—Hunter S. Thompson, an icon of his generation, spawned a new form of journalism, called “Gonzo”.
Gonzo is perhaps best described as manic, first-person subjectivity born of desperation — long before Twitter.
Thompson, on deadline in 1970 to write “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”, began ripping out pages of his notebook and sending them to editors at Scanlan’s Monthly. Gonzo was born.
It’s a riveting style of writing that will forever be associated with Thompson, who reportedly blew his brains out in Colorado in 2005.
But, as reported by Goya Magazine, Thompson is not really dead, as claimed by the rest of the world. He lives on Twitter in Tokyo, as the infamous @Shogannai.
With more than 3000 followers and 65,000 tweets (about 59 per day), @Shogannai’s jaded view of Japan, and fatwas against TEPCO, have tremendous influence on hundreds of journalists and wannabes who await what Michael Stipe of REM would call the “pearls of wisdom falling from his mouth.” Indeed, if New York Times Tokyo correspondent Hiroko Tabuchi is the Queen, @Shogannai is the King of the Twitterati.
Shogannai, for those who don’t speak Japanese fluently like thousands of neurotic gaijin, is a Japanese expression meaning “To hell with it! I’m a useless twit who can’t change a damn thing one iota.”
It’s exactly the type of thing that Hunter S. Thompson would say, therefore proving beyond all doubt that he’s indeed alive and kicking in Tokyo.
However, even if Thompson is alive as @Shogannai, is Gonzo still alive with him?
A detailed investigation into the collected works of @Shogannai reveals that his work is less about “Gonzo” and more about “Stronzo” — (Italian for “piece of shit”).
In fact, the concept of “Stronzo” permeates @Shogannai’s oeuvre to such an extent that the writer himself could indeed call himself “Dr. Stronzo”. And, his form of journalism could indeed be termed “Stronzo”, or “the Stronzo School”.
First, let’s compare and contrast Gonzo and Stronzo, the two icons of their respective schools.
In the 1960s and 70s, Gonzo went to Puerto Rico and Vegas to get his rocks off, and wrote about it breathlessly on a typewriter. Stronzo, ensconced within the cocoon of Safety Myth Japan, reportedly types with two fingers into his smart-phone whilst moving toxic waste across Japan and saving us from nuclear armageddon.
Gonzo was all about overdoing drugs, trashing hotel rooms and breaking free from social norms.
Stronzo is all about overdoing the internet, trashing Japanese media and Japanese bureaucrats and “racist” Japanese people, and cowering behind a pseudonym in the little 140-character cage that is Twitter.
Gonzo got paranoia from drugs. Stronzo got paranoia by reading too many tweets about the evils of TEPCO and Japan.
Gonzo was about socializing with everybody: strangers, whores, vagabonds, junkies, even cops and his attorney Oscar Acosta, the inspiration for Thompson’s character “Dr. Gonzo.”
Stronzo’s group, meanwhile, tend to fortify their clique by dissing, ostracizing and Twitter-blocking others, and evading any responsibility whatsoever for perpetuating the culture of deceit in Japan’s foreign media circus. For Stronzo’s group, Twitter-blocking is as much fun as driving a convertible across the Nevada desert was for Thompson, or listening to Humble Pie’s album Rockin’ the Fillmore (engineered at Electric Ladyland by our mentor The King, Eddie Kramer.)
@Shogannai seems to believe that, as Steve Marriott sang, “I don’t need no doctor.” Some people think he’s fallen off the deep end, while others admire his courage to trash-talk TEPCO and Japan’s government. The big difference is that Gonzo took public stands behind his real name; @Shogannai is calling for the Prime Minister’s head whilst hiding behind a pseudonym.
(Humble Pie, with Marriott on vox and Peter Frampton on guitar, says it best: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lxyRjzXvxo)
Perhaps Stronzo is too harsh a label for an entire sub-sector of society. Another word for Shogannai’s group would be “The Gizmos”. They are a super-tribe of technocrats fascinated by gadgets and gizmos. They are really good at shopping for gadgets and gizmos, buying them, figuring them out eventually, using them, and blogging about them. Shogannai’s pals are classic examples of cutting-edge Gurus of Gizmos. They are gifted Gizmos, and they set the M.O. for other Gizmos.
