baudrillard, J, America, Verson, UK, 1988, p. 301


people’s everyday efforts to resist, negotiate, and appropriate consumer culture, let alone to create their own cultural meanings. It pre-empts an adequate analysis of the place of drugs and addictive relations in everyday life by minimizing the importance of everyday culture itself. 109

In other words, everyday life has assumed a significance that is sometimes at odds with the traditional social narratives of the modern age. Faith in inviolable structures such as the family, education, religion and the state has been shaken and power is diffused. Drug use in the pursuit of music culture is one way of constructing identity and interpreting cultural signs for individualistic reasons. 110 It is this essential change in the nature of the self that is so central to the study of visual culture. The rites and meanings translated from the drug culture contribute to the creation of identity through adolescence onwards. The sense of a fixed personality is in flux as diverse influences are integrated into the mainstream by a culture intent on self-renewal, recycling and plurality. People are participants in the construction of their own identities at different times and for different relational contexts. 111 Everyday life assumes the dramatic sense of cinema or television as the passage of personal history plays out like a crafted performance.

Adolescence, one of the key stages in this performance, only emerged in the last century. Growing children had previously learned to take their place in the adult world at an earlier age and accept the responsibilities of work and family. Today there are more contradictions facing youth. They can marry at 16 but not drink at their wedding. In school, forced to follow an official curriculum of subjects and
109 110 111

Forbes, D, Op. Cit, p. 34 Forbes, D, Ibid, p. 38 Forbes, D, Ibid, p. 39


taught obedience to the hierarchy of authority, they become anxious and unfulfilled. Society has no other useful place for them apart from education. Forbes argues that these events conspire to transform them into restless consumers, ‘in search of ever more satisfying products and services’. 112 Frith also acknowledges that it is precisely because they lack power that the young displace personal problems to their free time; focus their politics on leisure. As a consequence, the youth audience is targeted as the main market for leisure and consumption. He makes the explicit connection that it is young peoples’ use of free time that raises the problems discussed here of capitalist freedom and constraint.113

Meanwhile, youth are suffering from unique problems: a changing perception of work expectations, of housing arrangements, even the intricacies of modern love and marriage. Increasingly they are suffering from anxiety, depression or boredom and are experimenting more with their sexuality, drugs and nihilistic pursuits. The belief in the morals and abilities of the elder generation are also in doubt through what Meyrowitz calls the ‘staging of adulthood’. The playful nature of post-modern culture, especially in television, has blurred the line between adults’ private behaviour and their onstage roles, meaning that childish behaviour emerges into this public role. Consequently, youth are becoming less naïve and the role of the all-knowing adult is being undermined. 114

112 113

Forbes, D, Op. Cit, p. 65 Frith, S, Sound Effects: youth culture, and the politics of rock n roll, NY, Pantheon, 1981, p. 201 quoted in Forbes, D, Op. Cit, p. 166 114 Meyrowitz, J, No sense of place: the impact of electronic media on social behaviour, Oxford Uni Press, NY, 1985, p.224 quoted in Forbes, Op Cit, p. 63


In Manchester, there has been a longstanding problem with gang warfare and crime inspired by drug addiction and control over supply. The celebrated consumer culture does not touch every individual. For all the advancements in living standards, there is still no system that provides for everyone. A satisfying life that reflects the possibilities suggested by visual culture must be bought and paid for. For many people, urban life remains purely ‘one of potential, of promise unfulfilled’. 115 In 1997, 78% of suspects held in police stations in Trafford tested positive for illegal drugs (27% for crack cocaine, 32% for heroin). 116 The assumption that drugs are inherently destructive, rather than the economic and social systems that encourage their use leads to typically bias histories and unproductive policies. For example, the statement below is almost the full extent of drugs history in Gilbert’s military slanted account of the past 50 years.

Illegal drugs that were to the curse of the final decade of the century were beginning to be used, and to be advocated by some publicly … The ‘drug culture’, not confined to affluent societies, was about to disturb and poison the minds of millions of people. In due time it was to have a marked effect on crime. The need to supply and finance the drug habit, if necessary by theft and violence, undermined the moral outlook of many individuals. 117

Such simplistic explanations for the causes of anti-social behaviour are regularly supplied to the population and evidence of short-term success in the drug war is presented as a solution. The news media rarely offers analysis of the reasons for which people use or sell drugs and instead it propagates images of punishment and
115 116 117

Haslam, D, Op. Cit, p. 77 Haslam, D, Ibid, p. 277-8 Gilbert, M, Op. Cit, p. 307


unusual, individual case studies. The rapid and perpetually changing news media then quickly juxtaposes the story with another one, or an advertisement. The viewer perceives the course of human events as a perceptual montage.

