The Work of Thomas Morton

Thomas Morton first sparked my interest at the impressionable age of 15. I was just beginning to experience the true depths of the internet, and in this process, I was being introduced to amazing things. Some of which include Quentin Tarantino movies, the Beatles, and less renowned but equally mind-bending: Vice.

During this time Vice was transitioning into the world of video-journalism and was continually producing fast-paced, low-budget mini-documentaries on Youtube. As a freshman in high school with nothing to do in the dead of a Wisconsin winter, I spent an unhealthy amount of time glued to a computer screen. Thomas Morton, a Vice correspondent at the time, was the face and voice behind many of these videos. Some of my favorites included “Around the Balkans in 20 days” in which Morton traveled the countries of former Yugoslavia. Another favorite was “Living in the Sewers of Colombia” which documented Morton meeting the inhabitants of Bogota’s underground tunnel ways.

Needless to say, the documentaries appealed to the adventurer’s spirit and covered niche subjects in underreported places. The “Fringes” series aimed to understand groups and ideas considered outside of the social norm. I enjoyed them because they gave me a look into sub-cultures I had never been exposed to. While these subjects were not pressing news stories, they educated me on the diversity of the world.

What I found most appealing about this form of storytelling is the that safety was not guaranteed. While scripted voiceovers move the story along, the often unfiltered opinions and reactions of Morton were caught on camera. This allowed for a genunuity to the story that is relatively un-present in local news channels or writing. Morton becomes a guinea pig within the experience. For example, in the mini-doc “Uganda’s Moonshine Epidemic,” Morton is filmed drinking Moonshine with those who made it. His facial reactions tell a story in itself and help to further communicate the world that the video is documenting.

Mortons writing takes a similar approach. When writing about a subject he immerses himself within the topic. One of my favorite pieces by Morton is “I Joined Three Cults Simultaneously.” In this piece, Morton takes a very gonzo approach. Gonzo journalism was popularized by Hunter S. Thompson. It involves documenting a story in the first person. In this process, the writer becomes a character whose opinions offer insight into the subject. In another way, it is also investigative journalism. A similar article by Morton is “Medieval Slime.” In this experiment, Morton “spent two weeks adhering strictly to premodern hygiene techniques” in order to understand life pre-soap, toothpaste, or indoor plumbing. The results are both hilarious and disturbing.

If I end up in a similar career path, I hope to emulate several of Morton’s characteristics. Firstly, I hope to be able to dive headfirst into a story. I believe the more freedom to experience the subject firsthand allows for a more interesting story. I also hope to write with the perspective of many in mind. This being said, I believe the greatest storytellers have a unique perspective of the world around them. This creates an original voice that allows the reader to learn something, push past the barriers of their own beliefs, and help define their worldview

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