For them, being cool means having the latest gizmo and showing it off. Your hair-style or fashion sense or taste in music means nothing anymore. It’s all about what piece of disposable junk technology you just bought an hour ago, and how quickly you disposed of yesterday’s junk. It’s also cool if you can live-stream yourself running a marathon in a contraption. (http://josephta.me/ja/)
To be fair, Gonzo and Gizmo are not completely unrelated. Both are narcissistic; the world revolves around them. But while Gonzo was about unbridled individualism, the Gizmos are about uniformity, creating an echo-chamber of retweeted “truths” to make sure everybody thinks the same, acts the same. Anybody who begs to differ, or even asks a question — (how dare they!) — gets ostracized and bullied.
Gonzo was tough. Gizmos are touchy and passive-aggressive. They were taught “Don’t talk to strangers”, and they are suspicious of humans who try to befriend them in real life. But online, they’ll follow anybody, or allow anybody to follow them. And then, at the slightest feeling of discomfort, they’ll slam the door, forever, on a person. It’s all done in the name of loyalty to Gizmo-dom.
If Gonzo was a wolf, Gizmos are sheep. They bleet out baaaahhhh when they see a wolf approaching. They close rank, cluster together, close their eyes, hold their breath and hope the wolf will go away. If he doesn’t, they lash out — blocking on twitter, ignoring emails or phone calls or whatever words of truth or wisdom might float their way.
And all this is due to a lack of drugs to cure their online addictions leading to fiscal deficit attention deception disorder (ADD).
Gonzo took acid to open his mind. Gizmos sometimes close their minds inch by inch, tweet by tweet, rejecting whatever doesn’t promote their status or career trajectory in jobs which provide them enough disposable income to buy new disposable gadgets.
Gonzo sought truth. Gizmos fear truth, or at least tolerate a culture of deceit if it leads to income and career success. For lack of better jobs, they work in propaganda industries (NHK World, others), justifying their actions by saying “shogannai” — everybody has to make money to buy new things.
Gizmos fear truth because truth is scary. Kowai. They look at the world — through their gadgets — and see rising crime, rising seas, rising temperatures, rising unemployment, and rising prices of Gizmo 6.0X. Kowai. It really is scary out there.
Gonzo’s world was scary too, but he shed off the trappings of materialism and sought out adventures. Gizmos have to endure waiting in line for days to buy the new I-phone. Or they write stories about such people — aren’t they exciting!
Gonzo loved travel. Gizmos worry that travel might damage their gadgets, or somebody might steal their phone, and therefore their entire social network of contact info. They would be completely lost in the world without that, even if they were running a marathon only minutes from home.
If you’re a Gizmo in Tokyo, there’s no need to travel anyway. Tokyo really is the epicenter of the Gizmo culture, which is taking over the world, according to Gizmos. Marketing specialists, brand managers, CEOs are at this very moment scrambling to understand the minds and shopping habits of these Gizmos, who can singlehandedly drive the global economy to rebirth or ruin.
The Gizmos aren’t immoral. They do have their own codes of conduct. The Gizmos don’t usually care how many Chinese slave kids jumped off buildings or slit their wrists to make their hallowed products. That requires too much long-form undistracted thinking, and tweeting about it might upset some of the followers. But they do care about China invading clumps of rock claimed by Tokyo’s former governor, and they do care about clumps of rock in general.
Gizmos are also exceptionally polite, and very rude to those who they consider to be impolite.
For Gonzo’s ilk, nothing was rude. Everything is permitted, as William S. Burroughs once said.
Gizmos are ruled by the ancient Japanese concept of “dame”. Like other tenets of spirituality, dame is imbued with deeper meanings, often misunderstood by unwashed foreigners in Japan. Dame doesn’t only refer to 89-year old security guards giving the X Japan sign at a rock concert. Dame doesn’t just mean “impossible” or “not possible” or “you can’t do this” or, as Japanese like to say, “No!”
Dame literally means: “No! Stop asking me. I told you, many times, DON’T ASK. If you try it one more time, I’ll block you on Twitter, you barbarian yabanjin.”
While this might sound facetious, it’s truly important — from a marketing standpoint — to understand the Gizmo’s bizarre notions about what is rude. Asking a question is rude. Asking someone to explain their view is rude. Having a lengthy conversation is rude, especially in person.
BUT, saying WTF (what the fuck) FFS (for fuck sakes) STFU (shut the fuck up) isn’t rude. Writing “Bullshit” isn’t rude. Saying the Prime Minister should fall into a molten nuclear reactor isn’t rude. Gossiping behind the back, betraying your former friends, shunning them from the group, ruining their reputation — none of this is rude. In the view of the Gizmo Group, the ostracized person was rude, for asking a question and seeking truth.
