Australia's Elisabeth Wynhausen and a Century of Gonzo Ethnography

Publisher:
Bloomsbury
Publication Type:
Chapter
Citation:
Fear and Loathing Worldwide Gonzo Journalism Beyond Hunter S. Thompson, 2018, pp. 87 - 111 (24)
Issue Date:
2018-01-01
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American writer Jack London does it in the East End of London, inspiring George Orwell who reads London’s work as a teen, to add Paris (and some would comment Wigan Pier as well) to his own version. Latterly, Barbara Ehrenreich does it in the USA. And then, Elisabeth Wynhausen follows her lead in Australia. Leaving the confines of comfort and money to walk and work, reporting amongst those with neither much comfort nor money, Wynhausen writes in the wake of two historical and a critically received contemporary exemplar. This chapter examines and analyses her book length contribution Dirt Cheap: Life at the wrong end of the job market4 as a piece of Australian gonzo journalism – appropriating an autoethnographic practice to contextualise a ubiquitous global phenomenon: the huge chasm between people earning a living wage and those who live in close proximity to, or in poverty, daily. The late Wynhausen (1946-2013) spends nine months undercover in New South Wales and Victoria, negotiating low paid jobs in retail, hospitality, cleaning, aged care and manufacturing alongside those who do these jobs every day to pay for their mortgages, rent, children, food and bills. Her immersion and dialoguing throughout creates the profound, sometimes funny, sometimes furious and frustrated voice of her first person perspective, intermingled with until now, the unheard of voices of her working companions in each job. Fear and Loathing Worldwide: Gonzo Journalism Beyond Hunter S. Thompson. Contextualising Wynhausen’s text within the processes and commentary of London, Orwell and Ehrenreich undertaking their own texts of the same ilk, this chapter argues that her autoethnographic rendering takes on a gonzo mantle because of her idiosyncratic voice and its socio-political impetus. As Australian author, journalist and commentator David Marr says: “…she was harsh and unsentimental -- and deeply compassionate, all at the same time. She was deeply, deeply concerned about social justice but she came at it without any cant…it's compassion without ideology”. Weingarten “roughly” defines gonzo as: “…a provocation on the reporter’s part to drive the story forward” and Harcup as: “A style of reporting incorporating a variety of literary conventions to place the journalist at the centre of the narrative”. Wynhausen achieves both with this text, creating an acerbic contemporary commentary on power, class and the invisible underclasses she joins briefly. As Marr writes, hers is an example of: “…an increasingly rare, old-school craft that demands legwork, total immersion, creativity and a mission to report truthfully, bugger the consequences”.
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