Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Chuck Klosterman's Mega Oreo

My reasons for reading Chuck Klosterman's Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs were three-fold: cultural, practical, and personal. First, culturally, I wanted to read something that was kind of for us, by us. I hoped to read a book about some of the things I like, spoken in an intellectual and entertaining way. Second, practically, I am slowly working my way through every unread book on my shelf in an attempt to conquer the many unknotted strings of the last five or so years of my life. Other attempts at this include: making my bed every day, learning to cook, and actually finishing a single project I start. Appropriately, this ties in with my third, personal reason.

An ex-girlfriend of mine, after one of my particularly ridiculous break-ups, casually mentioned to me that she had read Klosterman's book. She was impressed particularly by Klosterman's analysis that, "Woody Allen made it acceptable for beautiful women to sleep with nerdy, bespectacled goofballs; all we need to do is fabricate the illusion of intellectual humor, and we somehow have a chance." Those are Klosterman's words, but I think she put it more along the lines of, "all men play into [The Woody Effect] and get girls they don't deserve and it turns out to be empty and no one will ever be happy because really all we want is Woody Allen in Annie Hall." Notice she snuck in that bit about 'don't deserve.' What a bitch. But, I thought to myself, why don't I check the book out, see what I can take from it, and knot some strings in the process, whether they be personal or practical.

So, Klosterman writes his self-proclaimed low culture manifesto, and for seventeen chapters (and seventeen 'interludes') picks apart the tiniest, most worthless aspects of modern entertainment. My first inclination is to write, "seemingly most worthless aspects of modern entertainment," but no. These are irrefutably without worth, and Klosterman embraces them for their lack. He gives an in-depth dissertation on the socio-economic implications of having a Tastee Freeze in your town -- and what it means that at least two major country western songs of the past decade have sung about said Tastee Freezes. An entire chapter is dedicated to Saved by the Bell, and another to The Real World, each written as the culmination of years of obsession over both shows. Other topics include the effects of When Harry Met Sally on an entire generation of relationships, why he hates Coldplay, why the Dixie Chicks are the new Van Halen, how The Sims is "arguably the most wholly postmodern piece of entertainment ever created," and why Kid Rock hates Radiohead for the same reason he hates Coldplay.

All of this frankly, bullshit, is floated by a snarky tone and consistent humor. Klosterman is a this best when he rants and jokes. His insights are unabashedly funneled through personal experience, and I love it. The book can be so funny! For example, he speaks about adults playing video games: "A homeless man once told me that dancing to rap music is the cultural equivalent of masturbating, and I'd sort of feel that same way about playing John Madden Football immediately after filing my income tax: It's fun, but -- somehow -- vaguely pathetic." This is a wonderful quote for, say, three reasons.

About a third of the way into the book, after a number of rants and funny, faux insightful comments, I started feeling stupid. I'd come away from a chapter and just think, "Why the hell am I even thinking about this crap?" This is somewhat the wrong reaction. I don't give a shit about, really, anything that Klosterman's talking about, and this is his greatest strength.

Regardless of analytical merit, he can say practically whatever the hell he wants about the importance of the Pamela - Tommy Lee sex tape, or a Guns N' Roses cover band from Ohio, or the career choices of the original Saved by the Bell cast precisely because no one cares enough to contradict him. Unfortunately, I only noticed the gaping holes in Klosterman's analysis when he happened to write about things I actually know and / or care about -- namely Peter Bogdanovich, pornography, alt-country and the death sentence. Now, I realize that's quite a quadriplex of stupid crap to invest myself in, but it got me thinking: how, exactly, do I explain a book that picks apart minutiae in order to create one big new minutiae?

I found the answer at the efficiently named

This is a Mega Oreo, and this is what Chuck Klosterman has created. He has taken a bunch of things that, when left alone, are silly but useful, and ripped their innards out to create something of both obnoxious girth and total uselessness. It is tasty in concept, impractical in employment.

(credit to Emma for discovering the wonder that is

1 comment:

joe said...

credit to Emma for discovering the wonder that is