Hunter S. Thompson - Hell's Angels

Hell's Angels - Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson is the writer you want to read if you want to pull all those cool guys. They all love him, it seems, so just make a trip to some hipster café, open one if his books and wait to score.

I didn’t go for the obvious “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” but instead I read his debut, a non-fiction account of his time spent the Hell’s Angels, a motorcycle gang. It was also the book my book club was reading, so I didn’t have that much of a choice.

Even growing up in the 80s and 90s in Poland I had a good idea what a motorcycle gang was. The symbolism of it is omnipresent; it’s like a cultural picklock. The members of a motorcycle gang wear cut off dirt denim vest with their club colours, they drive big Harley-Davidsons, they have beards and they are scary. The message has always been clear – don’t step on their toes. Of course, these days they are most often used for creating a comic effect when a big dangerous bearded thug turns out to be really fond of puppies and wouldn’t hurt a fly.

It seems that demythologising of Hell’s Angels (and some other motorcycle gangs) was Thompson’s main goal in this book. On one hand he is trying to do away with the notion that they are the worst threat to the American society by putting their (still quite shocking) hooligan excesses in perspective. On the other hand he is also trying to deromanticise their image and make it clear that they didn’t have any agenda and that there was nothing glamorous about them. They were mostly a bunch of lowlifes with few prospects that found a sense identity and belonging in joining the gang.

The most fascinating part of the book was the role the media played in creating the Hell’s Angels. The media loved them. They were dangerous and flamboyant. A little Hell’s Angels riot in a small town in California was like a Christmas come early for any journalist. No wonder, the media created a story even when there was no story. The public wanted it - they liked to be scared. And the Hell’s Angels felt obliged to live up to their reputation.

Currently, America has a new boogeyman – the terrorists. They are just as exciting for the media as Hell’s Angels once were. They are just as unpredictable, unreasonable and they aim to destroy all that is good and true in America. Most of the public has been now driven into such a frenzy they would agree to just about anything to protect themselves from this horrifying threat. And I guess we need another Hunter S. Thompson to write a book to put things in perspective again.