I like Chuck Klosterman. Yup. I said it.

Look away.

I like him and I’m gonna tell you why using some concepts spelled out in his new book Eating the Dinosaur.

I thought about titling this post, “I Like Chuck Klosterman and I Don’t Feel Bad About It,”  and then I read Chuck Klosterman’s essay comparing In Utero-era Kurt Cobain to David Koresh, and Klosterman talks about how Cobain said, right before recording In Utero, “I don’t feel the least bit guilty for commercially exploiting a completely exhausted Rock youth Culture because, at this point in rock history, Punk Rock (while still sacred to some)  is, to me, dead and gone.”  Klosterman talks about how when people claim they’re not guilty of something they weren’t accused of being guilty of, they are almost always feeling that guilt they’re denying acutely.  So, apparently, I am guilty about liking Chuck Klosterman.

Why?  Normally I wouldn’t even bother trying to answer this question.  Normally, I would just go on enjoying his books and try not to think about the reasons for – or ramifications of – my liking his essays.  Why over-think the joy out of one of the more mindless pleasures? Today, though, I will try and answer this question in an attempt to employ a truth that he sets up in the first essay of this new book.  I will pretend I am being interviewed, and then I will make an attempt to answer, even though I’m not sure of the real reason for this guilt.  Klosterman recognized that people being interviewed for a publication or a tv show will often make up an answer to a question rather than saying, “I don’t know” or “I don’t want to answer that.” Here goes:

Q: So, Jac, why do you feel guilty about liking Chuck Klosterman?

A: I think it has something to do with his writing not being difficult, that it almost always ends up right where you predicted it would. It’s satisfying in an almost purely entertaining way, similar to the way I love my Lady Gaga and my Rock of Love and my Tetris, because it means I’m letting my brain go on auto-pilot.  The guilt might also have something to do with what a smash hit Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs was, and how right around the time that book came out, it became cool in the mainstream to be “indie” and how I’m still conflicted about “indie” because a lot of stuff called “indie” is not actually independent at all anymore, but often still likable, kind of like how in the movie He’s Just Not That Into You (I know, right?  OMG)  how the Bradley Cooper character asks the Jennifer Connelly character if she can tell which flooring sample is the wood and which is the laminate and she can’t but she still wants the wood because it’s not lying about what it is, and how everyone who says, “I’m not a hipster” is probably actually a hipster.

Ya know?

I like a good challenge as much as the next guy who regularly reads Big Other, but I am still capable of enjoying pretty low brow stuff. I’ve tried to cut out the term ‘guilty pleasure’ from my vocab because it seemed like people were misusing it a lot, calling respectable interests ‘guilty pleasures:’ watching tennis, reading any genre fiction, liking Damien Hirst.  Say what?

Klosterman writes, in  ‘Oh, the Guilt’ about  how the prerelease coverage of Radiohead’s Kid A insisted so completely that “anti-intellectual audiences would not understand Kid A that people were terrified to admit being bored by any of it.”  No one’s telling me I won’t like Klosterman; tons of people love him, and so, in some sort of weirdo inverse of that Kid A equation, I feel obligated to react against his books, to find the fault, to not align with the masses of people who put it on the bestseller list and start to shut their minds down with it before bed.  I don’t want to feel guilty about liking Klosterman’s nonfiction  (I haven’t read last year’s novel, so can’t speak for it or against it), but it’s true that I always feel a little ashamed when bringing it up in conversation, especially with high-brow artsy, literary types.

But, here’s the thing: his essays are so damn talkable.  He’s pretty creative in the questions he asks and the connections he makes and he’s pretty good at following up his theories with some well-researched evidence.  But most of all, he’s really good at enjoying things people pretend to (or maybe actually) hate because they’re not fancy and intellectual.

I got to meet him once, maybe three years ago, at a reading he did at the bookstore where I worked.  He was on the receiving end of questions this time, and he played his part, and answered every query, seeming genuine, good-natured and unapologetic about the approachable, yet serious, consideration he was giving to the pop culture that makes up a nice, relaxing chunk of many of our lives.

And yet I still have this little bit of guilt about liking the guy who’s trying to erase that guilt. Am I trying to protect myself in some way, like, ‘I don’t really like him, but I like him with this distance?’ How do I get rid of this impulse? How do I reset my mind to just enjoy things? Do I want to? Would this qualify as the lazy ‘Middle Mind’ Curtis White talks about in his book of the same title: interested, yet not necessarily engaged?  Is it something to resist or something in which to find respite? Why is it so hard to be happy?  Merry Christmas.

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40 thoughts on “I like Chuck Klosterman. Yup. I said it.