Gizmo’s also have an interesting consciousness about race, religion and culture.
Gonzo was about breaking beyond barriers of race, religion and culture; he would sleep with whores of any color. The Gizmos, while pan-ethnic on the surface, are really about preppy middle-class consumer culture, especially the yuppy-puppy urban Asian form of it.
Take a look at @Shogannai. He isn’t twittering with Sri Lankan exiles or Chinese coolies or Russian sailors or Filipina maids or Brazilian factory workers — all of whom contribute to contemporary Japan. @Shogannai is usually chattering with other educated white-ish media-folk, or token Japanese (Tabuchi, Kageyama) who share their values and social status. The Gizmos who brag about their fluency in Japanese rarely ever converse online with real Japanese people outside the Eigo-Bubble. The local Japanese are just there, as props in the background, whilst they study kanji characters in instructional manuals they translate for Gizmo-makers.
But this doesn’t mean that the Gizmos are redneck racists or bromothymol blue-meanies. Gizmos are simply too busy figuring out their new gadgets, and showing them off, to notice what they are missing in the off-line world. And, like other subgroups of society, they aren’t likely to change their ways simply on the basis of a special investigative report in Goya Magazine. PMs, CEOs, MBAs, PHd’s, other writers simply have to learn how to deal with them.
Like it or not, the Gizmos are playing a dominant role in gaijin online media (and therefore the New York Times and the world). More than anybody else, they are the vanguard of the Stronzo School of Journalism.
You can see it everywhere. They are taking over the media world. It’s not just Huffington Post and CNN.com doing stories such as “13 countries without 13th floors in buildings” or “69 ways to have sex with virtual dolls in Japan.” It’s Gizmo media uncovering the “eye-ball licking craze” of Japan, or discovering the new “Fuckuppy” mascot for Fukushima. It’s the Washington Post reporting, according to the Guardian and Slate and BBC, that “sexless” Japanese are dooming the global economy. It’s an entire generation of jobless or under-employed and under-paid Gizmos reporting that the global economy is doomed — as if 35 percent youth unemployment in Europe is a leading indicator of something.
For better or worse, Gizmos are reinventing journalism in their own image, and it’s all about the notion of Stronzo.
Gonzo was about experimenting with writing, reinvigorating literature and expanding the language. Stronzo is all about shrinking it, into 140 characters or less, and embellishing it with a “twitpic” on Instagram or Line or whatever. Instead of coining phrases or inventing literary devices and meaningful metaphors, the Gizmo journalists of the Stronzo School write IMHO (in my humble opinion), OTOH (on the other hand), AFAIK (as far as I know) and whatever else they can abbreviate. That makes a writer “cool”. (In fact, it’s cliched groupthink, but never mind, it’s our group’s groupthink, so it’s cool.)
The beauty of Stronzo journalism is that anybody can do it. Gonzo is hard. You have to be a real writer, which means that you have to be drug-addicted, desperate for cash and willing to beg for the mercy of gruff editors guarding positions amid a broken business model.
With Stronzo, you can have a full-time job at a Japanese construction company, or a propaganda network, or ESL school, or even THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, and still write Stronzo.
Stronzo is really a sub-group of citizen journalism, and it’s perhaps best described as “shit-izen” journalism. Shit-izen journalism (i.e. Stronzo) is not like old school “Churnalism”, where “churnalists” at Reuters or Dow Jones churn out wire copy to supply newspapers used to wrap fish and line bird cages. While “Churnalists”, adhering to 170-year old dictums, must rely on authentic sources for verifiable facts, a Shitizen journalist is free of constraints and can therefore pepper the papers with any old shit. There’s no need for sources at all, as Tokyo-based author Jack Idolstein has proven in his reports for the Japan Times, Daily Beast and Atlantic Wire. You can write whatever you want, and find somebody to publish it for low or no pay. You simply call yourself “a journalist”, and therefore, you are “a journalist”.
Brett Bull, a trained, qualified, full-time water engineer with a major Japanese construction company, is one example of this. With apparently lots of time and energy on his hands, he didn’t just call himself “a reporter”, he reinvented himself as “Tokyo Reporter”. Yes, a Licensed Civil Engineer from California, above hundreds of journalism school graduates and hardened industry veterans in Japan, is qualified to carry the mantle of “Tokyo Reporter”.
