It is interesting that Joan Didion acknowledged her style of story divulgence in the preface of her collection of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. It was a move that revealed a self-awareness of her own tactful and un-serendipitous methods that make a difference in the field of literary journalism. Her choice to start the collection this way cemented her position as a literary investigative journalist, it was her way of saying “this is what I do and this is why it works”.
It has been said that there are no friends, only interests– “You have the right to remain silent” and probably should around Joan Didion. She’s almost like a cop, she comes of as a harmless friendly figure that embodies the feeling of safety while she’s actually collecting a pile of evidence that grows with each word that is said… She’ll drop acid with you for the sake of investigative journalism while you think she’s simply trying to unlock the doors of perception, chained shut by the 1920’s and the 40’s and the 50’s, the old and ultra conservative american dream, man… She documented the way hippies communicated in their heyday with their “groovy” acid that can “turn you on” and get you far away from your “hang-ups” or totally “bum you out” for the next month.
Didion reveals the not-so-glamorous aspects of the idealized 1960’s counterculture mecca that is Haight-Ashbury. We would like to think of it as a beautiful district in the middle of San Francisco, adjacent to Golden Gate Park, where the store fronts are painted red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Although, underneath this colorful façade there are a few unsavory characters who shoot up and rape among other things. Didion puts her lens on these people to remind us that nowhere is perfect. With that in mind, it’s probably not a good idea to become close with Didion if you live an non-normative life, she might just tell the world that you let your 5-year-old trip on acid (and why wouldn’t she? that is journalistic gold).
I believe that creative nonfiction writers are either selling someone or something out in order to produce quality text. Didion sold out Haight-Ashbury and in turn helped spawn a groundbreaking new genre of writing, gonzo journalism. I think she sold out the kids with the needle marks, the runaways, the girls who want to live in the kitchen, and the irresponsible parents and therein lies the literary genius. Without selling out, Didion wouldn’t be able to create such an important piece of non fiction, what do you think?