  1. You know what? More power to you. If it makes you feel any better, I’ll admit I like Foer.

    I’ve never read Klosterman myself, and not because of any sort of high-brow esteem (quite to the contrary, Klosterman was pretty well respected among my peers and even a few professors at BSU while I was there), but just because I’ve never gotten around to it.

    The idea of “guilty pleasures” is strange to me, like people who pride themselves on not owning a TV trying to justify Hulu’ing The Office, because it’s “smart humor,” or something.

  2. Honestly, it doesn’t make me feel better that you admit to liking Foer. He’s another one of those guys that everyone’s always falling all over themselves to say, “I’m sorry, but I like him.” I like him, too, and I stopped apologizing for that a while ago. I’m working on feeling the same way about Klosterman – which was mostly my point in this post. It’s insulting to say, “Sorry, I like this guy.” I just need to figure out if I want to analyze why I like everything I do, or if I can be content with just liking certain things without explanation, and feel confident enough to not justify all the time.

    I think Foer’s a good storyteller, and I think he’s pretty funny. Why do people dislike him so much, or dare not speak his name? Because he got famous so young? Because of that ancient NYTimes review that accused him of trying to be some postmodern genius, when, to me, it just seemed like he was having some fun with text “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”?

    I’m glad to hear some professors are giving Klosterman credit.

    • I think sometimes we mark things as “guilty pleasures” or analyze why we like things, because we expect to be called to task for them. I think, in my own way, it’s a matter of taking things too personally at times; for instance, extending the Foer reference, when I hear or read people tearing him down, I feel they are at the same time asking me, “What do you see in his work?” and I feel the need to defend, if not his work, then my aesthetics.

      I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to analyze why I like a certain author. On the contrary, I think it’s good to ask ourselves why we like a thing, but to feel that we are asking that as a way to justify our likes and dislikes to others, instead of simple self-reflection, is probably an exercise in self-importance, in taking things too personally–at least, so far as I’m concerned. It might be a wholly different thought process for you.

        • Yes, I realize my defensiveness is really just an act of ego. Perhaps, this will be the start of long series of posts about things/ people I unapologetically love, but never mentioning my lack of apologies.

          • What are some of the others? What should we look forward to?

            …You know what else is fun? Pretending you’ve overcome your own guilt and ego issues by piggybacking on somebody else’s confession.

            For instance:

            I think “House of Leaves” is a great book.

            Also “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire..

            Sometimes I enjoy my partner’s Dave Matthews Band albums.

            I still listen to “Pieces of You” by Jewel.

            • No promises, but here are some other things that make me happy, that I’ve recently heard other people tear down (is that a way of not apologizing or is it still the same?):

              I love “House of Leaves,” too. Bah.

              Jimmy Buffett, Nena, Robert Palmer.

              State fairs, amusement parks AND cruises.

              Unsolved Mysteries, Cash Cab.

              Rom Coms – I always come away hating them, but there are certain ones I see previews for and I think, “Surely, this will be the one that’s different. This will be the one that’s on par Annie Hall and When Harry Met Sally and All the Real Girls.” This most certainly has something to do with my optimistic streak which I can’t shake, despite my ever-growing grumpiness.

              Raunchy dude books that I should really be disgusted by, working at a feminist bookstore and all, a la: I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and The Game. (Maybe it’s more of some sort of confused sociological study where I’m trying to get a handle on this mentality or something, but I can’t deny that I ‘enjoy’ reading them.) I’ll stop there – that sounds like a good next post.

              • I love rom coms, even the shitty ones, ie shit like “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days.” There are glorious-shitty rom coms and unwatchable-shitty rom coms, and what differentiates the two are:

                ~dialogue. Where rom coms are concerned, dumb doesn’t have to mean stupid. If they can’t find anything comic or crackly for their trailer, that’s not a good sign.

                ~structure & pacing. Shitty rom coms that try to be more than what they are by upsetting formula usually end up being way worse than they would’ve been playing it safe. They should press all my buttons exactly when I expect them to be pressed.

                ~actor chemistry. Perhaps the hardest to gauge from a preview. “The Wedding Planner” met every other condition on my list, but ultimately failed b/c Matthew McConaughey & Jennifer Lopez were dead together onscreen.

                ~supporting characters. Rom coms are like an employment service for talented but neglected older actresses playing mothers, employers, etc. and often these are the most enjoyable parts of these movies — see: Candace Bergen and Mary Kay Place in “Sweet Home Alabama,” or Jill Clayburgh in “Fools Rush In.” Rom Coms are also a fantastic place for underrated character actresses to steal scenes, usually in the “sarcastic best friend” role. Think Joan Cusack, Judy Greer, Bonnie Hunt. If you can’t make it through the opening credits w/o saying, “She’s in this!? Yay! ” at least two or three times, it might be a good idea to follow the lighted signs. (Get it? To the exit?? They should hire me at E!)