Instead of creating a taste for enlightenment, LSD was promoting a love of sensation, the more intense the better. 118

Since the evolution of drug culture has coincided with the notion of a post-modern, visual culture, it is hardly surprising that they reflect each other. Drugs provide a rapid sensory shift. In a culture driven by renewal and plurality, they are a quick fix to enlightenment. The attraction of youth to drugs is a consequence of society’s addiction to sensation.


Stevens, J, Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream, Heinemann, GB, 1987 (1988), p. 342


Conclusion: ……………………………
Rave music, then, is riddled with Zen-like paradoxes. It’s music of resistance and acquiescence, utopian idealism and nihilistic hedonism. It’s both an escape route and dead-end, orgasmatron and panopticon, space and cage. 119

During the research and presentation of the material it has become clear that a new language of media literate education will be required for the successful resolution of the drug culture within society. The particular aims set forward by this enquiry have not been fully met and would benefit from a more detailed study based upon a greater use of statistical/scientific information. However, from the analyses undertaken in the space allowed, it seems that the thesis has been argued with convincing evidence. We have understood contemporary youth behaviour to be influenced by the cult of excess that visual culture celebrates in many forms. It has also become clear that attempts to crush the will of the drug user have always failed, and perhaps, are always destined to fail.

We can surmise that the changes in representation that have occurred since the 1960s are in part to do with the characteristics of post-modern culture. The original text for example is a perfect example of distrust in the authoritive structures that allowed such atrocities as the Vietnam War and the arms race. Since that time, there

Redhead, S (Ed), The Club Cultures Reader, Blackwell, GB, 1997, p. 92


has been an increase in the forms of representation that have cynical agendas. Plurality has dethroned the white, ruling-class male’s dominant political perspective as expressed through the mode of written language to defined objectivity and reason for much of the world. 120 In the execution of drug control policies, contemporary Governments also face this problem. The notion of a wise elite that informs the populace of ethical values has been destroyed and now society is dependent upon the exchange of truths and the freedom of choice. In terms of drug culture, there are many who believe that the essential decree by Government that ‘drugs are bad’ counters all need for debate. Consequently, in the news media, drugs information is one-sided and generally, only negative stories are propagated. Fear and Loathing in

Las Vegas is a rare example of what happens when alternative and more honest
perspectives on these themes reach the mainstream. Furthermore, the refusal to discuss these themes honestly, and without prejudice have lead to the insidious integration of the drug culture into the mainstream, with none of the benefits of legalisation.

Growing mistrust in this information is undermining the very concept of law and truth for the youth. In official media they will learn about the destruction of the mind and body, the ruthlessness of the dealer and the cost to society. However, in their own experience and within the entertainment of their visual culture, an opposite scenario emerges. Typically, the evil dealer turns out to be a friend; problems with drugs are rare and contributable more to the illegality of the substance rather than inherent danger within it. Their culture celebrates the notion of ‘getting off your face’ and at every special occasion there is drug use, even if it is just alcohol. Official statistics

Forbes, D, False Fixes: The Cultural Politics of Drugs, Alcohol and Addictive Relations, NY Uni Press, USA, 1994, p. 40


use scare tactics to infer the dangerous nature of drugs but the same information will prove that nicotine and alcohol kill more than all other drugs combined. Nevertheless, policy continues to be shaped by misinformation. For example, the blotchy brain scans of ecstasy users were used as visual statements to directly affect policy and toughen sentences, regardless of the validity of the experiments. 121 Under the heavily funded American anti-drug campaign they came to symbolise the destructive nature of ecstasy. Under close
Figure 43 - Anti-Drug Propaganda

scrutiny many of the experiments have been criticised as unscientific. Most recently, scientists writing in The Psychologist, published by the British Psychological Society, claimed that many of the studies since 1995 have been flawed. They also accused researchers of bias. 122 Such confusion not only undermines policies regarding dangerous drugs but it also suggests that political agendas are being resolved through the deliberate influence on scientific data. Furthermore, there is the fear that the legal drug industry could also manipulate studies to minimise the risks of their products. Like the tobacco and alcohol industry the legalisation lobby threatens it. Many people have a lot to gain from the sustained stigmatisation of the drug user. It will come as no surprise that the ‘sorted’ poster campaign (that plastered the ecstasy victim Leah Betts across billboards over England) was funded by both a brewery and a maker of energy drinks – the prime losers in the ecstasy explosion in clubland.123

121 122,2763,784716,00.html and 123 Saunders, N, Ecstasy Reconsidered, Turnaround, GB, 1997

New Scientist, April 2002, No. 2339, Ecstasy on the Brain, p. 28


Ultimately, the authorities are using unreliable scientific evidence to punish users and restrict their freedoms in society. This is done in many ways, particularly in America. For example, with random drug tests in the workplace or as a prerequisite for extracurricular school activities; the dismissal from employment; the withdrawal of a driving license; the suspension of educational opportunities, loans, etc.

