Author: Chuck Klosterman
Type: Non-fiction, essays
I read it: May 2014
After moving to Minnesota, I gathered peripherally that there was an author called Chuck Klosterman and a book called Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. I had no idea what type of book it was, or who this guy was. I’m not sure why I never researched it, or just asked. I suppose it’s good I waited several years to read him, since now it’s clicking nicely. You see, I feel like I am part of the target audience for his essays, and reading this book instead of his notable one, and a while after publication, means I can experience the style without prejudice.
I picked up this volume because of the existence of one essay, “’Ha ha,’ he said. ‘Ha ha.’” It’s about the laugh track, and how ridiculous the laugh track is, how pervasive and obnoxious. Klosterman makes a point about usually avoiding topics where he strictly writes about them in the negative, but this topic is too grating to not speak up (write up) about. I truly despise the laugh track as well, so it was satisfying to see it articulated. And he does go deeper than just slamming the concept: he comes to the realization that it has so affected Americans that we insert fake laughter as placeholders in regular conversations. And we do. It’s eye-opening once you notice it. Anyway, it feels good when someone else lays down what seem to be your own thoughts. For example, in a separate essay about road trips, he says of cars, “When I see a collection of cars on the road, they strike me as more similar than different.” Exactly, Chuck.
But the book is not all just reassurances of what I already (sort of) knew. Some of the best pieces explore subjects I know little about, but are made more interesting when given cultural context and taken seriously. (Klosterman writes with a detailed passion that never seems put-on, even if he does [rather constantly] make parenthetical asides which seem simultaneously prescient and unspecific.) In “ABBA 1, World 0” he cohesively outlines the mysterious music group ABBA and how they lay just outside of categorization, for the better. In “Football” he gives a partial history of the game by looking at how it has changed significantly through the decades, and is marketed and perceived as conservative while being wildly liberal in gameplay. Even as a non-fan I found this essay engaging. Another one compares the release of Nirvana’s In Utero to the federal government screwing up the Waco situation with the Branch Davidians in the early 90s. I was a kid when these things happened, so I was fuzzy at best on the general stories, and now I have a little more context.
For time travel fans, “Tomorrow Rarely Knows” is a fun and thoughtful exploration of the genre, which includes the phrase given to the book’s title. The main question is, why time travel? Perhaps to do something singular like eat a dinosaur, but he ends up concluding, “it’s too important to use only for money, but too dangerous to use for anything else.” Another essay of note is his rumination on voyeurism, “Through a Glass, Blindly.” I assume this was the seed of what became his intriguing novel The Visible Man, and after he analyzes the ways that previous voyeuristic stories got things right and wrong, I appreciate that book even more.
There’s a lot more to explore, such as basketball almost-legend Ralph Sampson; the weirdness of consumers being in the know about yet still subject to modern marketing; the best explanation of Lady Gaga I’ve encountered; and an adept analysis of forced identity about the Garth Brooks/Chris Gaines circumstance. Indeed, there’s a major theme of reality and veracity that is touched on throughout, with mini made-up interview excerpts squeezed between each chapter, as well as a real chapter on pro interviewers like Ira Glass and Errol Morris.
It’s obvious I liked this book a lot. It’s hard not to when there’s a line in the index for “Sports Night (television series), 190.” But I think it’s okay to be so fully part of the target audience. The first time I saw Shearwater perform I looked around the small venue and saw several versions of myself in the audience. The style of shirt, the glasses, the hair, the height, the demeanor: I realized I was somehow the most typical Shearwater fan. And I was okay with that. Hmm, I wonder what Chuck Klosterman would say about such subconscious identity associations in our culture.