                ~contrivance. Actually, I believe when it comes to dumb romantic comedies, the more contrived the plot, the more fun the movie. Recent examples include the aforementioned “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days,” which I thought was delightful, and “Music and Lyrics,” which was also great fun. For this reason, I’ve got high hopes for “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” …this rule is closely linked w/ “structure and pacing.” Rom coms shouldn’t strive to be more than what they are, unless they are 100% serious about pulling it off (I actually thought “He’s Just not that Into You” *almost* accomplished the latter, although I still have all sorts of feminist and antiracist issues w/ it).

                  • Mmm… one more rule I forgot.

                    This is also connected w/ the general principle behind contrivance & structure/pacing.

                    Do not, under any circumstances, explicitly present political/social/cultural issues I care about, because then you have made it impossible for me to watch your film without examining it through feminist/anti-capitalist-imperialist/antiracist/Queer, etc. lenses, in which case my enjoyment will be deeply compromised and I will only be able to walk away angry.

                    “You’ve Got Mail,” (in which major corporate book retailer causes independent bookseller to shut. down. her. shop. but still gets to get with her) “Two Weeks Notice” (in which, if I recall correctly, a pro bon lawyer advocating social justice causes gives up her work to get w/ wealthy playboy) and the otherwise-adorable “13 Going on 30″ all failed for this reason.

                  • Hugh Grant is just so damn charming; I’ll toss Love, Actually into the mix, too. I’m with you on the romcoms. I feel ridiculous sometimes, but my wife is glad to have a guy who doesn’t mind getting down with a box of Kleenex and some bon bons.

                    Tim, I hope this is the start of a RomCom analyzation series.

                • The Holiday failed horribly on structure and pacing. It was paced like an indie flick, but written and filmed like a rom com, so it was just ridiculously boring. Jack Black saved it a bit, but he didn’t really have a major role until about an hour into the movie, and by that time, my wife and I had already devolved into a Mystery Science Theater mentality.

                  • Absolutely!

                    And I thought Cameron Diaz and Jude Law were completely dead together on screen, the movie only became watchable when Kate Winslet and Jack Black took over. In general, I thought the the L.A. storyline was far more successful than the British one. I also liked the aging screenwriter. The small children with the British accents made the UK scenes slightly more watchable, but in a totally cheap and desperate way.

      • i only recently learned it was bad to like foer. i like him. i like billy collins too. a poem about thelonious monk is what’s not to like? there’s the other side too, though, like if you hate something low brow you are accused of snobbery. spielburg is downright awful, manuipulative sentimentality and whatever someone says about ‘weren’t you ever a kid?’ or some such, he’s still awful. but i don’t really know who klosterman is, though when i googled him i recognized his picture.

  3. If you haven’t hurt anyone or destroyd any property then you have no reason to apologize, ever. It’s the most annoying thing when you’re with a person and they’re always apologizing for everything. Saying sorry for ever-so-slightly brushing the edge of a pinky finger across your arm while reaching for a coffee cup. Saying sorry for saying that your shirt is very salmon colored.

    I wanna see more blog posts with the title “I Love Chuck Klosterman and I Don’t Give a Shit Who Knows It.” Or something to that effect. Lack of confidence is somthing that plagues the world of writers. Which is strange because the most compelling voices are ones that have confidence, fearlessness.

    • “I Don’t Give a Shit who Knows It” strikes me as the exact phenomenon Klosterman is describing… if ya gotta announce you’re not guilty, then you’re feeling guilt.

      Of course, it might be brave to simply write abt Chuck Klosterman w/o qualifiers… but if one is still worried about what others might be thinking and not saying, I think it also brave, as Jac has done, to write about that. I think there is sometimes strength in confessing vulnerability.

      • Yup – just about to say the same thing about “I Don’t Give a Shit who Knows It.”

        And I agree with being confident and fearless, but, and this might be another tangent entirely, I have almost no tolerance for people who set out their ideas as hard and fast truth and have no interest in talking about how and why they could be wrong. This, I recognize, is different than constantly apologizing for yourself.

  4. awesome post, jac!!

    I just yesterday listened to, and really enjoyed, two podcasts (totaling a good hour and a half, if not two hours) of Bill Simmons chatting with Klosterman.

    • Oh, that’s great, and makes so much sense.

      I am a little interested in that new Bill Simmons basketball book.