A goal that cannot be achieved, progress that cannot be measured, results for which no one can be held accountable, and billions of dollars to be gained from the whole thing. Such is the strategy that produces more and more drug warriors. Awesome power is wielded by individuals and institutions who would feel harm if the drug problem diminished, who gain by perpetuating policies that strengthen the illicit drug trade. Policy reform is possible, but reformers face formidable resistance. 124

The previous chapters have indicated that the notion of resistance has new meaning in youth culture. We have seen how post-modern culture integrates and neutralises the ideals of counter-culture while simultaneously recycling and reinventing it. For Adorno, this is a consequence of the reconciliation between high and low culture – the inherent resistance of art of ‘the people’ is chained by the tastes of the mainstream and the rules of social control. 125 Whether this argument is true is inconclusive, for while contemporary youth culture seems passive and consumer orientated, it is still in the middle of major changes that have not occurred since the 1960s. We are perhaps too close to fully understand these developments. Knowledge might only come in retrospect.

124 125

Lawrence Miller, R, The Case for Legalising Drugs, Praegar, USA, 1991, p. 107 Adorno, T W, The Culture Industry, Routledge, GB, 1972 (1993), p. 17


The ‘techno’ generation relates to visual culture in phenomenal ways and this should be a cause of greater concern, particularly in terms of education. It is a challenge to the traditional notions of society and changes our conception of culture. The complexities of the arguments raised in this study are evidence that visual culture has transformed the nature of childhood and the way children and adults now acquire information and interact with each other. 126 Furthermore, the structures in place to understand the drug culture are woefully inadequate. Education must attend to the new image culture and teach how to read images and narratives as part of media literacy.

Such an effort would be part of a new critical pedagogy that attempts to uncover the roots of our experience, knowledge, and behaviour and that aims at liberation from domination of oppressive images, discourses and narratives. A critical media literacy would also be oriented toward a cultural politics aiming at the creation of plural, diverse, and challenging cultures and more empowered individuals, able to both critically analyse and produce the forms of their culture and society. 127

The relationship between media and youth culture can provide insights into contemporary society and we can use cultural theory to conversely interrogate media culture. The steps made toward a more enlightened society that affords each citizen personal freedom and dignity will ultimately gauge the success of studies like this one. Plant reasons that the greatest impact on the overall social aspects of harm, such as with alcohol misuse, will most likely be achieved, not by influencing the

Forbes, D, False Fixes, Op. Cit, p. x Best S & Kellner D, Beavis & Butthead: No future for postmodern youth quoted in Epstein, J S (Ed), Youth Culture: Identity in a Postmodern World, Blackwell, GB, 1998, p. 85



excessive minority, but by influencing the less extreme majority. 128 A traditional notion of the deviant or hedonist is rooted in the idea of the bohemian. Today, with the expansion of academia and education, combined with the growth of the culture industry (with its connection to consumption), those ideas are less pertinent. The ideals of choice and pleasure are not the preserves of a minority, rather they are extolled as virtues, and virtues that are already available.

It has been argued throughout this dissertation that contemporary culture has afforded representation a unique place in youth culture. The thesis is that only by respecting and understanding this culture of the image can we hope to reconcile the peripheral members of society. The notion of resistance that allows individuals to pursue pleasurable activities with disregard for the law is an ongoing threat to the fragile order of society. It is not a struggle that is ultimately geared toward the solution of society’s ills, but rather it promotes an acceptance of criminal status and a rejection of collective ideology. Despite this, a vibrant youth culture exists, particularly in Manchester, that is tailoring city life to its own needs and desires. As future generations assume power, and the media dominates cultural expression, such contradictions will need to be resolved as they will only become more obvious. Further investigations into this field must focus on the methods by which society will heal itself. Legalisation or punishment?


Plant M & Plant M, Risk Takers: Alcohol, Drugs, Sex and Youth, Routledge, GB, 1992, p. 142


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Articles and Other Media:

Ruth Williams, Linda, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (film review), Sight & Sound, v8 n11, Nov 1998, pp48-9 Olsen, Mark, The Weird turn Pro, Film Comment, v34 n4, Jul-Aug, 1998, pp. 76-8 Macabe, Bob, Chemical Warfare, Sight & Sound, v8 n6, Jun 1998, pp. 6-8

Hotdog Magazine, Jan 2001, IFG Ltd Mixmag, Feb 2002, EMAP, The Chemicals Issue. New Scientist, April 2002, No. 2339, Ecstasy on the Brain Hooked, Granada TV, 1994 Cannabis Cafes UK, BBC2 Money Programme, 24.4.02

Some Useful Websites (all correct as of 15.5.02)

Alternative/Anarchic Websites:


Related Websites: - William S Burroughs,6737,661059,00.html

Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas/Hunter S Thompson 100,6903,738369,00.html

Influence of the Media:

Drugs:,5860,635714,00.html -Columbian Drug-War 101



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