An aspiring author should have a list of favorite writers, those whose works can inspire a young scribe. Chuck Klosterman is one name that ranks high on my list.
I remember when I stumbled upon a curiously titled book of his called “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs.” The book is not as scandalous as the title might suggest—it’s a book about pop-culture, a semi-academic, non-stuffy critical analysis of pop-culture.
Klosterman goes deep on subjects that many academics regard as superficial. If someone lives in Las Vegas, he or she doesn’t analyze the meaning of neon lights. They are just sort of there. That’s what modern pop-culture is the equivalent of. It’s become so deeply embedded in our society; it’s now an omnipresent backdrop. It’s always there.
With his magnifying glass like analysis, Klosterman discovered significance in the insignificant.
His books are chalked full of oh wow moments.
Klosterman gets at ideas that are under our noses but often go unnoticed. He went through those ideas at a rapid pace in “Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs. Klosterman wrote about how MTV’s “the Real World was not a reflection of youth culture, but a pseudo–mirror that changed it, and he also declared “Saved By the Bell” to be the ultimate example of suspension of disbelief on a TV show.
Ten years after “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs,” Klosterman is still at it—with his most recent book, “I Wear the
Black Hat,” Klosterman dissects villainy. What is a villain? Why does someone get labeled as a villain?
In “I Wear the Black Hat,” Klosterman presents a formula for determining a villain, someone who knows the most but cares the least. He states that a combination of those traits does not automatically make someone nefarious, but if someone exhibits them, he or she will be thought of as a “villain.” Klosterman’s first example of this misjudgment is applied to Machiavelli, and I thought “wow.”
Each chapter is an essay about a public figure’s perceived villainy, and a wide array of names slither their way into the book– Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton, Aleister Crowley, Ice Cube, Joe Paterno and, of course, Adolf Hitler.
The diversity of names in the book is due to Klosterman’s compare and contrast method of examination. One of the most striking examples of such is the chapter “Easier Than Typing.” It’s about Bernhard Goetz, a now seemingly forgotten name from New York City’s past.
Klosterman opens the chapter by asking readers what if Batman was real, yet they knew nothing of his motivations, and with only surface knowledge of his actions would they think of him as a hero? Klostermen then elegantly transitions into the story of Bernhard Goetz.
While riding the subway in December of 1984, Goetz was approached by four young men—They asked for money. Goetz shot them, all lived, and one was left paralyzed.
The young men were carrying sharpened screwdrivers and had criminal records. Goetz had been assaulted and robbed two years earlier. Goetz was white, and the young men were black.
Klosterman writes that shortly after the shooting, Goetz was cheered and championed by many New Yorkers, at a time in which the city’s crime rate was 70 percent higher than the national average.
But public opinion began to shift as Goetz granted media interviews. He displayed no remorse over the shooting and called it “easier than typing.” Goetz became a villain not because of what he did, but because of what he said about the incident after the fact.
Klosterman sums it up by saying “Vigilantism’s profound contradiction is that every socially aware person agrees that it cannot be allowed to exist, even though huge swaths of society would approve if it sometimes did. As long as Goetz remained a nameless, faceless concept, those incongruous realities were in equilibrium. As soon as Goetz became real. He was not merely a problem of democracy; he was a thin man in a leather jacket without remorse.” Upon reading that, I thought “oh wow.”
Therein lays the brilliance of Chuck Klosterman and “I Wear the Black Hat.”