      I hate watching sports (with the exception of the occasional Tour de France leg or live hockey game), but enjoy reading books/ essays about sports. For instance, I would very much like to read the new Andre Agassi memoir; I very much enjoyed DFW writing on tennis, and, usually never skip the sporty articles in the New Yorker, like the recent Ariel Levy article about Caster Semenya (though that could be argued to have been more about gender boundaries in our culture).

      I do not, however, take great joy from watching inspirational sports movies, as one curly-headed tour mate of ours does. I’m pretty sure she’s not sorry about it though.

  5. I have not read Klosterman, but I think delivering complex, abstract or layered ideas accessibly and tangibly is maybe the hardest kind of non-fiction to write. Like grant proposals, where it’s always a good idea to assume foundation program officers will read you at a fifth grade level, like the target audience for newspapers.

    I think your musings on apologetic, guilty or shameful ‘likes’ are great.

    There are a few things I’ve decided to no longer consider guilty pleasures (for instance, dance pop), and I find it’s quite liberating.

    Also, I really like Cocoa Puffs, especially with chocolate milk, so whenever I see Klosterman’s book at the Cellar (they had it out for a really long time last year), I want to go all pregnant woman at 7 Eleven.

    • Oh, also: that “Guilt by Association” record whose cover you used to illustrate your post has some great tracks, especially Petra Haden’s cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and Luna’s take on Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up.”

  6. Yeah, I think this kind of non-fiction is really hard to write, too, and that this might actually be a tangent of Shya’s earlier post about realist fiction. Making complex ideas read quick and easy is a feat.

    So that’s the trick to writing a successful grant proposal? That and making it seem like you both really need and don’t really need the money, right? Like, “I’m gonna do all this awesome stuff anyway,” but also, “don’t you want to support it and help make it even better?”

    I don’t love Cocoa Puffs, but I do love Honey Smacks, Cap’n Crunch and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Yes, I do.

    That album is F-U-N.

  7. without the barometer of pop culture we would never know what’s “cool,” if such a thing exists.

    open all the doors and windows, let it all in. we all want to be well rounded people, don’t we?

    contrast. it’s all about the contrast. blah blah blah.

  8. The problem, I think, is in the identifiers we choose to use to describe ourselves, and the way in which people tend to completely align themselves with those identifiers. Once I say something like “I am a woman”, then I have to say, “but I like power tools.” I’ve chosen a particularly abhorrent example here to demonstrate my point. Of course, nothing about me having breasts and a vagina excludes me from liking power tools, but if I completely commit myself to identifying as a woman according to the socio-historically constructed parameters, I then have to use the qualifier “but…” to explain my adoration of drills. So my question is, to what identifiers does one choose to align oneself that exclude one from enjoying Chuck Klosterman? Free yourself. Love literature AND love genre fiction. Don’t own a TV AND watch Grey’s Anatomy on the Internet. And if you want to align yourself with a particular category, say “intellectual”, don’t use it to imprison yourself. Enjoy everything you want to enjoy. You can be everything you want to be, you can be hipster and philosopher, you can be factory worker and intellectual, you can be man and woman at the very same time. And you never have to apologize.

    • Stacy, I think everyone’s hitting it pretty well, there’s not much more I could add. Amira nailed it with “free yourself.”

      And “cool” is…what? Something that exists on the fringe of pop culture that’s “edgy,” maybe “raw,” but something that can only be identified as such, and truly appreciated, by embracing, or at the very least acknowledging, the very glittery and universal center from which it sprung?

      Conversely, “cool” also influences “popular.” It’s all a variation of the same shizz. “Everything is everything,” like my girl Lauren Hill said. Or maybe that was Basho. Anyway.

      I don’t know. It makes no sense to me to limit your range of experience, be it music, literature, what have you. And to deny pop culture because some elitist, snobby herd made it decidedly “un-cool” to enjoy is madness. Pure madness. Everyone in that snobby herd is a closet Gaga fan. I’ve seen them through windows, practicing the dance moves to the refrain of “Bad Romance.” They’re all full of shit.

      Sorry for all the “quotes.” Couldn’t help myself.

      Happy holidays. I’m going to moon walk now while listening to Britney Spears while reading Cormac McCarthy (is he “un-cool” now that he’s “popular?”) while flipping back and forth between “Armageddon” and “Baraka.”

  9. I enjoy Klosterman. I don’t understand why it is something to feel any shame about. Having met the man I will say that he writes as he talks. He 12 page rants on a Kiss solo album being too good for the fans of Kiss is how he is in the conversation on such a thing.

    Concerning his work on music he shines lights back to music writing that actually felt something for bands. This is nice.

    Now his fiction work, well I read Downtown Owl. I would have walked out if I wouldn’t have paid the full price. I hoped for a group suicide of characters I cared nothing about, but I closed the hardcover disappointed.

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