Is his Stronzo any good? It must be. He’s good enough at Twitter to retweet other people’s “churnalism”. His Japanese is good enough to rip intellectual property from Japanese sex tabloids and post them in English on his own site. And the New York Times actually pays him to write about sports in Japan. His Tokyo Reporter site looks good, his street photos aren’t bad, he seems like a nice guy, and he’s obviously smart enough to hold down a full-time job as a Senior Quantity Surveyor whilst writing 25,457 tweets for 25,000 followers and operating a sex industry news website with subheadings such as “national”, “society”, “dating”, “adult video” and “love hotels”.
Bull is only one of hundreds of practitioners, and he’s one of the most popular. (I follow him on Twitter and learn from his site that gaijin aren’t welcome in Japan’s sex industry). In fact, it can be argued that Bull’s shit is the true progenitor of Stronzo, even more than the oeuvre of @Shogannai. He indeed deserves the title “Tokyo Reporter”.
But does this make him, or others, a “citizen journalist”? Citizen journalism, in theory, is supposedly vital to democracy. Citizen journalists such as Glenn Greenwald and Pierre Omidyar are heralding a rebirth in adversarial, watchdog journalism. Though perhaps unqualified, citizen journalists believe they are responsible citizens working for the social good. In some cases, they are doing what traditional qualified journalists are supposed to be doing.
Shitizen journalists, on the other hand, are usually in it for “the Nookie”, as Limp Bizkit would say. (note Fred Durst’s resemblance to Tokyo Reporter http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IypbePY0jM8)
They aren’t doing hardcore investigative reports into rights abuses and scams in Japan. Journalism is a side-job for them; they are basically moonlighting as reporters. Their “journalism” is all about self-promotion, building up a portfolio “as a journalist”, gaining followers on Twitter and other social media, and conning editors and readers into believing they’re not really ESL teachers, paid propagandists or licensed engineers overseeing large numbers of staff.
In Japan, a size-able number of academics, government workers and others are calling themselves “journalists” on their LinkedIn pages or other sites such as Twitter. Bored with their paying jobs, and with plenty of time and energy on their hands, they are building up a side-career in the hope of making extra yen or even a full-time career out of it. Yet, because they aren’t full-time trained qualified journalists dedicating their life to reporting, their work is often from the School of Stronzo.
As people continue to digest Stronzo, the power of Shitizen journalists will likely continue to grow. With so many people doing this, it’s hard for editors and producers overseas to discern who is a journalist, a citizen journalist, and a shitizen. Editors and producers often favor shitizen journalists over the real thing for a number of reasons. Shitizen journalists will accept lower pay and worse conditions, because they already have secure day jobs to fall back on. Since they don’t really know what they’re doing, they’re less demanding of editors who also don’t really know what they’re doing. And since these Shitizen’s often have many followers on social media, legacy media managers at NYT or CNN are inclined to believe that this “exposure” will help promote their own sites.
Shitizen journalists have real pros on the run. Amateurs moonlighting as “reporters” are happy to take the jobs of pro journalists, even if that involves back-stabbing, badmouthing and false accusations of sexual deviance. Shitizens don’t care so much about ethics, fundamentals or truth-seeking, since they didn’t study it for four years at journalism school, and nobody is holding them accountable. Even if Shitizen journalists get caught plagiarizing, or stealing intellectual property from Japanese media, it doesn’t matter anyway. They’re just moonlighting. They won’t lose their day jobs over it. They know that real pros can’t take their jobs as water engineers, economics professors, translators or teachers. Shitizens came into journalism with nothing to lose and everything to gain. Like Fred Durst, they’re “livin’ it up in the fast lane”.
This gives them a competitive advantage over real journos. Whilst real journos burn themselves out digging for truth and adhering to 170-year old traditions, the Gizmos have more time to master technology and languages, network with other Gizmos and strengthen their positions in the industry. They are quick to snap up assignments in the travel writing sector, for example, or jobs with state propaganda agencies disguised as TV networks and magazines. They don’t hustle across Japan interviewing people, building up trusted sources and uncovering the reality behind the facade. They simply regurgitate myths about Japan. Anybody can do that during their spare time in the office.
Like it or not, the Gizmos are winning. Together with the works of Bull, Tabuchi, Idolstein, Gavin Blair, Noah Smith and others, the Gizmos are creating a new broken wheel to replace the old one. Shitizen journalists aren’t looking back. They don’t think their journalism is Stronzo. Like @Shogannai, they think they are Hunter S. Thompson.